František Karel Palko

1724—Vratislav, 1767—Praha

František Karel Palko was born into a family of painters in the Silesian city of Wrocław on 3 December 1724. He began his studies at the Jesuit school in Bratislava (Pressburg) where, in close proximity to his brother, the painter František Antonín, he first devoted himself to the fine arts. In his monograph on the artist, Pavel Preiss convincingly disproves a deeply rooted belief regarding Palko’s subsequent Italian training. In fact, between 1739 and 1744, Palko was enrolled at the Viennese academy. A number of key painters such as František Antonín Maulbertsch, Josef Ignác Mildorfer and Jan Lukáš Kracker were also enrolled there at the time. One of Palko’s first important works is a painting depicting Judith and Holofernes. Created during the final stage of his Vienna studies, the painting was recognized with a gold academic medal in 1745. Simultaneously, Palko also received a commission for work at the court of the Saxon prince-elector in Dresden. 

In mid-1752 the painter settled in Prague’s Lesser Quarter, where he was commissioned by the local Jesuits to paint frescos in the Church of St. Nicholas. However, as representatives of the local Guild of Saint Luke soon began protesting against the activities of the foreign painter, Palko’s work was thus interrupted for some time. Prior to the settlement of the dispute, while working on several simultaneous assignments in Dresden, Palko was also commissioned by the burghers of Kutná Hora to paint frescoes in the Church of St. John of Nepomuk. He went on to create the main altar painting for the church, as he subsequently did for the Church of St. Nicholas, the latter depicting the death of the Jesuit saint Francis Xavier. Palko’s works are also to be found in other Prague sites, including at Strahov Monastery, the Cistercian Abbey of Zbraslav, the Church of the Virgin Mary at the Theatines in the Lesser Quarter and the Church of Our Lady before Týn. Outside Prague he completed extensive works at nunneries in Doksany and in the Lusatian city of Marienthal. His works are also to be found in churches located in Czech towns and villages such as Liberec, Heřmanův Městec, Radotín and Rohatce. At the end of his life, František Karel Palko was active in Munich where he died after a long and painful illness in 1767.

For a long period of time, Palko’s artistic legacy had lived on primarily thanks to the fact that some of his drawings had been purchased by the leading Parisian art dealer, collector and expert Pierre Jean Mariette from the inheritance of Palko’s widow, Marie Anna Františka Ludmila Palková, née Burešová. A second batch of drawings was acquired by the Belgian Charles Antoine Lemoral de Ligne for his renowned collection. Five of these drawings found their way to the Viennese Albertina via the collection of Prince Albert Casimir of Saxony, Duke of Teschen. The presence of these sketches in international collections kept Palko’s reputation alive, even during times when any remaining knowledge of his work had all but disappeared.