Art Scene in the Young Czechoslovakia

1918–1938: Discover the rich and cosmopolitan art scene in the independent country

The new permanent exhibition of works from the collections of the National Gallery to be held on the third floor of the Trade Fair Palace (visible on the left), has been prepared on the occasion of the 100th anniversary of the birth of the Czechoslovak Republic. It introduces the wealth of artwork and artistic undertakings produced in the young state in 1918–1938.

In addition to artworks by prominent Czech artists (such as Václav Špála, Josef Čapek, Jindřich Štyrský and Toyen), it presents works from the renowned French Collection (e.g. Paul Gauguin, Henry Rousseau, Pablo Picasso and Vincent van Gogh), which the Czechoslovak state purchased in the 1920s and 1930s shortly after its founding.

African King (1920) by Josef ČapekNational Gallery Prague

Josef Čapek
(1887-1945)

In his work, Josef Čapek drew inspiration from synthetic cubism, using its composition principles. The black king is a frontal stylised figure compiled from geometric shapes and imitations of real structures that are complemented with several more realistically rendered objects, for example a pipe.

Similar to the sailors, the king evokes exoticism, adventure, and unknown worlds, which is connected with Čapek’s theoretic interest in the art of natural nations.

Motorcyclist (Sunbeam) (1924/1924) by Otakar ŠvecNational Gallery Prague

Otakar Švec
(1892-1955)

In the 1920s, the sculpture production of Otakar Švec who inclined to the stream of social civility was influenced by his interest in modern time phenomena such as motor sport and sports. The three-dimensional rendering of the dynamic motion of a motorcyclist on his racing machine, which excels in the masterful combination of the figure and machine, may be understood as a symbol of elation for the speedy technical progress and upswing of technical civilisation after the First World War.

Landscape (1931) by Josef ŠímaNational Gallery Prague

Josef Šíma
(1891-1971)

Josef Šíma is a distinctive figure of Czech surrealism since he spent most of his artistic career in France as an ambassador of Czech art. At the turn of the 1920s and 1930s, Šíma and the poets René Daumal, Roger Gilbert-Lecomt, and Roger Vailland founded a group Le Grand Jeu (Big Game) where Šíma developed his specific style of non-figurative painting with his typical brightening and distinctive mystical touch.

Landscape is a good example of that period – archetypal shapes levitating in space evoke a woman-landscape painting, giving an immaterial impression as if they were not real objects but rather images anchored in our subconscious mind.

Fright (1937/1937) by ToyenNational Gallery Prague

Toyen
(1902-1980)

The surrealist painter Marie Čermínová, known by her nickname Toyen, is one of the most outstanding artists of the 20th century. Her work is distinguished by originality and precision of rendering, and it can still evoke an uncertain but even stronger feeling of unrest in spectators. The objects are found in disturbing, non-logical situations, opening space for our subconscious minds. Toyen’s Horror is a great example of this – a feathery object is bleeding, one hand is missing on the edge of the fence, and nothing but darkness is visible through the slits.

The dark undertone is typical of Toyen’s work in the second half of the 1930s.

From My Diary (1933) by Jindřich ŠtyrskýNational Gallery Prague

Jindřich Štyrský
(1899-1942)

Jindřich Štyrský’s large oil From My Diary ranks among his most essential surrealistic paintings. Although Štyrský experimented with various styles during his career, French surrealism and its tendencies to depict random objects in unexpected contexts had the greatest impact on him.

The study of Sigmund Freund’s psychoanalysis also played an important role, especially the passages concerning dreams. Štyrský even kept his own diary of dreams (as indicated by the title of this painting) which he then used as a source of inspiration. He also closely cooperated with the painter Toyen.

Composition (Painting) (1933/1933) by Joan MiróNational Gallery Prague

Joan Miró
(1893-1983)

The Composition is one of ten large paintings which Miró produced in Barcelona in 1933. They were preceded by ten collages of newspaper illustrations and advertisements. In the new paintings, the painter subsequently clarified for himself the mutual relationships of painting elements regarding their shapes, colours, and incorporation in space.

The Composition, which comes from this series and which is in the collection of the National Gallery in Prague, accomplishes this painter’s endeavour.

Green Wheat (1889) by Vincent van GoghNational Gallery Prague

Vincent Van Gogh
(1853-1890)

Van Gogh produced the painting Green Field during his stay in Saint-Paul de Mausole sanatorium near Saint-Rémy in June 1889. The painting depicts a field of wheat turning yellow with the Alpilles Mountains in the far back, a small house, and a dark tall cypress tree which dominates the painting composition.

Unlike the artist’s other late paintings, this one gives a balanced and peaceful impression. Nonetheless, van Gogh’s impasto and relief style has remained.

At the Moulin-Rouges, Two Women Walzing (1892) by Henri de Toulouse-LautrecNational Gallery Prague

Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec
(1864-1901)

The painting At the Moulin-Rouges represents specific characters of the Paris nightlife at Montmartre at the end of the 19th century. Lautrec followed the tradition of French painting depicting social scenes. Unlike the realists, he was not content with the depiction of the scene, he impressed his personal experience in the paintings, identifying himself with people on the edge of society.

