Following M. Benka, and alongside M. A. Bazovský and J. Alexy, Karol Ondreička is a representative of the artistic generation that sought the connection of the principles of modern art with a particular Slovak expression. He was born in 1898 in Dubnica nad Váhom, and graduated from the Academy of Arts, Architecture and Design in Prague, majoring in decorative painting. After his studies, he was a professor of painting at several secondary schools. He started working at the State Institute for the Private Trades in Martin in 1936, and later became Head of the Department of Folk and Art Production. From 1932, Ondreička regularly illustrated books for the publishing house of Matica slovenská, as well as the legendary children’s magazine, Slniečko. Following a slowdown of activities at Matica slovenská, he relocated to Bratislava in 1951 and was a teacher from 1953. Ondreička was a lecturer of drawing and painting at the Faculty of Architecture and Civil Engineering of the Slovak University of Technology in Bratislava from 1954. He died in Bratislava in 1961.
Predominantly in his most developed period (1930 – 1935), K. Ondreička was, much like his contemporaries, inspired by the traditional way of life in the mountainous areas of Slovakia. However, we find not only heroic images of hard work in a tough but beautiful landscape, or images of significant or symbolic human characters and Jánošík-like heroes in his works, but also frequent images of real people on the road, travelling for a purpose, for work, or with the results of their work, walking in groups or processions. Besides, Ondreička brought new themes to Slovak painting which had not been presented before and had rather only appeared in literature or photography – mourning assemblies, All Souls’ Day scenes, the issue of immigration, and work on the railroads. Characters not previously depicted in Slovak painting, like poachers, tramps or climbers, appeared beside traditional loggers and outlaws.
From among the more significant modern artists, Ondreička was the only one to regularly portray the Madonna and Child. He sought a modern, as well as Slovak Christian and socially based image of the Madonna as mother, while applying his illustrator interests and experience. Ondreička frequently enriched his main themes not only with typical images of people in the Slovak mountains, but also with animals and fairy-tale characters. Suffering Christ as the “male” counterpart of the Madonna also appeared in his works, however much less frequently. A remarkable Nordic-like Saviour with blond hair and blue eyes appeared in his series of Christ heads from 1940. Ondreička focused on His face, which resulted in imaginary portraits of suffering Christ with a significant or even naturalistic crown of thorns.
Besides illustrations, Ondreička occasionally dealt with graphic works. A series of wooden engravings, including the composition named Under the Cross, was created in the first half of the 1930s, portraying a favourite theme of contemporary fine arts and photography – three village women with bundles and big scarves concentrated around a cross by the road in reverence. An apparently disinterested man is standing to the side, leaning on a hatchet. This frequently depicted scene thus gains a different meaning.
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