On the eve of its 300th anniversary, Omsk was ennobling its streets, squares and parks. Historical buildings were carefully restored. Like pearls, they adorn the city and preserve the fragrance of time.
The five buildings, decorated with sculptural reliefs, take a special place in the city space. Omsk residents know them well: the Academic Drama Theater, the Organ Music Hall (the former Crystal Palace), the Omsk City Administration (the former Russian-Asian Company), the Agricultural College (formerly the Commercial School) and the Omsk State Transport University (formerly the Omsk Railway Administration). Although, few people know the name of the sculptor, who decorated the facades of these buildings with the masterpieces. It was Vladimir Franzevich Winkler.
He was brought to Omsk in 1915 as a prisoner of war, and since then his biography was invariably connected with this Siberian city.
The future famous Czech sculptor was born in 1884 in the town of Prerov, in Moravia, then part of Austria-Hungary. At birth, he was given the name Frantisek, later, while living in Russia, he took the name Vladimir. He brilliantly graduated from the Prague Academy of Arts in the class of monumental sculpture, then improved his skills in Italy, studying the sculpture of the great masters. But World War I turned his life around. He was a staff photographer on the Russian-German front. At the beginning of 1915 he was captured and soon found himself in a remote Siberian city as a prisoner of war.
The early 20th century was the time of cultural and economic growth in Omsk. Material and human resources were flowing in by the railway going through the city, which led to the rapid construction of shops, churches, educational and government institutions. All these buildings needed a sculptor who could decorate them. And the sculptor was found. It was Winkler, in the prime of his life and creativity. The captured officer was accommodated at a merchant's house and allowed to move around the city without an escort only with a bandage on his sleeve.
The city government that managed the distribution of prisoners of war, assigned Winkler to designing the city theater built according by the project of the talented Omsk architect I. G. Khvorinov. The brick facade of the theater was unfretted for about ten years.
At that time they didn't yet know what a luck for Omsk was the appearance of the Czech master in the city. In the whole Siberia, he was the only sculptor with academic education and a great talent. With a group of assistants, Winkler began the work he was familiar with: in Prague, he decorated the Vinohrady Theater. The materials used in Omsk were traditional: clay from the bank of the Irtysh for modeling, gypsum and sandstone for finished sculptures. Winkler was creating the models from which the assistants were making molds. The molds were filled with gypsum or concrete. The obtained products were dried and impregnated with hot linseed oil for strength and durability. For two hemispherical niches, the master modeled the busts of L.N. Tolstoy and A.P. Chekhov based on the photos.
A winged figure was the culmination of the months of work, people perceived it as a winged Glory or a winged Genius. Working on the monumental sculpture of about three meters high and weighing more than a ton was fraught with great difficulties. Winkler was sculpting it from reinforced concrete directly on the peak of the building. One group of assistants was mixing the concrete mortar on the ground, the other was lifting it up and applying it on a steel rod cage. After a slight solidification of the mass, the next portion was applied on it. At the final stage, the master himself put a thin layer of concrete, giving a complete look to the whole sculpture.
The scaffolding was removed by the autumn, and the beautiful spectacle was opened for the citizens. The brick walls were decorated with magnificent reliefs and figures, a bizarre pattern of the acanthus leaves. The winged figure was at the top of the building. The city hasn't yet seen such a thing before.
In the spring of 1916, the city government commissioned the sculptor to decorate the city's Commercial College, which was being constructed by the project of F. A. Chernomorchenko. It was decided to put the masks of Commerce and Mercury, the patron of commerce, to the main facade. Winkler fashioned the faces in accordance with the ancient canon but adding his own nuances. On the lateral single-storey facade, the sculptor placed a cartouche with the number 1916, acanthus leaves, volutes and cornucopias.
At the same time, Chernomorchenko was supervising the construction of the Crystal Palace cinema with a luxurious design planned that suited the taste of the owner and the pan-European fashion. The architect invited Winkler to work on the decoration of both buildings. In the cinema lobby, the sculptor created two pairs of decorative panels in the Art Nouveau style. The central part of the facade was decorated with exquisite reliefs of a bizarre shape. The abundant interior design of the cinema deserves special attention. Winkler decorated the brackets supporting the gallery of the second floor of the foyer with floral ornaments and mascarons in the form of a girl's face. Creating them, the author broke from the cold antique canon, showing himself as a delicate portraitist who managed to convey the psychological state of the character.
