Rudolf Sandalo (1899 – 1980)

from 18. 4. 2019 to 1. 9. 2019


The photographic work of Rudolf Sandalo Jr. is one of the largest and most valuable sets of photographic documentation in the architecture collection of Brno City Museum. The name and person of their creator, however, remains practically unknown among historians and the general public alike. 

Today, Sandalo's photographs are considered unique examples not only of interwar architecture in Czechoslovakia, but also of the excellent quality of its photographic documentation. At the time, many people on the forefront of modern art realized the close relationship between modern architecture and photography. Photography helped avant-garde artists and architects to see architecture from a different angle, and was used to promote architecture at home and abroad at exhibitions or on the pages of trade journals and society magazines. Important platforms for avant-garde architects and "their" photographers were the trade journals Styl, Stavba, Stavitel, Architekt SIA, and Časopis československých architektů (published in Prague), the Brno-based Horizont and Bytová kultura, and Bratislava's Slovenský staviteľ and Forum. The photographs of Rudolf Sandalo Jr. appeared not only in these magazines, but also in the German trade journals Die Form and Innen-Dekoration, in Brno's society magazines Měsíc (Der Monat) and Salon, and in the popular Czechoslovak weeklies Pestrý týden and Eva. 

Among other things, Rudolf Sandalo Jr. took around eighty photographs of that iconic example of classical international modernism, Brno's Villa Tugendhat – most probably upon a commission directly from architect Ludwig Mies van der Rohe. Mies's friend, the architect Philip Johnson, chose two of Sandalo's photographs for the exhibition The International Style, held in 1932 at New York's Museum of Modern Art. Sandalo's photograph of the glass wall with a view of the main living area as seen from the garden terrace even appeared on the cover of the exhibition's catalogue by Henry Russell Hitchcock and Philip Johnson. His image of the villa's street-facing facade was reproduced on the dust jacket for the same authors' now-iconic publication The International Style: Architecture Since 1922. 

Atelier de Sandalo was founded by Rudolf Sandalo Sr. (1869–1932), who had worked as a professional photography in Bielsko (today Bielsko-Biała), although his official hometown was Sanok, Galicia (now Poland). At the start of the 20th century, Sandalo Sr. moved with his family to Brno, where on 1 July 1901 he became the owner of the renowned Jakob Wildner photo studio at Kobližná Street no. 31. He later moved the studio to Na hradbách no. 8 (today's Rooseveltova Street). Rudolf Sandalo Jr., born 15 August 1899 in Bielsko, apparently joined the company sometime before the end of the First World War. He initially worked as a technician, and in 1918 began studying chemistry at the German Technical University in Brno, although he never completed his studies. 

Atelier de Sandalo focused primarily on portrait photography, with a specialization on children's photographs. The studio also worked together with Brno's fashion shops. Its later orientation towards architecture and interiors was already begun by the elder Sandalo. In 1926, his son became a partner in the company, and in 1930 he took over the studio completely, after which he focused almost exclusively on architectural photography. His area of activity covered all of Czechoslovakia, and he collaborated with architects from most of the country's ethnic groups – Czechs, Slovaks, Germans, and Jews. In Brno starting in the early 1920s, he was essentially the "court photographer" for Bohumír Čermák and later for Bohuslav Fuchs, and he frequently worked for Ernst Wiesner, Jindřich Kumpošt, Jaroslav Grunt, Mojmír Kyselka Sr., and many others.  

Although Sandalo lived in Brno and inherited an established business from his father, his multiple applications for right of residence in Brno and for Czechoslovak citizenship were rejected for unknown reasons. Starting in the late 1930s, he operated in Prague and in Germany (he closed his Brno studio in 1936). In Prague, his applications for right of residence, citizenship, and official establishment of a photographic business were again repeatedly rejected. He nevertheless operated a photographic studio at Kaprova 12 and Jilská 4 in the city's Old Town, which soon – apparently for reasons of competition – became the target of complaints by the Guild of Photographers in Prague.  

In 1938, Rudolf Sandalo Jr. began collaborating with the German intelligence services (he was an agent for the Abwehr in Prague and Cracow), and according to multiple postwar testimony he dealt in Jewish property, in particular art and antiques. In 1942, he definitively left Prague for Berlin, and by the early 1950s he was living in Frankfurt-am-Main, where he continued to work as a photographer and art dealer and where he died on 30 December 1980.  

Despite Rudolf Sandalo Jr.'s problematic activities during the occupation, his work remains absolutely unique within the context of Czech photography. His almost exclusive specialization on photographing modern architecture and the excellent quality of his work rank him among other outstanding individuals in this area within the context of not just Czechoslovak but also European photography.