As a visitor to Prague it is difficult to ignore the prominence of artists such as Alfons Mucha. Yet, while Mucha’s work sets him apart from the other artists and his Slav Epic projects him up there in company of Michelangelo and his Sistine Chapel, other Czech artists deserve to be mentioned.
Mostly ignored in his lifetime Alen Divis‘ turning point was when he was imprisoned in France during the Nazi occupation for political reasons. During solitary confinement the inscriptions and the graffiti left on the walls by the previous cell occupants changed his art forever. Divis’ atmospeheres are gloomy, dark and melanchonic and his perception often hallucinated.
Despite the boring landscape art that Jaroslav Panuska produced in his career this painter made some incredibly haunting art. Ghosts, vampires and witches are the subject of his best works but the creatures he depicts feel like they are the first victims of their condition, a bit like the Nosferatu that Klaus Kinski depicts in Herzog’s movie and that remorsefully kills for blood. Panuska’s creatures mostly look harmless even if scary.
Bohumil Kubista produced an art in which cubism and expressionism blend to speak mostly of existentialist subjects. But even as he embraced cubism as a way to better convey the spirit of the time, Kubista did so in his own very personal way by joining his fascination of mathematics and geometry with color theory.
In a brave and unorthodox comparison you could say that Jakub Schikaneder is the Czech Rembrandt. Schikaneder is a master of light and his subjects are often poor and lonely people depicted in the early evening light where often a lampost shines a faint light.
The very prolific Frantisek Kupka was blessed by a long life. His production spanned multiple styles from cubism to abstract but some of his best works are part of his expressionist and symbolist production. Kupka paid an obsessive attention to colors trying to go beyond their superficial meaning.
So as you can see Czechoslovak art deserves its place in the world. The best part, though, is that you can enjoy the paintings of these artists in one single museum in Prague: Veletrzni Palac; here next to the names we mentioned you will find many other artists that will amaze you, so remember to keep a pen and a notebook handy to take some notes of what you like. But the beauty of Veletrzni Palac isn’t all in the perspective it can give you on Central-European art: this is a world class museum on its own right and you’ll be gifted by incredible pieces by Picasso, Braque, Degas, Seurat, Klimt, Van Gogh and many others.
Veletrzni Palac is also the place where you can admire Mucha’s famous Slav Epic: his representation of the history of Slavic people. This is a highly complex work full of references and allegories painted on twenty large canvases. To truly appreciate it, it is recommended that you take your time and come in fully rested because to have a chance at understanding it you’ll have to read through the whole booklet.
Of course this is a very partial list of the marvels stored in Veletrzni Palac and many, many more artists would deserve to be mentioned. But, besides what’s contained in this museum, who do you think are other forgotten great Czech painters worth rediscovering?