Die Friedensverhandlungen by Karel Klic
Die Friedensverhandlungen

Karel Klíč, occasionally spelled as "Karel Klietsch", was a Czech illustrator, painter, photographer and comics pioneer. He was first and foremost a political cartoonist, but also created a few text comics. His cartoons were published in his home country, and also in the German magazine Fliegende Blätter. One of them, which ridiculed the Austrian Minister of Internal Affairs, led to his arrest and banning from Prague. Klíč founded the Austrian magazine Humoristische Blätter (1872-1990) and is also historically significant as one of the inventors of the photogravure technique, along with Nicéphore Niépce and Henry Fox Talbot.

Karel Václav Klíč was born in 1841 in Hostinné, a town in the Sudetes mountains of Bohemia. His father was a chemist who owned the Labský Mlýn paper mill. In 1848 the family moved to Prague, where Klíč's father became head of the Císařský mlýn paper mill. He also sold ink, paint, paper and other art supplies. This business didn't run as smooth as the mill factory and young Karel was forced to quit secondary school after the third year. If his uncle hadn't intervened, Klíč might have become a merchant like his father. Yet Klíč's uncle recognized his nephew' gift for drawing. He paid for his studies and sent him to the Vienna Academy of Fine Arts, where the boy studied from 1857 until 1859. Afterwards he continued his studies at the Fine Art Academy in Prague, where he stayed until 1861.


1870 cartoon depicting German prince Leopold, Prince of Hohenzollern, trying to sit on the Spanish crown while French emperor Napoleon III sticks a bayonet underneath his behind. It references the fact that Prince Leopold was offered to become the new Spanish king, but Napoleon III opposed this idea out of fear that this would lead to more German political power in Spain. 

Klíč published his first drawings while still a student. One scandalous cartoon made him a local celebrity. At the time the Austrian-Hungarian Empire still occupied most of what is nowadays the Czech Republic. Alexander Bach, Austrian Minister of Internal Affairs, imposed a new bureaucratic system which was hated by many Czechs. Klíč lampooned Bach by caricaturing him as a row of zeros. The politician instantly had him arrested for infamy, though it wasn't just the drawing that irked him. Klíč's father had been active in the resistance against their regime and just like his dad, Klíč too demonstrated in the streets. The controversial cartoonist was kicked out off the Academy and forced to leave the city altogether. It took until 1862 until he was allowed to return, continue his studies and graduate. One of his fellow students was Jakub Husník, who'd later invent the heliotype technique.


Magazine cover for Der Floh, dated 13 March 1870, portraying German-Austrian actress Friederike Kronau. The second cover dates from 30 January 1870 and portrays Austrian politician Moritz Kaiserfeld von Blagatinschegg.

In 1863 Klíč founded his own lithography store in Prague, but there was too much competition. As a result he moved to Brno, where he established his own photo studio, called Rafael. While this business proved to be far more lucrative Klíč still preferred to be an artist. In 1866 he left the company to his relatives and moved to Budapest, capital of Hungary, where he started a graphic career. Klíč created his own bi-weekly satirical magazine Veselé listy, but once again he offended too many people which led to it being shut down. The plus side about this was that he at least got noticed in the local press. As a result his cartoons were published in the Hungarian magazine Kulihrášek and the Viennese paper Der Floh. In 1869 he moved to Vienna. In 1872 Klíč launched a new satirical magazine, Humoristische Blätter, which managed to stay in print until 1900. Apart from his work as a cartoonist he also gained a reputation as a portrait painter. Among the celebrities who posed for him were Italian politician Giuseppe Garibaldi and Czech politician František Palacký, both considered fathers of their respective nations.

In 1866 Klíč published a text comic about a political debate. It stars two politicians whose argument grows so heated that they eventually begin to fight. The idea was funny but not new. It already appeared in the German magazine Fliegende Blätter in 1848. Klíč wasn't the first one to plagiarize it, though. In 1849 Dutch illustrator Christiaan Le Blansch traced it for the Dutch magazine Polichinel and in 1860 the same cartoon also appeared in the Brazilian weekly Semana Illustrada, presumably drawn by Heinrich Fleiuss. While this is undeniable plagiarism, Klíč did make some minor but significant changes. First of all he mirrored the images. All previous versions featured the tall man on the right and his opponent on the left. Second of all Klíč altered the lay-out too. All earlier versions show five images on each side of the page, while Klíč uses four on each side. This stretches his version out to two pages rather than one. Thirdly, Klíč added more text underneath the images. All other versions just mention the amount of time passed since the politicians started argueing. The Dutch version numbered each image. But Klíč actually wrote dialogue between the two characters. Underneath each image one can read part of their conversation, making this effectively more of a text comic than all previous versions. In fact, one might even say that Klíč at least gave a clear reason for the politicians' argument and fight.

In 1870 Klíč drew a political comic strip named 'Die Friedensverhandlungen' ('The Peace Negotiations', 1870). It depicts the French Minister of Foreign Affairs Jules Favre (recognizable by his Phrygian cap and hot air balloon) and German chancellor Otto von Bismarck having a discussion. Favre tries to compromise with Bismarck by offering him money, but Bismarck just wants and ultimately gets the French provinces Alsace-Lorraine. The angry French politician returns home by air balloon to tell the bad news. The embarrassment continues as he flies off, because everybody can look underneath his gown and see his bare behind. Bismarck even picks up a telescope to get a better view.

Klíč is furthermore an important name in the history of photography. Nicéphore Niépce, who invented the art form, had already experimented with primitive photogravures in the 1820s. Two decades later the Englishman Henry Fox Talbot, who invented salted paper and the calotype process, developed the photoglyphic engraving process. On 31 October 1875 Klíč and Jakub Husnik patented plates for printing uncounterfeitable paper. In 1878 Klíč expanded upon Talbot's techniques, which marked the birth of modern photogravure. The technique is still in use today and even carries both his and his predecessor's names: the Talbot-Klíč process. In 1890 Klíč pioneered a way to express depth in photogravures through wiper-blade photogravure. While visiting Lancaster, his invention was instantly bought by Storey Brothers & Co. Ltd, which led him to stay in England for seven years. On 1 October 1893 he built the first photogravure rotary press. In 1895 he established a printing store in Lancaster, Rembrandt Intaglio Printing Co. Ltd, which specialized in printing art works. He returned to Vienna in 1897 where he passed away in 1926.

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