Toyen: The Paradise of the Blacks, 1925

Artwork of the Month, March 2022: The Paradise of the Blacks by Toyen (1925)

According to the Merriam Webster dictionary, a negrophile is ‘someone (especially a white person) who is very sympathetic to or supportive of Black people, their culture, or their rights and interests.’[1] The levels of sympathy and support may, indeed, differ and be open to interpretation. Negrophilia, then, is the attraction to Black culture and Black people, often linked to the fascination of the interwar avant-garde with Africans and African Americans in European metropolises.[2] Between the wars, Black culture became a subject of inspiration, captivation but mostly exploitation by many writers, poets, painters, musicians, or dancers from Paris to Prague.

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Bohuslav Fuchs Deml villa

Artwork of the Month, February 2022: The House of Jakub Deml by Bohuslav Fuchs (1921–22)

In the western outskirts of the provincial Moravian town of Tasov lies a picturesque three-storey house, set back from the road and distinguished from the surrounding buildings on a separate plot of land surrounded on all sides by greenery. It is not a very remarkable house, but it is noticeable because it is in a slightly elevated position and because the rest of the lane where it is situated is populated by modest single-storey cottages. Further enquiry reveals that it is the former house of the poet and writer Jakub Deml (1878–1961). Built in 1921–22, it is listed by the National Monument Institute as a protected cultural monument (registry no. ÚSKP 15415/7-3089). The house is listed, one assumes, less because of the significance of the design and rather more because its owner was one of the most prominent Czech authors of the first half of the twentieth century.

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Artwork of the Month, January 2022: Morphine Addict by János Vaszary (1930)

When it comes to continuity and rupture, the long career of János Vaszary (1867–1939) is certainly emblematic. He was born in 1867, the year of the Austro-Hungarian Compromise, and died in 1939, at the outbreak of the Second World War. He lived through the 1896 Millennium celebrations, when the self-confident Hungarian state marked its 1000-year existence, the First World War, the collapse of Austria-Hungary, two revolutions and a counterrevolution, the political shifts of the Horthy regime. Meanwhile, he went from being the talented nephew of an archbishop and an indisputable member of the establishment to being attacked and pushed out of his professorship for his liberal and modernist views. The evolution of his art, too, can be characterised as a series of ruptures: he started under the influence of Symbolism and Naturalism, developed a colourful post-impressionist style by the early 1900s, then abandoned it around 1910 for a new style based on anti-impressionist principles and an interest in the avant-garde. His wartime experiences turned him into an expressionist painter of misery; then, in the 1920s, he transferred his agitated Expressionism to peaceful, mundane subject matter as his palette brightened up. Influenced by his stays in Paris, he took on the light touch and urban themes of the École de Paris, and finally developed a characteristic method of colourful small brushstrokes, which he mostly used to depict pleasant beachside and garden scenes.

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Imrich Weiner-Král, Zidovska Street III, detail

Artwork of the Month December 2021: Židovská Street III (1935–36) by Imrich Weiner-Kráľ

Nowadays, Židovská ulica (Jewish Street), wedged between Bratislava castle and the historic city centre, is only a meagre leftover of what it used to be. Forming one of the central locations of the city’s Jewish quarter, a large stretch of the street was destroyed in 1972 during the construction of the New Bridge (officially called ‘The Bridge of the Slovak National Uprising’), as was a large part of the Jewish quarter with it. Even though more recent years have seen efforts to resuscitate the Jewish heritage of the city, including the opening of the Museum of Jewish Culture in 1993, the destruction of the community’s built environment as late as the 1970s underlines a difficult, near erased heritage. With a focus on the painting Židovská Street III (1935–1936), this article seeks to redraw a connection between interwar Jewish life in the eastern part of Czechoslovakia (Slovakia and Subcarpathian Ruthenia) and a prominent representative of Slovak modernism: the Jewish-Hungarian-Slovak painter and graphic artist Imrich/Imre/Imro Weiner (later Weiner-Kráľ , 1901–1978).[1] Ultimately, it argues that if we interpret Weiner-Kráľ s work in the light of his Jewish identity, we might also question traditional interpretations of Slovak modernism that have seen it primarily as an expression of national identity.

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Artwork of the Month, November 2021: Portrait of Ilse by Rudolf Wacker (1926)

Rudolf Wacker (1893–1939) is considered one of the most intriguing painters in Austria during the interwar period. Based in Bregenz in Vorarlberg, the westernmost province of Austria, he strongly oriented himself to the German art world. In his landscapes, portraits and still lifes, he analysed his close surroundings and the local reality in Austria utilizing a razor-sharp realism. As a prisoner of war in Siberia from 1915 to 1920, however, he also experienced ‘exotic’ worlds, which influenced his paintings throughout his whole career, not least in the form of memorabilia and souvenirs. The portrait of his wife Ilse (1926) reveals an important example of this phenomenon in the 1920s.

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