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Tavik Frantisek Simon
Birth Date: 
Death Date: 
catalogue raisonné online at (Tavik) Frantisek Simon was born May 13, 1877 in the then Austrian Empire in the little town Zeleznice  (in German: Eisenstadtel, or Eisenstadtl) near Jicin, east of the Cesky Raj (Bohemian Paradise), a wonderful landscape with fantastic sandstone rocks and ruins of medieval castles. The painter often visited his native town and Zeleznice honours her great son with a modest museum and a T.F. Simon Street, where you still can see his birth-house, now a shop, with of course a memorial tablet.  He was the youngest of seven children of the miller Antonin Simon and Anna Tavikova. He showed early a talent for drawing, to the extent that his elementary school teacher recommended to his parents to send him for art education in Prague.  He came to live with his oldest sister who was married there and attended a civic high school. At the age of 17 he passed the entrance examination to the Academy of Arts and was accepted to the class of drawing and painting of Max Pirner (1854-1924), an acknowledged artist of neo-romantic, philosophical inclinations.  At the Academy he developed a close friendship with Hugo Boettinger (1880-1934) , Jan Honsa (1876-1937), Ferdinand Michl (1877- ) and Max Svabinsky (1873-1962). Svabinsky later became a professor at the Academy and taught there graphic arts until 1928 when Simon was appointed to his position and Svabinsky took the chair of painting.  While still at the Academy Simon became ill and decided to recuperate in a warm climate. He set out to spend some time in Bosnia with his sister Anna who was married there to a forester. He travelled through Bosnia, Croatia and Montenegro and was fascinated by the Adriatic and in particular by Dubrovnik.  He painted already on a high artistic level. Highlights are "Jaro (=Spring)", a charming painting in the Art Nouveau style, now in the National Gallery and "Dalmatian Girl", from 1900 an intriguing painting that reminds of the Mona Lisa by Leonardo da Vinci. Both paintings show that Simon had a great love of painting young women. His whole life he was inspired by women, especiallly by his favourite model, his lovely wife Vilma. Frantisek graduated from the academy in 1903 and received two consecutive scholarships to travel. The first one was used for a trip to Italy, the second to Paris and London. Both of the metropolises of western world impressed the young artist by the richness of museum collections and by the galleries displaying contemporary art; the intensity of the street life seemed equally amazing.   In Paris he was exposed to the art of the impressionists, whose glorious era was already fading, in London he admired the works of Pre-Raphaelites, of Turner, Constable and, in particular, of Whistler. Of course he was influenced by them, but he succeeded to create his own style, often of high artistic level. First of all Simon was a painter, and as a painter he ranks among the best artists of the twentieth century. But he liked also the graphic arts and became famous. At the turn of century the graphic arts, such as etching, aquatint, dry point, wood-cut etc., were in their infancy in Bohemia and instruction for eager young artists was hard to find. There were a few pioneers such as professor J.Marak, Zdenka Braunerova and Max Svabinsky and some help was also offered by professionals from the printing trade, namely Edvard Karel and Jan Stenc (who later published many of Simon's aquatints in colour). Simon often made first a drawing which he used as the example of his graphics.  In 1937 Arthur Novak made a list of the graphic works of T.F. Simon and he listed the amazing amount of 626 graphics. Many of them were in aquatint, what took T.F.Simon a terrible lot of time. He sure was a great graphic artist, he had a lot of success, and eventually earned good income, but after all it is a pity for the artistic world Simon did not use more of his time to paint his masterpieces. During his visit to Paris Simon perceived, as other Czech artists before him (Alfons Mucha (1860-1939), Ludek Marold (1865-1898), Frantisek Kupka (1871-1957), Karel Spillar (1871-1939), Josef Maratka (1974-1934) and others that the "City of Light" was a centre of artistic activity, so he decided to move in there. He travelled to Paris in Spring of 1904 with his friend, a recent graduate of the Academy, Ferdinand Michel and they set up a modest studio ("atelier") somewhere in the V-th Arrondissement (the "Left Bank"). With  limited financial means their beginnings were quite hard and Michel eventually gave up and left. Simon gradually acquired the necessities for his efforts in graphic arts, some tools at flea mark-ets, zinc plates at hardware stores and somehow- nobody seems to know how learned all the crafts of etching, in particular that of aquatint (invented in France