Much as once a week I like to take time off to cover warships (Wednesdays), on Sundays (when I feel like working), I like to cover military art and the painters, illustrators, sculptors, photographers and the like that produced them.
Combat Gallery Sunday: A Dear Visit
Maximilian Franz Viktor Zdenko Marie Kurzweil was born 12 October 1867 in the small Moravian town of Bisenz (Bzenec)– then in the Austro-Hungarian Empire now in the Czech Republic– the son of a failing sugar manufacturer. Once the family business tanked altogether, young Max relocated to Vienna where he attended school and later, with an eye for painting, the esteemed Academy of Fine Art (Akademie der bildenden Künste), an institution that famously twice-rejected young Adolf Hitler for lack of talent.
Obligated to perform his military service to Kaiser Franz Josef, Max in 1891 enlisted in the Imperial Army as what was termed a “one-year-volunteer” or Einjährig-Freiwilliger. A curious practise at the time in Central Europe (also mimicked in France and Russia), such a volunteer– typically an educated young man of means– paid for their own room, board, uniforms and personal equipment while serving (for free) with an active duty regiment as a nominal cadet corporal, filling their spare time studying military textbooks. At the end of the year, providing they were found to be of officer material after a review and examination administered by a board, these volunteers would pass into the reserve as a subaltern.
Max was accepted as an EF with the famous k.u.k. Dragonerregiment Nr. 3, which dated back to 1768 and had covered itself in glory during the Napoleonic Wars. Based in Stockerau on the outskirts of Vienna, the German-speaking unit was typically referred to as the “Saxon Dragoons” (Sachsen Dragoner) due to the fact that the honorary colonel-in-chief of the unit was the king of Saxony. Serving from June 1891 to June 1892, Kurzweil passed his review and moved to the regiment’s reserve list as a lieutenant, fulfilling his obligation to the Kaiser by 1902, at which point his name was put on the retired list.
It was just after he left active duty that Max painted what I feel was his most endearing work. Ein Lieber Besuch (A dear visit), is an oil painting he finished in 1894 showing a young man, surrounded by Austrian dragoons which you take to be his comrades, in hospital being visited by what is perceived to be his warhorse. It was no doubt very familiar to the artist in many ways.
It was an early footnote in Max’s career, as he returned to Vienna, moved in the same circles as Klimt, summered on the Dalmatian coast and in Brittany, spent lots of time in Paris, helped found the Secessionist movement at Vienna’s Künstlerhaus, took a French wife, and fell in love with a pupil– Helene Heger.
Then came war.
At 46, Kurzweil, childless, listless and moody (his wife had been separated from him as she was in France when hostilities began) he was too old to lead a cavalry troop but was nonetheless recalled to active duty. Assigned to work on the Serbo-Montenegrin Front as a war artist, he returned to Vienna on leave in May 1916, where he met his lover one last time at his studio and entered into a suicide pact using his service pistol. He is buried in Vienna’s Hütteldorfer Cemetery.
However, his simple but poignant horse painting had become a very popular postcard in war-torn Austria, surely evoking memories of love and loss to many.
As for the 3rd Dragoons, stationed in Krakow, then on the Austrian frontier, in 1914 as part of 3. Kavallerietruppendivision, they fought the Russians on the Eastern Front and, late in the war, lost their horses, converting to foot infantry. In 1919, they were disbanded, although, in 1967, Panzerbataillon 33 of the reformed Austrian Army adopted the old regiment’s lineage. Today, PzB 33 uses Leopard 2A4 tanks.
Ein Lieber Besuch since 1965 has been in the collection of the Österreichische Galerie Belvedere in Vienna, who have several of Kurzweil’s works. He is considered today to be one of the most important Austrian artists of his era. Additionally, his art is in the American Fine Arts Museum of San Francisco and the Art Gallery of New South Wales in Sydney, Australia
Thank you for your work, sir.