bruno beran

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A Tale of Two Portraits

They say that every picture tells a story but what I want to tell here is a story about a picture - in fact about two pictures that once hung together on the walls of my family home, were then separated in the tragic turmoil of wartime Europe, but now, after 70 years, brought back together.


One picture is this portrait above of my mother, Irene, painted in 1921 by a well-known Munich artist of the time, Hugo von Habermann. The artist so cleverly captured my mother’s flamboyant character that it always had pride of place in our pre-war family home in Brunn (modern name Brno) in the Czech Republic. The other was this portrait to the right, of Habermann himself, and of which more anon.

Please click here to download the full story of 'A Tale of Two Portraits'.

Bruno and Irene Beran not only lived an interesting and full life, it is evident from the "time line" that they also lived through interesting times, both from an artistic and a political point of view. Articles in this History area of the website take their cue from some of Bruno's pictures to expand on events and episodes from their lives. There are inevitable gaps and it may be that visitors to the site can fill some of these or correct inaccuracies.

Pages from the Beran "history" book include:

  • A time line that has been assembled from written sources and family recollections. Bruno provided autobiographical notes to Exhibition cataloguesand also narrated his life story to Arthur Roessler when still quite a young man and to Rafael Paradelo near the end of his life.

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    Reconciliation between the sources can be problematic; one particular issue is the myth concerning his life with Irene that Bruno maintained right to the end of his life, possibly out of consideration to the conservative mores of his American and Spanish hosts. The long and short of it was that Irene was first married to Bruno's elder brother, Philip, but began to spend increasing periods of time with Bruno from the early 1920s eventually divorcing Philip and marrying Bruno. The arrangement was evidently consensual and amicable; as Irene and Philip's son, my father, Rudolf Beran admits, although he was hardly aware of it, he was brought up in a ménage a trois. The myth was however publicly maintained that the couple met as students in Vienna and were then married and had two children, essentially concatenating Philip's and his own marriage into a single union.

  • We reproduce here the list of Irene's own collection of drawings which were exhibited at Vienna's Wȕrthle Gallery in 1928. Irene was a cultivated woman in her own right with an operatic career behind her and strong artistic involvements as a patron, a model and, with Philip and Bruno, a collector.

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    Major names jump out from the exhibition catalogue – Klimt, Stuck, Corinth, Schiele, Kokoschka, Kars and Heine. We would of course love to know what has happened to this collection. Our best guess is that it was confiscated from the Brno family home when it was commandeered by the Nazis and when Philip, who had remained there, was transported to a death camp.
  • A peek into a family's domestic life is always engaging and we show here some atmospheric old photographs and other memorabilia from Brno in the early 20th century.
  • Hugo von Habermann was mentor and friend to the couple in the early 1920s. The story of the loss and recovery of a portrait Habermann painted of Irene is recounted by Rudolf Beran here.
  • Future articles will tell the story of Bruno's escape from Paris during WW2, and episodes from the couple's life in Ibiza and in the New World. There is also a rich vein of history to be mined from the back stories of some of Bruno's sitters and places he visited and painted.