bruno beran

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Irene’s Art Collection

In later life Irene played a supportive role to Bruno Beran, but as a young woman she accomplished much on her own account.

Paradelo, reporting Bruno's words, tells how she was in contact with the cultural elite of the time, corresponding with Tolstoy and with D'Annunzio, a favourite poet. She sang in his "Martyrdom of San Sebastian", with music by Debussy, and began what would become a singing career which took her to the stage of the Vienna State Opera, "Her beauty and the purity of her voice captivated all who heard and watched".

irene-1She acted as an artist's model for husband-to-be Bruno, Habermann, Von Stȕck and maybe Klimt. Bruno once described her as "the Mona Lisa of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, thanks to whom it would not disappear completely". He continues more reflectively, for this was the period immediately following the Empire's collapse, "My Mona Lisa does not smile for her almond eyes, deluded and sad are directed towards the Empire gone, so different to the Florence of Leonardo".irene-2

Irene also supported avant-garde artistic movements at a time when they were rejected by the public and mocked by critics. She appreciated especially the work of the expressionist painter, Oskar Kokoschka, when no one took the slightest interest in him. As the daughter of one of Brno's wealthiest merchants, Irene was financially independent and able to buy works of unappreciated young artists so that, over time, she came to own a very valuable collection.

Her collection, exhibited at Vienna's Wȕrthle Gallery in 1928, was subsequently lost and this catalogue is the only record we now have. Even this is incomplete, as the catalogue refers to further unnamed works in store. She collected drawings and watercolours of the preceeding generation in Austria including Tina Blau, Romako, Schindler, von Alt and Ender. More prominent were contemporaries - Klimt, Schiele, Kokoschka and Jungnickel, front-ranking Austrian artists associated with the Secession; Laske of the Hagenbund; and Gȕtersloh who was to provide the bridge to post-war modernism. Others were added during Bruno and Irene's Munich years – again well known artists such as Von Stȕck, Habermann (Bruno's mentor) and Corinth (who had introduced the German speaking world to Impressionism). Another group were associated with the art magazine Jugend (the publication that gave its name to the Jugendstil and to which Bruno contributed) and the satirical magazine Simplicissimus - Heine, Mayrshofer, Gulbrannson, Weissgerber and Lotte Pritzel.

The Wȕrthle Gallery was instrumental in the development of the modern movement in Vienna and remained in business until the 1990s. The catalogue for Irene's exhibition reproduced here includes an introduction by Arthur Roessler, biographer of Klimt and Bruno, and notable for his promotion of Egon Schiele.

irene-3What has happened to all these pictures? They may have been confiscated along with the family home – under the Nazi regime Jews were forbidden to own property of any kind. On the other hand it is conceivable that Irene sold her collection. It would be marvellous to discover the truth so please contact me if you recognise any of the titles.

Please click here to download the catalogue for Irene's exhibition.

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.