Exotic animals, lawn tennis and fashionable dandies make up the world into which the artist Ludwig H. Jungnickel lures his observers. A portrait in SCHIRN MAGAZIN.
The zigzag flickers feverishly before our eyes. Above and below white lines appear on a black background, solidifying into a large pouffe, which picks up on their pattern, doubling and tripling it, obscuring it through a reversal, black on white, zig and zag.
The curves form a silhouette of an elegant dandy, who could be a prototype for the well-dressed aristocrats around the turn of the century. The reversed zigzag is shaped into a long coat nipped in at the waist, the cut emphasized by a masterful hand-on-hip pose, the legs crossed and the body taut, with the mind also apparently razor-sharp. A cigarette? But of course! Long and lean like the character holding it in his left hand, cocked and propped; the fashionable finesse is undeniable: Green socks peep from the shoes, and a mighty brooch sits at the base of the erect collar around the neck. A long, unkempt beard. Ears bristling with fur. Two long, indeed very long horns, slender and fine with their two-colored rings almost tallying with the zigzag background. Perhaps one of the greatest portraits in the current exhibition “Art for All”, this image depicts, of all things, a billy cricket – admittedly in the guise of a human, but a billy goatlike cricket nonetheless.
The creator of this animalistic dandy is Ludwig Heinrich Jungnickel, the Austrian painter and illustrator whose work was dedicated as much to animals as to people. Or, indeed, a fantastical combination of both. It is primarily the gallantly dressed crickets, appearing like true fashion victims with elaborately decorated shoes, frills, fur collars, walking canes and fluttering capes, who represent Jungnickel’s particular passion.
The human fascination with animals
Ludwig H. Jungnickel was born in 1881 in Wunsiedel. Freelance and commissioned assignments, fine art and graphics come together in the Austrian artist’s oeuvre and even in his early years are hard to divide up. Jungnickel attended the Kunstgewerbeschule, an arts and crafts school, in Munich and shortly afterwards started making money with his brother by selling drawings to tourists in Rome. His work even came to the attention of the Vatican with the result that it was suggested this young talent train as a church painter.
Yet his true passion is supposed to have taken shape in Vienna. Here Ludwig H. Jungnickel switched between the Akademie and the Kunstgewerbeschule with an interlude in Munich, and at the age of barely 20 he designed collection motifs for the well-known Cologne-based chocolate factory Stollwerck. These included a fox wearing checks and fur and, as if in anticipation, a billy goat in – that’s right – zigzag clothing. The theme of animals runs like a common thread through his images and, even if not all of them surpass humans in terms of fashion, they do all exude opulence: magnificent parrots from the Schönbrunn zoo, clamoring flamingos, dangerous yet beautiful black panthers. Even in the motifs oriented more towards the animals’ natural state of being, Ludwig Jungnickel demonstrates his keen sense for the human fascination with animals, which elevates each individual page to more than mere illustration. Here there is no end of movement and dynamics; panthers growl and bare their teeth, whilst birds peek out from the image, holding the gaze of the observer with heads askew: Look at me, I can look back at you!
As a master of his art Jungnickel expanded the limits of graphics ever further, and with the development of his spray stencil technique he explored entirely new technical possibilities. The result appears like a hot, shimmering summer day with its heavy-hanging air: Alongside animal portraits the Austrian artist also used this technique to depict, amongst other things, a tennis match with women in white dresses hitting the ball back and forth in the shade, a meadow with workers, and an orchard by a forest clearing, in the shade of which the most fantastic colors emerge from the darkness, mystical and wildly romantic. The sprayed layers blanket and overlap one another, their visible particles giving the images a gentle inertia, the contours lazily blurring into one another. What made the new technique so exciting was that it was a graphic without the most important characteristics of a graphic. There were no rigid contours or lines, the forms emerging merely from their surfaces.
Among Jungnickel’s most famous works, however, are the friezes for children’s rooms, which he designed for the Palais Stoclet in Brussels amongst others, and which, produced using yet another technique, are testament to Jungnickel’s stylistic abilities along with spray stencil images and wood prints. The tropical abundance here is illustrated with minimal colors and graphic lines throughout; rhinoceros, gnus and ibex, tigers, frogs and snails, peacocks and exotic birds appear among palms, cacti and shrubs in a veritable Garden of Eden.
What fits onto a small metal plate
Yet Ludwig Jungnickel, who never formed part of the Viennese Secession despite exhibiting alongside the group, was only able to benefit from the success he had by then achieved for a short time. His so-called Aryan certificate was never passed on, a supposed denunciation forced him to leave the country and the Gestapo cleared out his home. In Opatija, in what is now Croatia, he once again tried to make money in the same way he had done in his youth, by selling drawings he had produced himself. In the 1950s Jungnickel eventually moved back to Austria, but only ten years later did he return to Vienna. In the intervening years his studio had been destroyed, and with it a number of images from the period before World War II.
The golden plaques that appear on select houses in honor of their former residents frequently recount what sound like outstanding achievements or dramatic, life-changing events – and that’s if the mere name of the former resident is not world-famous enough to make any further explanation superfluous. The commemorative plaque at Grünbergstrasse 31 in Vienna’s twelfth district, however, has merely the following cast in metal: In this house “the animal illustrator Ludwig H. Jungnickel” worked alongside Egon Schiele. And in slightly smaller lettering underneath: up until 1940. This is of course something of an understatement, but on the other hand, how else can one sum up Jungnickel’s work and impact on the surface of a small metal plate? Ludwig H. Jungnickel, animal illustrator: Indeed, but what an animal illustrator he was!