Tavik Frantisek Simon, Czech (1877 - 1942)
Tavik František Šimon is one of the greatest artists of the first half of the 20th century.
He was born May 13, 1877 in Bohemia, in the then Austrian Empire, in the little town Železnice (in German: Eisenstadtel, or Eisenstadtl) near Jicin, east of the Česky Raj (Bohemian Paradise), a wonderful landscape with fantastic sandstone rocks and ruins of medieval castles. The painter often visited his native town and Železnice honours her great son with a modest museum and the T.F. Šimon Street, where you still can see his birth-house, now a library, with of course a memorial tablet. When he was about two years old the family Šimon migrated to the town Mšeno.
He was the youngest of seven children of the miller Antonin Šimon and Anna Tavikova. He showed early a talent for drawing, to the extent that his elementary school teacher of Mšeno recommended to his parents to send him for art education in Prague.
He came to live with his oldest sister who was married there and attended a civic high school. At the age of 17 he passed the entrance examination to the Academy of Arts and was accepted to the class of drawing and painting of Max Pirner (1854-1924), an acknowledged artist of neo-romantic, philosophical inclinations.
At the Academy he developed a close friendship with Hugo Boettinger (1880-1934), Jan Honsa (1876-1937), Ferdinand Michl (1877-1951) and Max Švabinsky (1873-1962). Švabinsky later became a professor at the Academy and taught there graphic arts until 1928 when Šimon was appointed to his position and Švabinsky took the chair of painting.
While still at the Academy Šimon became ill and decided to recuperate in a warm climate. He set out to spend some time in Bosnia with his sister Anna who was married there to a forester. He travelled through Bosnia, Croatia and Montenegro and was fascinated by the Adriatic and in particular by Dubrovnik.
He painted already on a high artistic level. Highlights are "Symphony", a charming painting in the Art Nouveau style, now in the National Gallery and "Reminiscence of Dalmatia" from 1900, an intriguing painting. Both paintings show that Šimon had a great love of painting young women. His whole life he was inspired by women, especially by his favourite model, his lovely wife Vilma.
František graduated from the academy in 1903 and received two consecutive scholarships to travel. The first one was used for a trip to Italy, the second to Paris and London. Both of the metropolises of western world impressed the young artist by the richness of museum collections and by the galleries displaying contemporary art; the intensity of the street life seemed equally amazing. In Paris he was exposed to the art of the impressionists, whose glorious era was already fading, in London he admired the works of Pre-Raphaelites, of Turner, Constable and, in particular, of Whistler. Of course he was influenced by them, but he succeeded to create his own style, often of high artistic level.
First of all Šimon was a painter, and as a painter he ranks among the best artists of the twentieth century. But he liked also the graphic arts and became famous and one of the best.. At the turn of century the graphic arts, such as etching, aquatint, dry point, wood-cut etc., were in their infancy in Bohemia and instruction for eager young artists was hard to find. There were a few pioneers such as professor J. Marak, Zdenka Braunerova and Max Švabinsky and some help was also offered by professionals from the printing trade, namely Edvard Karel and Jan Stenc (who later published many of Šimon's aquatints in colour). Šimon often made first a drawing which he used as the example of his graphics. Many of them were in aquatint, what took T.F. Šimon a terrible lot.
During his visit to Paris Šimon perceived, as other Czech artists before him Alfons Mucha (1860-1939), Ludek Marold (1865-1898), František Kupka (1871-1957), Karel Špillar (1871-1939), Josef Mařatka (1974-1934) and others that the "City of Light" was a centre of artistic activity, so he decided to move in there. He travelled to Paris in Spring of 1904 with his friend, a recent graduate of the Academy, Ferdinand Michel and they set up a modest studio ("atelier") somewhere in the Fifth Arrondissement (the "Left Bank").
With limited financial means their beginnings were quite hard and Michel eventually gave up and left. Šimon gradually acquired the necessities for his efforts in graphic arts, some tools at flea markets, zinc plates at hardware stores and somehow- nobody seems to know how learned all the crafts of etching, in particular that of aquatint (invented in France in 18th century by J.B. Leprince). Aquatint appeared essential to Šimon the painter as it permitted the rendering of half-tones and colours. He also mastered the technique of soft ground (vernis-mou) which produced the effect of pencil drawing and skilfully combined this with the aquatint. In order to obtain exactly the desired effect he preferred to do his own printing and for this purpose purchased a second hand press.
In 1905 he visited London again with his friends Boettinger and Kafka, mainly to see a large retrospective exhibit of J. Whistler, which also included a collection of his etchings. In the same year he had his first one-man show in Prague, in the pavilion of the Manes Society. The exhibit comprised some 100 works: drawings, pastels, paintings and etchings. Šimon's city scenes enlivened by busy traffic and people were thoroughly original and became highly appreciated.
The painter was very inspired, because he had met the muse of the rest of his life, the beautiful and intelligent Vilma Kracikova, whom he first met in France in the picturesque little town Ault-Onival on the coast of Normandy, where he painted some of his famous impressions of the beach. The couple married in the church of St. Nicholas in Prague in 1906 and the newlyweds returned to Paris.
After the return to Paris Šimon started to work with renewed energy. Regarding his graphics he added two new techniques, the mezzotint and wood-cut. He exhibited already before in the Salon de Beaux Arts where his prints came to the attention of the graphic arts dealer Sagot who took some of them for sale.