in 18th century by J.B. Leprince). Aquatint appeared essential to Simon the painter as it permitted the rendering of half-tones and colours. He also mastered the technique of soft ground (vernis-mou) which produced the effect of pencil drawing and skilfully combined this with the aquatint. In order to obtain exactly the desired effect he preferred to do his own printing and for this purpose purchased a second hand press. In 1905 he visited London again with his friends Boettinger and Kafka, mainly to see a large retrospective exhibit of J. Whistler, which also included a collection of his etchings. In the same year he had his first one-man show in Prague, in the pavilion of the Manes Society. The exhibit comprised some 100 works: drawings, pastels, paintings and etchings. Simon's city scenes enlivened by busy traffic and people were thoroughly original and became highly appreciated. The painter was very inspired, because he had met the muse of the rest of his life, the beautiful and intelligent Vilma Kracikova, whom he first met in France in the picturesque little town Onival on the coast of Normandy, where he painted some of his famous impressions of the beach. The couple married in the church of St. Nicholas in Prague in 1906 and the newlyweds returned to Paris. After the return to Paris Simon started to work with renewed energy. Regarding his graphics he added two new techniques, the mezzotint and wood-cut. He exhibited already before in the Salon de Beaux Arts where his prints came to the attention of the graphic arts dealer Sagot who took some of them for sale.  Also Georges Petit, owner of a prestigious gallery in Paris, showed great interest in Simon's colour aquatints and began to sell and commission them regularly. Simon's name began to appear prominently in international competition as witnessed by an article by J.Friedenthal in "Graphische Künste" where he pointed out that Simon discovered in Paris something other that the Frenchmen did not see. Perhaps because he was born in the country he had a fresh perception of the city scenery that might have escaped a born Parisian. Simon captured these scenes in paintings, drawings and etchings in an original, poetic manner that gained him a wide circle of admirers. His French colleagues called these pieces "Paysages de Paris" (Parisian landscapes). The quays, markets, boulevards, streets and alleys, quiet corners, pawnshops and bouquinistes,all that was rendered in soft lines and subdued colour harmony, thus recreating and rejuvenating a genre that has gone out of style. By its success Simon found out that graphic works get in circulation easier than paintings since they are more accessible to a greater number of collectors and, being signed by the author, are originals in their own right-.He wanted to make himself different from all other Simons by a permanent, effective initial. While in his first exhibit in Prague Simon was listed as Frantisek in all subsequent ones he was always using his expanded signature T.F.Simon. The T stands for Tavik, the family name of his mother. Friendly contacts among compatriots residing in Paris reflected in portraits such as those of the sculptors Maratka, Kafka, Spaniel and Gutfreund, the painter Spillar and the astronomer M.R. Stefanik. In turn, Simon also influenced their work: both Kafka and Spaniel tried their hands at etchings, as well as the painter-illustrator Strimpl. Stefanik did not experiment in print-making but instead became an avid art collector. He attended auctions with his artist friends and together they prowled the pawn shops and flea markets. They frequented the exhibitions at the official "Salons" and at the galleries of well known art dealers, such as Durand Ruel, Vollard, Bernheim and Druet. In Stefanik's apartment in Rue Leclerc was accumulating a sundry collection of rare china, rugs, arms, decorative fabrics, bronze objects, clumps of corals and minerals. Among these was a piece of uranium ore which the astronomer used to carry in his coat pocket to show its phosphorescence to his amazed friends. The first decade of twentieth century was a period of Simon's intense productivity and participation in numerous exhibits. He was invited by numerous organizations, such as the Société de la Gravure en Couleurs, the Société de la Gravure en Noir, the Société des Peintres-Graveurs Français, the Gallery Walker of Liverpool and the Royal Society of Painters, Etchers and Engravers of London. Interest was also extended from Berne, Switzerland and from Chicago and from New York where F. Keppel was dealing in modern graphic art.  In 1911 there was in Paris the first comprehensive exhibit of cubist painters. Cubism heralded a new radical trend subsequently embraced by the avant-garde artists throughout Europe, including Prague, where in the Art Society Manes it lead to a rift in which the young avant-garde (Vaclav Spala, Emil Filla, Bobumil Kubista, V.H. Brunner and others ) seceded and started a group "Osma" (The Eight) of their own.  