Urban, Joseph – Austrian/American Architect, Designer & Illustrator

Joseph Urban, Architect & Designer

Courtesy of Sotheby’s (excerpted from wikipedia).

Joseph Urban (1872 to 1933), born in Vienna, Austria died in New York, New York, trained as an architect, known also for his theatrical design and his early illustrations of children’s books. Urban’s early work with illustrated books arose from his collaboration with his brother-in-law, Heinrich Lefler (1863 to 1919) and the pair contributed to what are considered seminal works in children’s illustrated books including Grimm’s Marchen (1905), Kling-Klang Gloria (1907), Andersen Kalender (1911) and Marienkind (1914).

Success came early for Urban at the age of twenty-three he was commissioned to design the Abdin Palace for the Khedive of Egypt in Cairo. Shortly thereafter he returned to Vienna to design and redecorate the interior of the municipal building. Shortly thereafter, there came a demand for his work throughout Europe. A few years after he designed a castle for Count Esterhazy in Hungary, the exhibition building Hagenbund in Vienna, the Sanitarium of The Golden Cross at Baden and the Czar Bridge over the Neva River at Petrograd. During this period he won public competitions and received metals from the Austrian, German, and Russian governments.

At this point in his career, he joined Professor Heinrich Leffeir in Vienna and collaborated in illustrating several books including the Fairy Tales of Grimm, Andersen, and Musaeus. They won the Australian Kaiser prize and then commissioned by the German government to illustrate The Chronicles of Three Sisters. His success in illustrating children’s books was as successful as his designs. Urban earned s reputation as an illustrator of children’s books.

Urban first came to America to create the Austrian Pavilion for the 1904 St. Louis Fair. He became the Art Director of the Boston Opera House in 1911 to design its sets, but it was his work on The Garden of Paradise (1914) that brought him to the attention of Florenz Ziegfeld and launched his Broadway career.

Although he designed sets for James K. Hackett’s Shakespearean revivals and other famous plays, it was his work on musicals for which he became famous. Urban created the sets for all the Ziegfeld Follies from 1915 to 1931, as well as such shows as Sally (1920), Sunny (1925), Rio Rita (1927), Show Boat (1927), The Three Musketeers (1928), Whoopee (1928), and Music in the Air (1932).

Urban immigrated to the United States in 1912 to become the art director of the Boston Opera House. Two years later he moved to New York where he designed productions for the Ziegfeld Follies and the Metropolitan Opera. William Randolph Hearst was an important client and supporter. Most of Urban’s architectural work in the United States has been demolished, with the exceptions of Mar-A-Lago in Palm Beach, Florida and The New School and the base of The Hearst Tower in New York City. The color gelUrban Blue (Roscolux #81) is named for him. (Excerpted from wikipedia.org/wiki/Joeph_Urban).

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