The painter and graphic artist Franz Sedlacek (1891–1945) was one of Austria’s leading artists between the World Wars. A creator of strange, bizarre and mysterious scenes, Sedlacek draws the viewer into an unsettling world of surreal imagery. Sedlacek’s one-of-a-kind œuvre was inspired by Romantic art, but the self-taught virtuoso painter was also close to the New Objectivity school. Although he achieved international success in his lifetime, renewed interest was late in coming in the 1980s. The first comprehensive retrospective of his paintings was presented by Landesgalerie Linz in 2012; this exhibition is now on show, in slightly modified form, at Wien Museum, which also owns The Chemist (1932) and Winter Landscape (1931), two of Sedlacek’s key works.
Born in Wroclaw in 1891, Franz Sedlacek grew up in Linz amid a German-nationalist and anti-Semitic environment that exerted a powerful influence on him.
In 1911, he took up studies in chemical engineering in Vienna and co-founded the artists’ group MAERZ in Linz in 1913. Following earlier graphic works and caricatures, Sedlacek turned to painting in oils in the early 1920s. In a technique schooled on the Old Masters, he painted dream-like, grotesque scenes populated by weird beings, or placed set pieces from technology and modern life amid gloomy landscapes suffused with pathos, remote from modern civilisation. From 1921 onwards, Sedlacek earned his living as curator of the chemistry department at the Vienna Technical Museum, whose deputy director he became in 1937. The tension between a conventional middle-class lifestyle and his artistic passion, which he could pursue only in his spare time, lends a particular fascination to the painter and his work even today. Sedlacek served as an officer in the German Wehrmacht from 1939 to January 1945, when he was reported missing on the eastern front near Toruń.