Simon was well aware of the new winds blowing and was informed about the events in Prague by letters from his friends. In spite of it he chose to ignore the modernistic trends and continued to develop his own personal style characterized by a unique combination of realistic craftsmanship with a sensitive feel for colour and mood of the scene.  In summer of the year 1912 Simon returned for a trip with his family to Prague and they decided to spend a part of their vacation in the region called Moravian Slovakia which was renown for its colourful village life. Unfortunately, this trip ended tragically when their first-born son Kamil became ill with meningitis and died. After their return to Paris the Simons decided to do some travelling, in part to overcome the grief and depression which affected particularly Vilma. From their visit to Bretagne, Spain and Tangiers T.F.Simon brought back a rich harvest of new motifs for paintings and etchings. In 1913 Simon began to think of returning to Prague, planning to keep in Paris only a small studio. In summer of 1914 while the Simons were again in Prague the archduke Ferdinand was assassinated in Sarajevo and a war broke out that turned out to become the World War I. The return to France became impossible. The painter was not drafted in the Austrian army but the livelihood of an artist became rather difficult as war years dragged on. He continued to create works often inspired by the scenes of life in Prague and his longing for his beloved France. In the winter of 1916 he painted the masterly "The Saint-Nicolas Market". Even though he had to work very hard to support the family Simon was thinking of helping his fellow artists who were often struggling for bare existence. His organizational talents lead to the founding with Max Svabinsky of the "Association of Czech Graphic Artists Hollar" (so named after Vaclav Hollar,an outstanding engraver mostly active in London in 17th century). This group of some fifteen original members was organized to give support to the artists by providing a gallery space for exhibits, a sales room and an editorial office for publishing a quarterly "Hollar" to which Simon often contributed articles on graphic arts and artists. The association "Hollar" also strived at increasing the public awareness of Czech graphic arts at home and abroad; it is still in existence to-day. When returned to Paris after the war he found the studio, the graphic tools, the press, the supplies and the paintings all under dust and mildew. Worse still he was obliged to pay the back rent for four years (and shipping costs of the remainders back to Prague) which added up to a considerable financial burden. Fortunately, he was able to renew quickly the contacts with the publishers and art dealers in Paris and to obtain ample commissions and contracts. Back home he was commissioned, along with other artists, by the initiative of the Defence Ministry of Czechoslovak Republic, to visit and document the various battlegrounds where the Czech and Slovak battalions in exile fought along the Allied Armies. Simon chose to visit France and made a number of dramatic etchings from the ruins of Reims. The twenties and thirties were very busy years for T.F.Simon. He produced a great number of colour aquatints of Prague motifs and he also returned (often with family) to Paris to satisfy the demand for his characteristic vistas of the city and of the beaches of Normandy.  In 1921 he visited Slovakia - in part for therapy in the spa Trencianske Teplice-and made a number of etchings from the picturesque towns and mountains. Meanwhile, he also became involved in graphic design of books and created a great number of ex-libris for collectors-bibliophiles. In the twentieth he had built a beautiful villa, Na Zatorce 483 (later called V Tisine 10)  in Prague, with a large studio. The artist Alfons Much lived in the same street, V Tisine 4. T F Simon  made three murals on the outer walls, still to be seen. All along, Simon was thinking about  broadening his repertoire by visiting the more distant parts of the world and eventually fulfilling his long-held dream of travelling around the world. He started the long trip in August 1926, fully armed with his tools for drawing, sketching and painting. He was regularly writing long letters to his wife describing his experiences and impressions, often illustrated with pencil sketches.  After his return some  of these were collected in book format and published in 1928 under the title "Listy z cesty kolem sveta" (Letters from a trip around the world).  The first stop of the tour in the USA was New York where T.F.  Simon had already established contacts from previous years, when he visited Detroit and Chicago.  