Rudolf Saudek Biography

Rudolf Saudek




Sculptor and printmaker Rudolf Saudek was born in Kolin, Czechoslovakia, on October 20, 1880. He didn't pursue art until age twenty when he took courses in sculptural work in Paris in 1900. He formally enrolled in the Royal Academy for Graphic Arts and Book Trade in Leipzig from 1903 to 1906, followed by study at the Academy of Fine Arts in Prague and courses in Paris, London, Rome and Florence.

He became known for his marble busts, and in 1910 he was comissioned to revise the marble funerary portrait of Friedrich Nietzsche at the request of his sister Elisabeth Forster-Nietzsche. This led to other "death masks," most notably for the composers Arthur Schopehauer, Antonin Dvorak, and Bedruch Smetana. He was commissioned to create busts for famous contemporary politicians, scientists, doctors, royalty, and performing artists, including the opera singer Elena Gerhardt. Additionally, decorative works were commissioned by the Gewandhaus theater and the Leipzig Zoo, and in the 1920s he published a series of etchings to illustrate Dante's Divine Comedy

In 1935 Saudek, who was Jewish, was banned from working professionally as an artist and resigned himself to tombstone carving for fellow believers in order to support himself. Eventually, however, this was also banned. He filed official complaints with the Czech officials in Berlin in the hopes that such laws wouldn't apply to foreign Jews as they did to German Jews, but was rejected. He relocated to Prague in 1938 to escape the rising tide of anti-Seimitism, but to no avail as the Nazi occupation spread. In 1942, he was deported to the Theresienstadt concentration camp.

Theresienstadt, known primarily as the a camp for the elderly and used for propaganda purposes to spread the idea of the humane treatment by the Nazis, was left under the direction of sympatheic Jewish overseers and as such many of the prisoners were allowed some modicum of normalcy as long as it didn't draw attention from the Nazi government. (Its seemingly benign set-up was therefor successful enough to fool visiting inspectors from the Red Cross in June of 1944.) This allowed for Saudek's survival. His skills as a sculptor were used in a propaganda film shot in late 1944, creating a fountain decoration for the SS who, in a bid to boost their world image, filmed the prisoners creating art, gardening, and performing other benign "leisure" tasks. Additionally, Saudek participated in the secret education and entertainment of the children who were also imprisoned in the ghetto, creating a puppet theater that recreated famous children's stories on a miniature stage. Following the completion of the propaganda film in September of 1944, many of these prisoners, primarily the youngest, were deported to extermination camps, where they were murdered. 

After the liberation of Theresienstadt by the Red Army on May 8, 1945, Saudek returned to Prague, where he continued to work as an artist, as well as a professor of art at the Academy of Fine Arts, until his death on July 19, 1965.