Emil Pirchan the Elder with wife Karoline, son Emil and daughter Elsa, Brno, 1886


Karoline Pirchan, née Sternischtie, with son Emil, Brno c. 1890

BRno, 1884 — 1903

Childhood and Youth

Pirchan’s maternal grandfather, Carl Vinzenz Sternischtie, Edler von Carlshain, is a textile manufacturer in Brno. His maternal grandmother, Franziska von Sternischtie, and Josef Hoffmann’s mother, Leopoldine Hoffmann (both née Tuppy), are sisters.

In childhood Emil Pirchan spends summers with his sister at the home of his paternal grandparents, the foresters, Karl and Anna Pirchan (née Faber), in Křtiny.

Emil Pirchan’s parents, Emil Pirchan the Elder, academic painter and last student of Carl Rahl and contemporary of Hans Makart, and Karoline Pirchan (née von Sternischtie), hold an artistic salon in Brno, frequented among others by author Ferdinand von Saar.

From 1910, the family textile business is managed by Pirchan’s uncle, Carl Josef von Sternischtie, who bankrupts the company towards the end of the First World War.


Emil Pirchan in Brno, December 1906


Emil Pirchan (front) on the tennis court in Krumpendorf am Wörthersee, c. 1905

Vienna, 1903 — 1906

Architectural Studies under Otto Wagner at the Academy of Fine Arts

Acquaintance with Josef Olbrich, Alfred Roller, Josef Hoffmann, Gustav Klimt, Oskar Kokoschka and other major artists around the turn of the century in Vienna.

1905: Presented with the Goldene Fügermedaille for a Schiller memorial on Satzberg near Vienna.

1906: Meisterschulpreis (master school prize) from the Academy of Fine Arts in Vienna for a mountain necropolis (Camposanto) in Trieste.

BRno, 1906 — 1908

Drawing Teacher at the Landesoberrealschule in Brno

Returns to Brno owing to difficulties gaining a foothold as an architect in Vienna.


Emil Pirchan in his studio in Munich, c. 1912


Wedding photo of Emil and Johanna Pirchan, Hotel Schwansee, Hohenschwangau, 7 August 1913


Emil Pirchan with wife Johanna and son Peter, Munich, c. 1920

MuNich, 1908 — 1921

Own Architecture Studio, Art School for Commercial Art and Set Design, Set Director for the Bavarian State Theatre

Construction of a single family residence in Bogenhausen and a hospital chapel; approx. 20 home interior designs, design of exhibition spaces.

During his years in Munich, he produces more than 1500 printed graphic works, several hundred decorative objects, and several book publications.

Collaboration with Ludwig Hohlwein as well as Viktor Oppenheimer, Wilhelm Bührer, Adolf Saager and Nobel prize winner for chemistry Wilhelm Ostwald in the association ’Die Brücke — Institut für die Organisation der geistigen Arbeit‘ (The Bridge — Institute for the Organisation of Intellectual Work).

More than a dozen exhibitions in the German Reich; 14 prizes at national and international competitions.

1912: Exhibition of approx. 50 set designs at the Moderne Galerie Heinrich Thannhauser at the Arco-Palais in Munich. Recognition by Ferdinand Gregori and Alexander von Gleichen-Rußwurm.

1913: Marriage to Johanna ‘Hanny’ Gertrude Ottilie Diehl, daughter of privy councillor Dr Julius Diehl, physician to Leopold, Prince Regent of Bavaria. The bride’s mother, Julie Diehl, is a member of the Oldenbourg publishing family.

1915: Closure of the art school as a result of war. Military service from January 1915 to May 1915. Discharge due to chronic shoulder luxation.

1916: Birth of son Peter Pirchan. 1918: Appointment by Viktor Schwanneke to the Bavarian State Theatre; head of set design and costumes. Collaboration with Brunoalter, Albert Steinrück and Heinrich Kröller.

1919: First collaboration with Leopold Jessner in Berlin. Theatre scandal in the course of the production of Wilhelm Tell. Scenography for the funeral ceremonies for the murdered first prime minister Kurt Eisner.

1920: Filming of his novel ’Der zeugende Tod‘ with Tilla Durieux.


Emil Pirchan with masks in the studio, Berlin, c. 1920


Emil Pirchan with actors in Berlin, c. 1925


Emil Pirchan with wife Johanna and son Peter on the beach at Viareggio, Italy, 1926

BERLIN, 1921 — 1932

Head of Set Design at the State Theatre, Collaboration with Leopold Jessner

Set design for several hundred opera, drama, operetta and revue productions in Germany, Europe and overseas. Radio reports and lectures on set design in several European cities.

