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?[1]

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.

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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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