Prague’s breath-taking riverside location on the Vltava with the Hradčany, Charles Bridge and the Old Town never ceases to excite travellers and tourists alike. Prague has also always been considered a city with a life of its own, with winding streets, dark Gothic architecture and haunting ghosts making it a magical place in literature and art. Oskar Kokoschka (1886–1980) drew on these and other qualities of the picturesquely situated city in his sixteen Prague landscapes, painted between 1934 and 1938 when he was a refugee in the city and before he emigrated to England. In the 1930s, the city became the hub of emigrants in Europe when the National Socialists seized power in Germany and the political climate in Austria also became increasingly conservative with the rise of Austro-Fascism in 1934. Research often speaks of artists or arts in exile, but how much the artists were really affected by their travel stops is often difficult to assess. Often it was the hardship of political persecution and closing escape corridors that drove the artists from place to place in Europe, without one city in particular sticking in their memory or shaping their artistic practices. Chain migration is the term often used for this. Migration research, which has been enlivened by recent events in art history, is concerned with such cities of arrival, which had a particular influence on the emigrants, but which were often close beforehand through personal relationships.
Artwork of the Month, September 2022: Sailor by Josef Čapek (1917)
Exoticism. It is said that exoticism is not a Czech trait; that we cling to our country like dough to a hole. Certainly this is true; but have you gentlemen never read Robinson Crusoe, The Last of the Mohicans, and Jules Verne, and have you not lived in Bohemia, and had friends like that, and is it a coincidence that one of them joined the Comedians, another perished in America, and a third was lost in the world as a sailor?
In the text Krakonošova Zahrada (The Giant Mountains’ garden), a description of his adventurous youth along the Úpa river in Northern Bohemia, Josef Čapek (1887–1945) cannot deny the provinciality of life in Czechoslovakia. The heroes in the books by Jules Verne (1828–1905) seemed much more thrilling, as well as the famous French novelist himself, who sailed the seas as an avid sailor. Unfortunately, Bohemia does not lie by the sea, a fact that only Shakespeare (1564–1616) could change in The Winter’s Tale (1609–1611). The play is set in Sicily, in a pastoral fantasy world called Bohemia, which lies by the sea.
Artwork of the Month, April 2022: The Manual Workers and the Intellectuals by János Mattis-Teutsch (1927)
Few artists moved between worlds as much as the painter and sculptor János Mattis-Teutsch (1884–1960), who was born in Brașov (Hung.: Brassó, Ger.: Kronstadt), but spent considerable time in Budapest, Bucharest, Munich, Paris and Berlin. This demonstrates the mobility of artists in Central Europe before and after the First World War, but it especially showcases the variety of artistic developments that ran throughout Europe since the early twentieth century. No matter which influence he followed, Mattis-Teutsch aimed at expressing the inner spirit of the human soul. He was close to Expressionist, spiritual and, later, Constructivist tendencies, on which he always put his own stamp, with a desire to unite ethical and aesthetic values. Reconciliation is also the theme of the painting presented here, The Manual Workers and the Intellectuals (1927), which marks a seldom-noted phase of his work towards the end of the 1920s, when the social aspirations of his art came into their own particularly strongly. Following artists such as Sándor Bortnyik (1893–1976), he sought to add a human touch to Constructivism. His ethereal figures represent generally human principles for a ‘New Man’ who was to move in the idealised space of a new society. The term ‘New Man’ gathered a wide variety of utopian ideas for the transformation of the human being in the interwar period, and found frequent expression in art.
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.
Artwork of the Month, April 2021: Family Portrait (The Keller Family) by Ernst Nepo (1929)
Ernst Nepo‘s Family Portrait (The Keller Family) is considered one of the most important social portraits in Austrian art between the wars. In it, the Innsbruck architect Wilhelm Keller (1886–1934) and his wife Anni stage their social self-image and idea of education through their daughters. On first sight, the painting presents itself as a sharp photographic snapshot. In contrast to previous interpretations, however, the aim here is not merely to observe this style and its pretended spontaneity, but to consider the way the work also indicates new ideas of childhood and youth in the interwar period. What image of the adolescent appears, with the girls Ditta and Dora larger than life in front of the viewer? What role do they have within their family? Moreover, what do the architectural toys indicate?