Wednesday, April 22, 2020

Notes on Ilse Breit

Not much is known about the Austrian artist Ilse Breit (1908-1992) except that she painted lovely pictures of girls being attacked by cheeky farmyard animals. This one, a lithograph called Goose Girl or Girl Beset by Geese, was painted when Breit was a young teenager. She was taught, along with many other children, by Frank Cizek in Vienna. A portrait and landscape painter, Cizek was also a pioneer in art education. In 1897 he established art classes for children, called Jugendkunstklasse, at the School for Arts and Crafts in Vienna.

Dr Mary V Gutteridge, a contemporary teacher, describes walking into one of Cizek's classrooms in 1929 thus: "...most striking was the riot of colour springing from every wall, desk, and easel, and even from the floor. Against the drabness of the walls, the wet and smeary windows and murky November light, there seemed to be living color and form in paintings and art objects."

And: "No restrictions, no orders, and, it appeared, no instruction was given. The children, painting as they felt and as they wished, looked as if they had entered heaven."

Cizek's teaching methods would still be considered controversial today, let alone over a hundred years ago. He advocated minimal teaching for children, encouraging them to foster their own imagination and express themselves freely. His classes became famous the world over, with exhibitions of his students' art shown at home and abroad in England, America and Australia. Poster reproductions of the students' paintings were popular in nurseries, schools and peoples' homes.

Yet there's something slightly sad about all the wonderful illustrations and paintings that came out of Cizek's classes: there's no biographical information about any of the artists (though there's plenty about Cizek). Ilse Breit and her sister Herta, Berta Zuckermann, Gretl Hanus, Steffi Krauss, Grete Blatney, Hansi Bauer and many others (mostly girls) were all accomplished artists by their early teens. Many of their works are now owned by the V&A Collections. But what became of the young artists? Presumably none went on to become prominent artists, otherwise there would be information about them.

Nevertheless, Cizek and his ideas were influential on many educators and theorists, and his teachings left a legacy for the child art movement and art therapy.


James said...

Nice! Didn't know about Ilse Breit.

Barnaby said...

Thanks. Well no, she's largely forgotten.