Also Georges Petit, owner of a prestigious gallery in Paris, showed great interest in Šimon's colour aquatints and began to sell and commission them regularly. Šimon's name began to appear prominently in international competition as witnessed by an article by J. Friedenthal in "Graphische Künste" where he pointed out that Šimon discovered in Paris something other that the Frenchmen did not see. Perhaps because he was born in the country he had a fresh perception of the city scenery that might have escaped a born Parisian.
Šimon captured these scenes in paintings, drawings and etchings in an original, poetic manner that gained him a wide circle of admirers. His French colleagues called these pieces "Paysages de Paris" (Parisian landscapes). The quays, markets, boulevards, streets and alleys, quiet corners, pawnshops and bouquinistes, all that was rendered in soft lines and subdued colour harmony, thus recreating and rejuvenating a genre that has gone out of style. By its success Šimon found out that graphic works get in circulation easier than paintings since they are more accessible to a greater number of collectors and, being signed by the author, are originals in their own right. He wanted to make himself different from all other Šimons by a permanent, effective initial. While in his first exhibit in Prague Šimon was listed as František in all subsequent ones he was always using his expanded signature T.F. Šimon. The T stands for Tavik, the family name of his mother.
Friendly contacts among compatriots residing in Paris reflected in portraits such as those of the sculptors Mařatka, Kafka, Spaniel and Gutfreund, the painter Špillar and the astronomer M. R. Štefanik. In turn, Šimon also influenced them: both Kafka and Spaniel tried their hands at etchings, as well as the painter-illustrator Strimpl. Štefanik did not experiment in print-making but instead became an avid art collector. He attended auctions with his artist friends and together they prowled the pawn shops and flea markets. They frequented the exhibitions at the official "Salons" and at the galleries of well known art dealers, such as Durand Ruel, Vollard, Bernheim and Druet. In Štefanik's apartment in Rue Leclerc was accumulating a sundry collection of rare china, rugs, arms, decorative fabrics, bronze objects, clumps of corals and minerals. Among these was a piece of uranium ore which the astronomer used to carry in his coat pocket to show its phosphorescence to his amazed friends.
The first decade of twentieth century was a period of Šimon's intense productivity and participation in numerous exhibits.
He was invited by numerous organizations, such as the Société de la Gravure en Couleurs, the Société de la Gravure en Noir, the Société des Peintres-Graveurs Français, the Gallery Walker of Liverpool and the Royal Society of Painters, Etchers and Engravers of London. Interest was also extended from Bern, Switzerland and from Chicago and from New York where F. Keppel was dealing in modern graphic art.
In 1911 there was in Paris the first comprehensive exhibit of cubist painters. Cubism heralded a new radical trend subsequently embraced by the avant-garde artists throughout Europe, including Prague, where in the Art Society Manes it lead to a rift in which the young avant-garde (Vaclav Spala, Emil Filla, Bohumil Kubista, V.H. Brunner and others ) seceded and started a group "Osma" (The Eight) of their own.
Šimon was well aware of the new winds blowing and was informed about the events in Prague by letters from his friends. In spite of it he chose to ignore the modernistic trends and continued to develop his own personal style characterized by a unique combination of realistic craftsmanship with a sensitive feel for colour and mood of the scene.
After 1930 his work as a professor, curator and writer took too much of his energy, and it is regrettable he had too little time for his artistic work. Still he made some masterpieces, like a painting (1936) of his son Pavel Šimon (born 1920). Šimon took very hard the events of World War II and stress declined his health seriously. Tavik František Šimon died at home, December 19, 1942 by heart failure following a heart attack some months earlier.
For his wife the years after were very hard. During the German occupation she had forced lodging of Germans in the house. After the war there were some peaceful years, the art-collections of the Šimons, among which a lot of very valuable paintings the painter always kept, and very much graphics and drawings and his large library of especially books of art, were still in their possession. In the house lived Vilma together with her sons. Her daughter Eva married before 1940 the future famous national artist Cyril Bouda and got a son (the graphic artist Jiři Bouda). Pavel Šimon became also an artist. A painter and graphic artist, well known for his book illustrations and ex-libris. He died young in 1958 in Prague. Mr. Ivan Šimon emigrated to the U.S.A in 1947.
During the communist regime the family Šimon had again to accept that other people came to live in their house. For some years the film-director Jiři Weiss. The artist Tavik František Šimon was no longer wanted by the communists. The name T.F. Šimon disappeared from the official art books and nothing of value was published about this great Czech artist. They had their policy of silence. The archives of the Art Society Hollar were destroyed during the communist time.
After more then 40 years of silence in the communist era nowadays the revaluation of the artist is in progress. In 1994 an exhibition in Prague at the National Gallery was mounted, organised by Eva Buzgova. In 2002 there was an exhibition at the Czech Centre in New-York and in the same year was hold an extended sale-exhibition of graphic work by T.F. Šimon in Chicago (Frederick Baker).
Vilma Šimonova died in 1959. She was a wonderful woman. After the death of her husband her aim was to keep the art collection of the family together and to catalogue the collection. During the hard communist regime of the fifties she had the courage to erect a memorial on the cemetery of Bubeneč in the north of Prague to honour the great artist who considered himself first and foremost as a painter.