From the impressions of New York T.F.S.created a number of exceptionally effective paintings, etchings and colour aquatints. From New-York the tour then proceeded to Boston, Buffalo, Pittsburgh, Cleveland, Detroit, Chicago, Washington, Philadelphia, San Diego, Los Angeles, San Francisco, after  which he continued to Hawaii and the Philippines, Japan, China, Hong Kong, Sri Lanka (then called Ceylon), India, Egypt, and Greece, ending with Naples and Marseilles. The Orient made a great impression on the artist and he responded by producing numerous etchings, aquatints and oil paintings, some of which were shown at a comprehensive exhibit in Prague on the occasion of Simon's 50th birthday. In 1928 Simon was appointed a professor at the Academy of Arts in Prague to head the school of graphic arts previously held by Max Svabinsky. He took the teaching job very seriously and devoted a lot of time to it, including writing and publishing of two manuals, one dealing with etching and the other with woodcut. The instruction took 3 to 4 years, the first of which was devoted to drawing from live models and composition; then followed instruction in all forms of graphic arts, the practical classes being run with the aid of an assistant. Simon's first assistant was Cyril Bouda, the future husband of his daughter Eva, later followed by Vladimir Pukl. Professor Simon cautioned his students against superficiality and artistic shortcuts. He stressed study from nature and reality rather than following preconceived theories. He familiarized his students with the works of the masters of graphic arts, such as Dürer, Rembrandt, Hollar, Piranesi and Goya, and his own favourites, such as Brangwyn, Whistler, Lautrec, Lepère, Meryon and others. This was followed by discussions in class and supplemented by visits to the Modern Gallery (of which he was one of the curators). Some fifty students passed through Simon's class of which about one-half graduated with a degree of Master. All this came to an end when the Academy was closed in November 1939 after the Nazi occupation of Czechoslovakia. After 1930 his work as a professor, curator and writer took too much of his energy, and it is regrettable he had too little time for his artistic work. Still he made some masterpieces, like a painting (1936) of his son Pavel Simon (born 1920). Simon took very hard the events of World War II and stress declined his health seriously. Tavik Frantisek Simon died at home, December 19, 1942 by heart failure following a heart attack some months earlier. For his wife the years after were very hard. During the German occupation she had forced lodging of Germans in the house. After the war there were some peaceful years, the art-collections of the Simons, among which a lot of very valuable paintings the painter always kept, and very much graphics and drawings and his large library of especially books of art, were still in their possession. In the house lived Vilma together with her sons. Her daughter Eva  married before 1940 the future famous national artist Cyril Bouda and got a son, the graphic artist Jiri Bouda. Pavel became also an artist, he died  young in 1958. During the communist regime the family Simon had to accept that other people came to live in their house. The artist Tavik Frantisek Simon was no longer wanted by the communists. The name T.F. Simon disappeared from the official art books and nothing of value was published about this great Czech artist. They had their policy of silence. Even the archives of the art society Hollar were destroyed.  After more then 40 years of silence in the communist era nowadays the revaluation of the artist is in progress. In 1994 an exhibition in Prague at the National Gallery was mounted.  In 2002 there was an exhibition at the Czech Centre in New-York and in the same year an extended sale-exhibition of graphic work by T.F. Simon in Chicago (Frederick Baker). In november and december 2004 there is the exhibition "T.F. Simon, Cesta Kolem Sveta v 80 Obrazech" (="T.F Simon, around the world in 80 pictures"), in Galerie u Krizovniku, near the Charles Bridge in Prague; the works are published in a catalogue.   Vilma Simonova died in 1959.  She was a wonderful woman. After the death of her husband her aim was to keep the art collection of the family together. In the hard communist time of the fifties she had the courage to erect a memorial on the cemetery of Bubenec in the north of Prague to honour the great artist who considered himself first and foremost as a painter. Nowadays the family-villa houses an embassy. Source: This biography is mainly based on an abridged translation by Ivan Simon (the second son of Vilma and Frantisek Simon)  from Eva Buzgova`s  booklet "Malir a grafik T F Simon 1877-1942, vyber z dila". The booklet was published in occasion of the exhibition of paintings and graphics by T. F. Simon in Kinsky Palace in Prague, Mai 31- July 3, 1994. We are very grateful for his co-operation and the work of Eva Buzgova.