Friedl Dicker grew up in the 9th district in Vienna, mainly with her father Simon Dicker. Her mother Karoline, born Fanta, died when the child was only 4 years old. Her father ran a paper store where she spent a lot of time as a child and was soon fascinated by crayons, colours, paper, and clay. After the then customary education at the Bürgerschule for girls, she wanted to learn the profession of photographer at the Graphische Lehr- und Versuchsanstalt in Vienna. However, she then continued her studies at the Kunstgewerbeschule (Arts and Crafts school), in the Textile class of Rosalia Rothansl, besides taking courses with the painter and art teacher Franz Čižek. She earned her school fees at the theatre, where she assisted as a prop mistress, designed costumes and even played small roles herself. In 1916, Friedl became a student in the private art school of the Swiss painter Johannes Itten in Vienna. She lived in a world filled with art, drawing and music. She became good friends with her fellow student Annie Wottitz, and she met Franz Singer, with whom she had an intense relationship for years.
When the Bauhaus was founded in Weimar in 1919 as a new School of Applied Arts by Walter Gropius and Itten was appointed as a teacher, the Viennese students joined and went to Weimar. In the stimulating atmosphere of the Bauhaus, Friedl learned and worked in the various workshops of textile and metalworking, printing, bookbinding and lithography, and she admired the painter Paul Klee. Franz Singer and Friedl Dicker worked together in a theatre workshop. When the two opened the Werkstätten Bildender Kunst in Berlin-Friedenau in 1923, they received commissions to design plays at Berthold Viertel’s theatre.
In 1923 she moved back to Vienna and opened her own studio together with Anny Moller-Wottitz. During these years she commuted between Vienna and Germany. In 1925 she decided to stay in Vienna. Franz Singer followed her, and in the same year the Atelier Singer-Dicker was established in Wasserburggasse in the 9th district, designing furniture and apartments as well as architectural plans. The two complemented each other ideally as a team. Friedl Dicker enlivened Franz Singer’s constructions, she experimented with materials, colours, and textures. The Ateliergemeinschaft created residential furnishings and buildings of outstanding modern design in Vienna. Their designs were soon in great demand in Vienna.
The conception and design of the small apartment and one-room apartment, which combined several functional areas within one room, was a new field of activity for architects in the twenties. In the social sphere, these housing designs emerged due to limited spatial capacities. In the bourgeois milieu, the small apartment or the one-room apartment had a different intention. Here it was rather a fashionable phenomenon to have an apartment designed with simple, functional furniture in a small space, as the Atelier Singer-Dicker designed it.
In 1930, the Atelier Singer-Dicker was commissioned to furnish the Montessori kindergarten in the Goethe-Hof. The two ideally implemented the ideas of promoting individuality and creativity. However, the model kindergarten of Red Vienna was partially destroyed as early as 1934 during the February Uprising. The National Socialists had the kindergarten dissolved and closed in 1938. The other buildings of the studio in Vienna were also destroyed and demolished.
In 1931 Friedl Dicker received an invitation from the City of Vienna to hold classes for kindergarten teachers and she also gave art lessons to children. This marked the beginning of a new phase in her life; she left the working group with Franz Singer and moved into her own studio. She joined the communist party and increasingly reflected social events with her artistic work, creating anti-capitalist posters and collages. After an arrest and humiliating interrogation, she fled to Prague. Here she had relatives and met Pavel Brandeis, whom she married in 1936.
She painted, taught children, and worked with the Vienna studio on home furnishings. Due to the increasingly critical situation, friends tried to convince Friedl to leave Europe. Anny Moller-Wotitz was in Palestine with her husband at the time and sent her a visa. But Friedl turned it down; she wanted to stay with Pavel. The couple moved to Hronov, north of Prague, in 1938. Both worked in a textile factory. Friedl drew and painted. Living conditions became increasingly difficult. They had to move into smaller and smaller accommodations, finally into one room. In late autumn 1942 they were deported to Theresienstadt. Friedl Dicker-Brandeis had herself assigned to the children’s home L410, where she gave painting lessons to children. She wanted to work with the children and gave them her energy – and the children were the source of her strength. Painting helped the children to survive the terrible everyday life. Friedl also helped to make the rooms and camps more comfortable with the simplest means. She created costumes and stage design for a children’s play.
Before she was deported, she packed many of the children’s drawings into a suitcase that was hidden in an attic. On 6 October 1944 Friedl and Pavel were transported to Auschwitz. Friedl was gassed to death.
The children’s drawings were rediscovered after the end of the war and brought to the Jewish community in Prague. Already after the first exhibition it was said: “The children’s works are brilliants in the crown of world culture”. Edith Kramer, a student of Friedl Dicker said: “In the drawings of the children of Theresienstadt and in her own work Friedl Dicker-Brandeis lives on. … There are many forms of survival.”
1927 Apartment Hugo and Alice Moller, Vienna 1 (with Franz Singer)
1927 Apartment Dr. Koritscher Vienna 4, Johann-Strauß-Gasse (with Franz Singer)
1928 Tennis clubhouse Dr. Hans Heller (with Franz Singer and Jacques Groag) Leopold-Müllergasse/ Reichgasse, Vienna 13 (liquidated and demolished in 1938)
1929 Fashion salon ‘Lore Kriser’, Vienna 1, Gluckgasse 2 (not preserved, with Franz Singer)
1929 Apartment Dr. Reisner Vienna 19, Koschatgasse (with Franz Singer)
1931 Garden house Alice Moller, Vienna 19, Starckfriedgasse (with Franz Singer)
1931 Confectionery ‘Garrido & Jahne’, Vienna 1, Operngasse 10 (not preserved, with Franz Singer
1932 Interior design kindergarten Goethe-Hof, (with Franz Singer)
Schüttaustrasse Vienna 22, (1934 partly destroyed, 1938 completely removed)
important artistic works of painting, graphics, objects, textile processing, theatre equipment
Franz Singer – Friedl Dicker, 2x Bauhaus in Wien, Hochschule für Angewandte Kunst in Wien (Hg.) Ausstellungskatalog Heiligenkreuzerhof Wien 1988
Elena Makarova: Friedl Dicker-Brandeis. Ein Leben für Kunst und Lehre, Wien 1999
Katharina Hövelmann: „Das moderne Wohnprinzip“ Kleinwohnungsgestaltungen der Ateliergemeinschaft unter der Leitung von Friedl Dicker und Franz Singer, Diplomarbeit Universität Wien, Wien 2012
Katharina Hövelmann: Bauhaus in Wien? Möbeldesign, Innenraumgestaltung und Architektur der Wiener Ateliergemeinschaft von Friedl Dicker und Franz Singer, Wien 2021
Patrick Rössler & Elisabeth Otto: Frauen am Bauhaus. Wegweisende Künstlerinnen der Moderne, München 2019, S. 12-16
photo: Friedl Dicker- Brandeis, before 1944,
Text: Christine Zwingl