Max Tilke was a famous German artist and researcher of regional national costumes and ethnic garb.
Max Tilke was born on February 6, 1869 in Breslau (Wroclaw) in Prussian Silesia. In 1886, he entered the Berlin Academy of Arts. Being a student, he travelled in Italy and Tunisia. After graduating from the Academy, he worked in Berlin as a scene painter, then in Madrid at the Museo Nacional del Prado as a copyist. In 1900, he worked in Paris as an illustrator. Coming back to Berlin, he continued researching the history of national costume and soon acquire authority and was recognized as a professional in this sphere.
In 1911, the first exhibition of the works by Max Tilke work was held in the Lipperheide Costume Library at the Museum of Folk Arts and Crafts in Berlin. It was so well received by the public that the government allocated budgetary funds to purchase those drawings for the library. Russian imperial court got to know the works of the artist and, on the recommendation of Emperor Nicholas II, Max Tilke was invited to work at the Museum of the Caucasus*. The artist was planning to make drawings from costumes stored in the Museum repository, as well as to participate in ethnographic expeditions in order work in situ. Drawing in situ creatively looked attractive, however, practice showed its inefficiency and a compromise solution was adopted: each model (the names of many of them are known), dressed in the national costume, was photographed, then the costume was purchased and the artist made a full reconstruction of the archetype indoors. Thus, a drawing was created both directly from the costume and from the photo. It should be noted, however, that wherever possible, Max Tilke preferred to draw directly from life.
Participation in scientific expeditions enabled the artist to get a feel for the environment in which the costume was worn, to study the way it developed, the rules of wearing it and the codes of contact of the people that wore it. All this was the key to his creative success.
The outbreak of the First World War prevented Tilke from continuing his work; he returned to Berlin, taking some of his drawings with him and leaving the rest of his works in the Museum. During the war, Tilke created war-themed compositions for the Stuttgart Publishers' Union (Deutsche Verlag Union). During this period and until the end of his life he continued his research into the costumes of the peoples of the world. He published several works on this theme; the best known of them was "Orientalische Kostume in schnitt und Farbe" (Oriental costumes, their design and colours). In 1922, a book was published with the artist's drawings (40 tables - #44-83) created in Tbilisi. These tables show separate elements of the costumes of the Georgian, Ossetian, Dagestani peoples (Kubachins, Avars, Lezgins), Armenians (from Akhalkalaki, Artvin, Nakhichevan, Yerevan), Udins, Tatars, Azerbaijanis, Shamakhi, Nukhans, residents of the Caspian steppes (Kalmyks, Nogais, Turkmens).
Tilke died in Berlin in 1922.
In the 1930s, 36 postcards with detailed watercolor images of the costumes of the peoples of the Caucasus made by Max Tilke were published in the USSR.
The peculiarity of the works by Max Tilke is that he chose a complex and untrodden path as an artist and a man of science. He viewed the history of costume of the peoples of the world within the framework of the universal culture history. Tilke tried to choose the most typical for every ethnos or ethnographic group samples and thus show the generality of oriental costume as well as its regional variations. Art works of Max Tilke are ethnographically accurate and genuine, though not without romanticism. His main aim was to evidentiate the uniqueness and significance of each ethnicity or ethnographic group.
* The museum was founded on May 10, 1852 by the Caucasian Department of the Imperial Russian Geographical Society and transformed into the Caucasus Museum on the initiative of the German explorer Gustav Radde in 1867; in 1919 the museum was renamed the Georgian Museum.
Tamar Geladze. Bonnie Neufe-Smith, Eldar Nadiradze. National Museum of Georgia. - Tbilisi, 2007.