1921: Appointment as head of set design for the association of Berlin State Theatres. Family moves to Berlin. Ground-breaking set design for Othello with Fritz Kortner.

1922: Collaboration with Richard Strauss on the production of Josephslegende (The Legend of Joseph) at the Prague National Theatre. Enthusiastic reception for the set design of Franz Schreker’s ’Der Schatzgräber‘ (The Treasure Hunter).

1923: Director for the play ’Ze zivota hmyzu‘ (Pictures from the Insects’ Life) by the Čapek brothers in Berlin.

1924: Birth of daughter Sibylle Pirchan. Portrait of deceased President of the Reich Friedrich Ebert.

1926: Set design for the ballet Don Morte in the production by Max Terpis; start of longterm collaboration with Friedrich Wilckens and Harald Kreutzberg.

1927: Premiere of his play ’Gong‘ as part of the Magdeburg Theatre Exhibition.

From 1927: Lecturer at the Staatliche Musikhochschule für darstellende Kunst und Kostümkunde (State Music School for Performing Arts and Costume Design) in Berlin. One of his chess partners is film director G. W. Pabst, whose son will later marry Emil Pirchan’s daughter Sibylle. 1928: Death of his father Emil Pirchan the Elder in Vienna.

1929: Commemoration for Albert Steinrück under the direction of Leopold Jessner with set design by Emil Pirchan. Awarded a gold medal for stage sets exhibited at the World Fair in Barcelona.

Circa 1930: Design for a theatre building in South America.

1931: Follows Goethe’s footsteps in Italy (‘Italian Journey’).


Emil Pirchan in the studio, Berlin, 1928


Emil Pirchan in his studio in Prague, c. 1933

Prague, 1932 — 1936

Head of Set Design at the German Theatre, Professor of the set design class at the German Academy for Music and Performing Arts

1931: Appointment as professor of set design at the German Academy for Music and Performing Arts in Prague. Head of set design at the German Theatre.

1932: Move to Prague.

1935: State prize from the Czechoslovak Republic. Redesign and refitting of the German Playhouse in Brno. Presentation of around 60 productions in Prague despite major financial restrictions. Fruitful collaboration with Renato Mordo.

From 1935: International courses and seminars on set design and the art of costumes, makeup and masks at the Mozarteum in Salzburg and lecturer for the Salzburg dependence of the Theatre School of New York.


Emil Pirchan mit masks, c. 1949


Emil Pirchan with the gold decoration of honour from the Republic of Austria, Vienna, 1957

Vienna, 1936 — 1957

Professor at the Academy of Fine Arts

1936: Appointment as extraordinary professor at the Academy of Performing Arts in Vienna for the newly-created master school for set design and festival management. Thereby filling the gap left in the Austrian teaching profession by deceased set designers Roller and Strnad. Teaching of stage decoration, model construction, fashion and costume design. Extensive writing activities, above all nonfiction books and biographies. Set designs for the Burgtheater and State Opera in Vienna.

1937: Future writer Wolfgang Hildesheimer attends a summer course given by Pirchan. Receipt of the gold decoration of honour Pro Ecclesia et Pontifice from Pope Pius XI.

1942: Erika Schepelmann-Rieder becomes Emil Pirchan’s assistant (until 1957), as does Lucia Jirgal, the former colleague of Richard Teschner, for a short period.

1945: 9 of 13 professors at the Academy of Fine Arts in Vienna regarded as politically contaminated after the end of the Nazi regime are suspended. The four members not suspended are Herbert Boeckl, Christian Ludwig Martin, Sergius Pauser and Emil Pirchan.

1948: Marriage of Pirchan’s daughter Sibylle to assistant director Peter Pabst, son of film director G. W. Pabst (1885–1967). This marriage produces the grandchildren Ben Pabst (*1949), Georg Pabst (1950–2016), and Uli Pabst (1955–2013). Acquaintance with Elisabeth Kallina, the first wife of Oskar Werner, at the Burgtheater. Friendship with theatre scholar and writer Joseph Gregor.

1950: Appointment as Ordentlicher Professor (full professor).

1957: Awarded the Goldenes Ehrenzeichen, a decoration of honour, from the Republic of Austria. Death of Emil Pirchan on 20 December in Vienna.