A fine exhibited nude oil painting by the noted and prolific Czech and later American painter and illustrator Joseph Tomanek, that was exhibited in the 1920s at a Chicago Galleries Association fine art show with the title The Studio Couch. Our gallery became associated with this artist through the calendar prints created from his paintings of water siren art deco nude nymphs that were popular during The Great Depression years of the 1930s. This is a wonderful example of his nude portraiture, the original exhibit frame is remarkable and looks to be of Newcomb-Macklin manufacture.
Joseph Tomanek, a painter active mainly in Indiana and Illinois, was born on a farm in Straznice, Czechoslovakia (in Southeastern Moravia) on April 16, 1889 and died in 1974. An old biography in The Palette and Chisel (June 1929) tells of Joseph carving his own violin out of pine wood, and he demonstrated some talent in music. First he studied the rudiments of art at the School of Design in Prague, then emigrated to America, and arrived in Chicago in 1910. His actual profession was interior designer but he took more art classes at the Art Institute of Chicago under a compatriot, Antonin Sterba (1875-1963), who had been trained in the Paris academies. Albert Krehbiel and Karl Buehr were Tomanek’s other teachers at the AIC. Between 1919 and 1931, Tomanek exhibited works at the Art Institute, including Cornfield, Bohemian Costume Study, Gypsy and From My Studio Window (Vanderpoel Art Association, Chicago).
Tomanek wrote about the difficulties he had when posing nude models in Chicago: “In Paris you can rent little garden studios and pose your models there in privacy. Here, if I work out of doors, I have to pose the girls in bathing suits.” (Paul Gilbert, Sunday Chicago Sun, 15 July 1945). Reportedly Tomanek followed the old eclectic method of creating an ideal nude, combining the best features from various models. This academic procedure goes back to seventeenth-century theorists Giovanni Bellori and André Félibien, and was continued through the eighteenth century when neoclassical art theorist Anton Raphael Mengs made the analogy of bees collecting nectar from a variety of flowers. Besides nudes, Tomanek painted intimate landscapes, neo-Rococo garden scenes much like those of Frederick Ballard Williams, floral still-lives and murals in local churches. By 1920 Tomanek was a member of the Bohemian Art Club; soon he joined the Association of Chicago Painters and Sculptors, the Chicago Gallery Association and the Palette and Chisel Club. During the 1920s, thanks to three scholarships, Tomanek spent four years in Europe, which was one of the professional goals of many young American artists.
In 1938 Tomanek won the Logan Prize at the Art Institute of Chicago for Thoughts of the Future, a half-length nude strumming a guitar, which recalled the Salon days of Cabanel and Bouguereau for Peyton Boswell (Art Digest, 1 October 1938). Tomanek was one of the artists enrolled in the Illinois Art Project, 1935-1943. The Indianapolis Museum of Art has his painting called Milking Time.