All the work was over by the beginning of the winter. On December 6, 1916, the Omsk Telegraph newspaper published the advertisement: «Attention! Today is the opening of a new elegant cinema in Omsk called Crystal Palace under direction of E. A. Plotnikova, Sannikovsky Avenue, Gryaznov's house, in front of the Gigant Theater. The theater is made from reinforced concrete using latest technology, which is why it is absolutely safe in respect of fire.»
The summer of 1917 for Winkler was the last and most significant period of his Omsk creativity. The grandiose construction of the building of the Omsk Railway Administration was close to completion. To design its facade, the organizers requested one of the leading architects of Russia, F. I. Lidval, who created the project, skillfully applying various architectural styles.
The Omsk city government responded to the request of the transport department and assigned Winkler to this grandiose facility. He recruited a large brigade of prisoners of war and civilians.
In a special room in the basement of the building, the master was sculpting the reliefs and figures with clay, then everything went according to the technique used at the city theater.
At the beginning of construction, the city architect P. F. Gorbachev proposed the idea of creating four allegorical figures, symbolizing the services of the railway: track, traction, movement and management. Everybody liked the idea. Until the beginning of the 20th century, statues consonant with the purpose of the building were installed only on the facades of churches and theaters. Therefore, the four allegorical figures in Omsk have become an innovative solution.
The implementation of the idea, proposed by Gorbachev, was even more sophisticated than the erection of the winged Genius figure of the city theater. Simplifying the solution of technical issues, Winkler significantly complicated his own work. Deprived of space for visual control from a distance, the author had to perceive the statues in a distorted form of a short perspective. The only support was the talent and experience, and the working models of the statues as assistance. The sculptor created the four figurines of no more than 50 cm in height with special care. While retaining the baroque appearance of figures, the author also used elements of Art Nouveau. As the work progressed, the individual traits of each statue appeared: The Track is the most powerful, the Traction is the most charming, the Movement is the most dramatic, the Management is the most majestic.
The statues made a strong impression, and a legend about the Traction statue was born among people. They said that its appearance resembled Elena Pavlovna Musatova, Winkler's future wife. The statue was really different from the others. More like a half-naked Aphrodite, she was only slightly touching the locomotive model with her left hand. Its finely crafted little finger coyly sticks out. This example shows the high demands of the sculptor to his work. Knowing that no one could see a hand from the ground, Winkler could have fashioned it in an approximate, even crude way, but he didn't.
The attributes of the statues are very different from the classical analogues of ancient Greece. The Track statue holds a pick on her shoulder, a tool embodying hard work of laying a track through tunnels in rocks. A small locomotive at the feet of Traction is a symbol of technical progress. It's thanks to the locomotive pulling the trains with goods and people, Omsk has received favorable conditions for economic and cultural development. The switch mechanism with a heavy weight doesn't correspond much to the elegant female figure of the Movement, but accurately shows the device to throw over the points of the tracks. The Management holds more traditional attributes in her hands. The caduceus is the symbol of the god of Mercury, the folio in the left hand can be regarded as a code of laws and as an accounting book. These new attributes, enriching the language of the sculpture, helped Winkler convey the deep processes of social development in his work. The allegorical statues became the only art work reflecting the economic growth in Omsk.
A century has passed since. It's difficult to determine the order of the decoration work of the buildings of the Omsk Railroad Administration and the Russian-Asian Company, but Winkler has put the same date on both of them: 1917.
On the facade of the current city hall, this number is even decorated with a beautiful cartouche above the two-figure composition: A mighty bearded old man holds one end of the chain, and the other end chains a woman. Chained hands and the figure 1917 during the Soviet era were associated with the revolutionary events in Russia. But reading the attributes of the composition will lead to the Time and Power allegory: the winged elder, Chronos, holds the Power, Potency, which lessens with every minute. The virtuosic overall decoration work on the facade should be noted too. The windows, combined in pairs, are decorated particularly beautifully.
In the spring of 1918, Vladimir Winkler, along with the Czechoslovak legionaries, went to Vladivostok with the hope of returning to his homeland. But his earthly journey ended in 1956 in Harbin. The visa to leave for the Czech Republic came after his death.
In Omsk, Vladimir Franzevich Winkler left behind a rich artistic heritage, having become the only artist who reflected the spirit of the epoch in his works, the state of cultural and economic growth in a large Siberian center. Since Omsk at that time didn't have an art museum, Winkler's works were a breakthrough in cultural life and were available to all population groups as a permanent exhibition in the open air. He became an envoy of Europe, whose work enriched the culture of the early 20th century Siberian province. Winkler's name was included in the encyclopedias of Omsk and Omsk Region.