Anton Romako (1832, Vienna-1889, Vienna) was born in Atzgersdorf (now a district of Liesing, Vienna), as an illegitimate son of factory owner Josef Lepper and his housemaid Elisabeth Maria Anna RomakoAnton Romako studied at the Vienna Academy of Fine Arts from 1847, but his teacher, Ferdinand Georg Waldmüller, considered him talentless. In 1849 he went to Munich to study under Wilhelm Kaulbach and subsequently in Venice, Rome and London. In the early 1850s he studied privately in Vienna under Carl Rahl whom he followed to his private school in 1851 and assisted with the design of the Ruhmeshalle (hall of fame) in Vienna’s Arsenal military complex. In 1854 he began travels to Italy and Spain and in 1857 settled in Rome as the favorite portrait, genre, and landscape painter for the local colony of foreigners.

In 1862 Romako married Sophie Köbel, the daughter of architect Karl Köbel, and the pair had five children before Sophie left Romako in 1875 for her lover. In 1876 Romako returned to Vienna but failed to re-establish himself against the style representend by Hans Makart and increasingly relied on the charity of such wealthy patrons as Count Kuefstein. He made study trips to Hungary, Italy and France, and during the years 1882-84 he alternated between Paris and Geneva. Two daughters, Mathilde and Mary, committed suicide in 1887. Romako never recovered from the loss and his last years were spent living in neglect near Vienna, where he died in poverty.

Romako had a fresh take on art, but his new techniques escaped the grasp of his contemporaries. He explored reality by liberally applying various stylistic elements and by analyzing the characters in his portraits from a psychological point of view. Romako’s artistic preferences ranged from genre painting, portraits, history painting (for example, arguably his most important painting, Tegetthoff at the Battle of Lissa” now displayed at the Österreichische Galerie Belvedere, Vienna) and from landscapes and motifs of allegorical and mythological nature. His take on portrait painting in particular had a decisive influence on the art of the early 20th century, which saw expressionism evolve and gain in acceptance making Romako a forerunner of Viennese Modernism.

Museums: Österreichische Galerie Belvedere, Vienna; The Leopold Museum, Vienna

Sources: Kunsthandel Giese und Schweiger; http://www.aeiou.at; Wikipedia.com

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