Hannes Richter

Slawa Duldig Née Horowitz

Hannes Richter
Slawa Duldig Née Horowitz

Top image: The first foldable umbrella ‘Flirt’ was included in the Inventors Pavilion at the Vienna Spring Fair, 1931, and described as ‘the magic umbrella of the sculptress!’ © 2014 The Duldig Gallery Inc.


Artist, Teacher, Inventor

While I was studying at the Academy of Fine Arts I often went to draw in the Kunsthistorisches Museum Vienna. At that time I met sculptor Karl Duldig who frequently joined me on Sundays. It happened [that] one May morning, a cold and rainy day, I armed myself with a big umbrella and muttered to myself ‘why on earth must I carry this utterly clumsy thing, can’t they invent a small folding umbrella which could be easily carried in a bag?’

Slawa Duldig, extract from notebook, 1975.

In a short time Slawa Horowitz had solved the problem she identified above and set about making the prototype of the first modern foldable compact umbrella, all the while keeping the idea a secret until she was ready to apply for a patent. In 1929, the patent for her invention of the first modern folding compact umbrella was approved.

The umbrella, which was called Flirt, was exhibited at the Inventor’s Fair in Vienna in 1931. The Neuigkeits-Welt-Blatt Wien reported on it as follows: “... And the magic umbrella of the sculptress. In the inventor’s pavilion at the Vienna spring fair...There are however also female inventors... the sculptress Slawa Horowitz, who has invented a magic umbrella that can be folded small enough to put in a bag….” Slawa supervised all contracts, organized the manufacture of the umbrella in Austria and Germany and received substantial royalties till 1938.

The first foldable umbrella ‘Flirt’ was included in the Inventors Pavilion at the Vienna Spring Fair, 1931, and described as ‘the magic umbrella of the sculptress!’ © 2014 The Duldig Gallery Inc.

Slawa Horowitz, Patent Specification 318, 577, Sep 19, 1929, (‘Improvements in or relating to Foldable Umbrellas and the like’), (detail) © 2014 The Duldig Gallery

In 1939, having fled Austria, she sold all her rights to the Austrian manufacturer Brüder Wüster. Although she never saw another cent from her ingenious invention she was philosophical about this and never made any claims for restitution. Prototypes of Slawa’s invention are held in the collection of Museum of Applied Arts and Sciences (Powerhouse) Sydney, Australia, and in The Duldig Studio, Melbourne. In 2005, Slawa Horowitz’s invention of the folding umbrella was recognized in the Austrian publication Designlandschaft Österreich 1900-2005.

Slawa Horowitz was born in Horucko, near Lwow in today’s Ukraine (c 1902), and moved to Vienna with her family before the First World War. She became a private student of the prominent Austrian sculptor Anton Hanak. (1922- 1925). From 1926 she continued her studies in sculpture under Professor Hans Bitterlich and graduated from the Academy of Fine Arts in Vienna in 1929. Until 1938 she exhibited regularly at the Künstlerhaus and the Secession and completed a number of private commissions. In 1931, she married Karl Duldig, a fellow sculpture student.

Their only child, Eva, was born just before the family fled from Vienna to Switzerland in 1938. The Duldigs arrived in Singapore in 1939, where Slawa practiced her art, conducted an art school together with Karl and also restored valuable paintings in the Municipal Collection. In 1940, however, the Duldig family was deported to Australia by the British and initially - though refugees from Nazism - interned as Enemy Aliens until Karl Duldig joined the Australian army in 1942.

The family settled in Melbourne and Slawa became a leading art educator. She continued to teach and work on private commissions until her death in 1975. In 2002, the artists’ daughter Eva de Jong-Duldig and her family established The Duldig Studio. In 2011, this public museum and art gallery featured Slawa’s drawings and paintings, as well as her personal correspondence with Anton Hanak, in an exhibition titled The Duldigs in Vienna which coincided with the exhibition Vienna: Art and Design Klimt, Schiele, Hoffman, Loos at the National Gallery of Victoria.

Her work also features in Art Behind the Wire, the current exhibition at The Duldig Studio. A forthcoming book will expand on the story of the Duldig family. The Duldig Studio is currently preparing an exhibition on the life and work of Slawa Duldig née Horowitz, and is seeking sponsors to mount the exhibition in Vienna. enquiries@duldig.org.au www.duldig.org.au © 2015 The Duldig Gallery Inc.