Biographies

THORAK, Josef

* 07.02.1889 in Salzburg
† 26.02.1952 in Hartmannsberg am Chiemsee
Sculptor.

Born the son of a master potter, Josef Thorak learned the craft of pottery in his fathers' workshop. At the age of 23 he attended the Arts Academy in Vienna, and went on to Berlin in 1915 to continue his art education there. From 1918 Thorak worked as freelance sculptor. At this stage most of his work was created from wax, as he could not afford to cast in bronze. Thorak received his first contracts from the general public. In 1928 Josef Thorak was awarded the State Prize of the Prussian Academy of Arts. He finally received large contracts, which was awarded by Albert Speer. Yet his growing excitement over Speer's devoted support was temporarily diminished due to the resistance he encountered in Berlin in 1935. The jury for the arts exhibition on the Reich sport fields with the Olympic Stadium refused to acknowledge the work of an Austrian. Only after a hint from the NSDAP that Hitler held the work of the sculptor in high regard, was this descision reversed. Thereafter Thorak's advancement was secured with several contracts. He created sculptures for governmental buildings, including the well-known horses for the terrace of the New Reich Chancellery. He also created a name for himself internationally with the reliefs for the Kemen Atatürk-Denkmal in Ankara. Included among the portrait busts created by Thorak were portraits of Friedrich Nietzsche, Adolf Hitler and Benito Mussolini. A Paracelsus-Denkmal of Thorak still stands in Salzburg today. In 1944 Thorak participated in an official exhibition for the last time in "Haus der Deutsche Kunst" in Munich with seven of his artworks. After his period of fame as state artist, Thorak retired in May 1945 and lived a mostly isolated life in Bavaria. Acquaintances described him in 1949 as a "broken man". One year prior to his death in 1951, art lovers wished to honor the sculptor once more. On the 20th October an exhibition of the works of the old master, with artworks from the National Socialist time, was opened in Munich. Aside from Thorak, others, like Sepp Hilz, were also represented. Public protests were launched against the exhibition in the former "Haus der Deutschen Kunst" where Thorak, like Georg Kolbe and Breker, were previously often presented at art exhibitions. The artist was embittered by these attacks on him. The Bavarian minister of Education, Josef Schwalber, called for democratic tolerance and the freedom of art established in the constitution. He countered the protests with the argument: "Sculptures can't be prohibited because it had once appealed to Nazi Leaders". Thorak died in Hartmannsberg am Chiemsee on 26 February 1952.