THE NATIONAL GALLERY
MASTERS OF CZECH AVANT-GARDE PHOTOGRAPHY
22 March – 21 May 2017
Opening on 22 March at 18.00
in the presence of Štěpánka Bieleszová
St Alexander Nevski Sq.
For the first time, works by the world-famous photographers František Drtikol, Jaromír Funke, Jaroslav Rössler, and Eugen Wiškovský, selected from state and private collections, are presented to the Bulgarian public. This project is realised with the cooperation of the Museum of Art in Olomouc, the Czech Institute of Creative Photography, and the Czech Institute in Sofia.
Each of the four masters of Czech avant-garde photography has his individual style, but also something that connects them—the post-war period in former Czechoslovakia, eccentricity and their provocative nature. According to an initiator of the exhibition, Vladimír Birgus: ‘Independent Czechoslovakia, which emerged at the end of First World War on the ruins of Austro-Hungary, is ethnically a highly fragmented country where, together with Czechs and Slovaks, many Germans, Hungarians, Russians and people of other nationalities live, making up about a third of the thirteen and a half million population. It united the industrially developed Czech land with agrarian Slovakia and underdeveloped Subcarpathian Ruthenia. However, it was a prosperous democratic republic with a rich cultural life. A number of Czech avant-garde works were created even before the First World War—from all those, we may mention the pioneering abstract painting of František Kupka and the Cubist sculptures of Otto Gutfreund, the paintings of Josef Čapek and Emil Filla, and particular Cubist buildings by architects Josef Chochol and Josef Gočár. During the interwar period, Czechoslovakia was one of the main centres of Functionalism and Surrealism: the original Czech avant-garde movements, Poetism and Artificialism, emerged there. Prague, which until then had lived in the shadow of Vienna and Budapest, rapidly developed into a modern European metropolis. At a time when, in the neighbouring countries, Fascist, and supportive, regimes were gradually advancing to power, Czechoslovakia, until 1938, remained a guardian of democracy, while, after Hitler came to power, it became a refuge for many German and Austrian immigrants, among whom were the famous creators the Mann brothers, John Hartfield, Stefan Zweig and Oskar Kokoschka.
Czech photography, which at the beginning lagged behind the progressive trends in Czech painting, sculpture, and music, quickly reached an international level through the works of its best representatives. In the interwar period in Czechoslovakia, many photographic works were created that were not merely a simple imitation of foreign examples from France, Germany, the Soviet Union, or the United States, but expressively contributed to the development of artistic photography. Some of them only recently received their due recognition. The works of František Drtikol, Jaroslav Rössler, Jaromír Funke and Eugen Wiškovský were not isolated from Czech interwar photography. Other notable modern works were created by Jindřich Štyrský, František Vobecki, Josef Sudek, Miroslav Hák, Willem Reichmann, Václav Zikmund, and many others. During the German occupation of the Second World War and after the setting-in of Communist totalitarianism in 1948, avant-garde art was suppressed, while its artists were arrested and persecuted. Outside recognition of the pioneers of modern Czech photography came gradually; although works by Drtikol and Funke had been displayed in famous galleries and museums even back in the 1970s, the first monograph of Jaroslav Rössler was published as late as 2001, and Eugen Wiškovský was still awaiting full international recognition.’
František Drtikol (1883, Příbram–1961, Prague).
František Drtikol graduated from the Research Institute for Photography (Lehr- und Versuchanstalt für Photographie) in Munich (1901–1903). Between 1907 and 1909, he had its own photographic studio in Příbram and, from 1910 to 1935, operated a prestigious studio for portrait photography in Prague. Creator of the portraits of many celebrities, he was, however, best known for his nudes, which show the development of Secessionist Pictorialism and Symbolism towards modern photography, responsive to various avant-garde trends. In the final stage of his photographic work, he created compositions of carved figures with elongated shapes, symbolically expressing various themes from Buddhism. In the 1920s and 1930s, he received a number of prestigious awards at photographic reviews, held many exhibitions in Europe and the US, and published Les nus de Drtikol (Libraire des arts décoratifs, Paris, 1929) and Žena ve světle (Woman in the Light, E. Beaufort, Prague, 1938). In 1935, he closed his studio and focused on painting and the propagation of Buddhism. After years of neglect his works were internationally rediscovered in the 1970s.
Jaromír Funke (1896, Skuteč–1945, Prague).
Jaromír Funke did not complete his studies in medicine, law and art history, but became intensely focused on photography in the early 1920s. From 1931, he taught photography at the Vocational School and the School of Arts and Crafts in Bratislava; from 1935 to 1944, alongside Joseph Ehm, he was a lecturer in the photography department of the State School of Graphic Arts in Prague. He was a member of Fotoklub Praha, the Czech Photographic Society, the cinema and photography group of left-wing intellectuals in the Levá fronta (Left Front) organisation, and the Mánes Association of Fine Artists. In the period between 1939 and 1941, again with Josef Ehm, he edited the monthly journal, Fotografický obzor. Funke compiled several portfolios of Prague churches and books about the towns of Louny and Kolín. In his works, he developed the concepts of a number of avante-garde trends in an original way. His publicistic and organisational activities are also remarkable.
Jaroslav Rössler (1902, Smilov–1990, Prague).
Between 1917 and 1920, Jaroslav Rössler studied in the Prague atelier of František Drtikol, subsequently working intermittently as a laboratory technician until 1925. In 1923, as the only professional photographer, he was admitted to membership of the avant-garde union, Devětsil. In the period between 1925 and 1926 and then from 1927 to 1935, he lived in Paris, where he worked in several commercial photographic studios. From 1936 to 1951, he managed his own studio in Prague and, later, after the nationalisation carried out by the Communists, he worked as an employee until 1964. He was one of the pioneers of abstract and constructivist photography, utilising the techniques of collage, drawing and the photogram. Rössler resumed his experimental, free work again in the 1950s.
Eugen Wiškovský (1888, Dvur Kralove nad Labem – 1964, Prague).
Eugen Wiškovský received his first camera from his father in 1902. In 1910, he completed his education in German and French Languages and Psychology at the Faculty of Philosophy at the Charles-Ferdinand University in Prague (today the Charles University). In the years between 1910 and 1912, he taught in secondary schools in Prague; from 1912, in the State Modern School in Kolín; and in the period from 1937 to 1948, he was back in Prague. His serious focus on photography began in the mid 1920s with the photo club in Kolín. He participated in several significant exhibitions, including the 1936 International Exhibition of Photography in Prague. In the beginning, he was primarily influenced by themes of the Neue Sachlichkeit (New Objectivity) style; in his works of the 1930s, the influence of Constructivism and Functionalism, and later Surrealism, is already felt. He published exceptionally significant and original theoretical articles.