The clown Cha-U-Kao is one of the women in the dancing couple.

The chanson singer Jane Avril is behind her, turning her back to the spectator.

The House in Aix (Jas de Bouffa) (1885/1887) by Paul CézanneNational Gallery Prague

Paul Cézanne
(1839-1906)

The painting features an 18th century homestead in Aix-en-Provence where the artist spent the longest part of his life. Cézanne painted it during the time when he was captivated by the themes of mills and houses in the vicinity. In the painting The House in Aix-en-Provence from 1885–1887, Cézanne organised the individual geometrical parts of the building in solid geometric - like compositions. Voluminuosity of the painting is achieved through the composition of shapes while; the paint was applies in a transparent layer.

Myself: Portrait-Landscape (1890/1890) by Henri RousseauNational Gallery Prague

Henri Rousseau
(1844-1910)

His today greatly renowned Myself: Portrait-Landscape of 1890 depicts the then new way of the artist’s perception and reflects the artistic confidence of the painter. He presents himself as a serious man with a palette in his hand featuring the names of his first wife Clémence and his second wife Joséphine.

The Eiffel Tower as well as the balloon in the sky are attributes that celebrate modern civilisation but within the painting mainly they underline the self-confident stance of the artist.

Two Women among the Flowers (1875) by Claude MonetNational Gallery Prague

Claude Monet
(1840-1926)

In 1874, Monet settled in Argenteuil. There, in the garden of his house, he found inspiration for many paintings such as Two Women among the Flowers where Monet rendered a flower bush fully integrating two female figures – the painter’s wife Camille and her friend.

They are fully absorbed by the flood of flowers which fill up the entire canvas.

The painter captured the topic in a given moment and of light.

Still Life with Guitar (1921) by Georges BraqueNational Gallery Prague

Georges Braque
(1882-1963)

Still Life with a Guitar 1921 is one of the Braque’s mantelpieces, i.e. still lifes to be placed above the fireplace mantel. The Mantelpieces cycle is one of the most significant undertakings of Braque. In 1918, he followed the pre-war synthetic cubism. However, he remained loyal to his previous painting structure though he loosened it and deprived it of the cubistic principles of strictness.

This is also evident in the elaboration of the outlines of colourful areas which catch attention by their grace and subtlety.

Lady on a Swing - Gallant Scene in the Park I (1760) by Norbert GrundNational Gallery Prague

Norbert Grund
(1717-1767)

A Lady on a Swing, along with its pendant entitled A Minuet Dancer (inv. no. O 349, exhibited in the same room) ranks among the best examples of the echoes of the French gallant genre in Grund’s oeuvre. The painter depicted here a popular theme of swing – a lady dressed in red is being rocked by her companion, whereas the gentleman is holding the shoe that had slipped off the lady’s foot.

The usual erotic hidden meaning is subdued, though, the staffage retains a character of a humorous story – when the entertainment is at an end, the company will go in for the prepared refreshments – similar to the putto on a high socle at the entrance to the park.

The slight haze and colder tones, with only some coloristic accents already suggest the gradual penetration of Classicism into the charming atmosphere of the Rococo, shown in the coquettish grace of the poses of the slim figures, whose integration into the space and links to the vegetation and terrain are not quite assured, though.

The Lovers (1875) by Auguste RenoirNational Gallery Prague

Auguste Renoir
(1841-1919)

The resting couple of lovers amidst nature in The Lovers painting is rendered dynamically by quickly alternating colourful spots that imitate the trembling atmospheric light. The way the two figures are modelled are specific for Renoir: the actress Henriette Henriot and the painter Pierre Frank-Lamy. Renoir held a special position among impressionists, mostly landscape painters, because he frequently focused on figural topics.

Charles Bridge in Prague (1934/1934) by Oscar KokoschkaNational Gallery Prague

Oscar Kokoschka
(1896-1980)

The painting Charles Bridge in Prague (1934) belongs to the series of the earliest views of Prague created by Oskar Kokoschka during his Prague stay in 1934–1938. Charles Bridge in Prague presents the view of Charles Bridge and Old Town Square dominated by church spires from the Kampa embankment over the Vltava.

The overall painting rendition is distinguished by easy colourful expression.

From My Diary (1933) by Jindřich ŠtyrskýNational Gallery Prague

1918–1938: The First Czechoslovak Republic

Based on the collections of the National Gallery Prague, complemented with loans from institutions and private collections, the exhibition  "1918–1938: The First Czechoslovak Republic" introduces the rich and cosmopolitan art scene in the young independent Czechoslovakia between 1918 and 1938. Visit us in Prague and explore the collection by yourself!

Credits: Story

Curator: Anna Pravdová in cooperation with Lada Hubatová-Vacková

Credits: All media
The story featured may in some cases have been created by an independent third party and may not always represent the views of the institutions, listed below, who have supplied the content.
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