Alois Bílek (1887-1960)
Realist painter and figuralist, in 1907 Bílek enrolled at the Prague Academy of Fine Arts. Graduating in 1912, he settled in Paris until 1928, concentrating on Symbolist renderings of the female body. In 1913 he organised an exhibition of contemporary French art in Prague. Bílek’s paintings remain true to the tenets of classical form and volume, while emphasizing the physical qualities of colour and its influence over the human psyche. His work also included the decoration of public buildings from the late 1920s until the start of the Second World War.
František Drtikol (1883-1961)
Painter and photographer, Drtikol began as a trainee photographer at Antonín Matas’s studio in Příbram before undertaking a two-year course at the Lehr-und Versuchsanstalt für Photographie in Munich in 1901. Drtikol spent three years in military service before setting up his own studio first in Příbram, and then in Vodičkova Street in Prague in 1910. Establishing himself as a successful portraitist of politicians and cultural figures, he later focused on interpretations of the female nude. At first influenced by the Jugendstil, he increasingly moved into Art Deco forms, transforming the female curves into geometrical compositions and patterns. By the 1930s he even began constructing figures out of plywood to create more mystical photographic images, calling his work ‘photopurism’. In 1935 he turned his hand to painting, closely following Oriental philosophies, occultism and theosophy.
Jaromír Funke (1896-1945)
Photographer and theorist, Funke is recognised as one of the greatest Czech avant-garde photographers of the 1920s and 1930s. He began studying medicine, law and philosophy, but left college to work as an amateur photographer. In 1924 he founded the Czech Society of Photography, promoting a new kind of photography that blended Constructivism and Functionalism with Surrealism and social commentary. He created multiple photographic series while also teaching photography at the School of Arts and Crafts in Bratislava and the School of Graphic Art in Prague. Funke worked for many years as an editor of the Fotografichý Obzor journal.
Otto Gutfreund (1889-1927)
Sculptor and draughtsman, Gutfreund studied at the School of Decorative Arts, Prague (1906-08) and in Paris with Emile-Antoine Bourdelle. Returning to Prague in 1911 he joined the Group of Fine Artists led by Filla, and incorporated the principles of Cubo-Expressionism into his work, creating sculptures that are amongst the earliest three-dimensional Cubist works. In Paris in 1914 he met Picasso, Gris, Apollinaire and the dealer Kahnweiler. At the outbreak of the First World War Gutfreund joined the French Foreign Legion but, arrested for insubordination, was interned from 1915 to 1918. In Paris from 1918-1920 he explored Synthetic Cubism, while gradually introducing more Realist tendencies into his work. In 1920 he moved back to Prague where he created polychrome sculptures, outdoor monuments and architectural reliefs. In 1926 he was appointed Professor at the School of Decorative Arts in Prague.
Jindrich Heisler (1914-1953)
A photographer and poet, Heisler was among the youngest members of the Czech Surrealist Group, which he joined in 1938. He formed important friendships with Toyen and Štyrský, and during the Nazi occupation ignored the decree that as ‘non-Aryans’, Jews had to be registered; ultimately he was forced to hide in Toyen’s apartment in 1941 until the end of the war. Despite conditions of extreme adversity, Heisler continued to publish clandestinely in Prague. Before his early death at the age of 38, he become a key contributor to the Czech Surrealist movement, with his anthologies of poems that included Only Kestrels Calmly Piss on the Ten Commandments (1939), with Toyen’s illustrations and a collage cover by Štyrský; and From the Strongholds of Sleep, the collection of ‘implemented poems’ which he produced with Toyen. Heisler moved to Paris with Toyen in 1947, where he joined the Paris Surrealist Group.
František Hudeček (1909-1990)
Painter, graphic artist and illustrator, Hudeček studied at the School of Applied Arts in Prague. Influenced by the theories and new techniques of Surrealism in the 1930s, he became a member of the Artists’ Club in 1941 and of Group 42. Fantasy and order vie for supremacy in his work. During the Second World War, he developed the theme of the ‘night walker’, and his work assumed an increasingly obsessive and angst-ridden character. In later years, his work moved towards pure abstraction, and in the 1960s, his work took on the vibrancy of Op Art.
Jiří Kolář (1914-2002)
Collagist and poet, Kolář was most active in France while also heavily influencing Czech art between the 1940s and 1970s. Most importantly, Kolář was the main representative of Group 42, an association of artists who focused on aesthetic ideas of the mythology of urban life and the ‘miraculous in the commonplace’. Throughout his career he developed poem-collages or ‘non-verbal poetry’, but became most known for his reinterpretations of famous paintings and works of sculpture which he manipulated into new incarnations. Kolář’s ideas took the medium of collage to a new level of expression.
Alfred Justiz (1879-1934)
A student at the Czech Technical University, the Academy of Fine Arts, Prague, and the Karlsruhe Academy, during a sojourn in Paris in 1910 Justitz became fascinated by the works of Paul Cézanne, André Derain, and Honoré Daumier, the classical foundations of whose work were the inspiration for his own painting. He joined SVU Mánes in 1928, was a member of the Tvrdošíjní group, an active Freemason, and an avid breeder of boxer hounds.
Pravoslav Kotík (1889-1970)
Painter and graphic artist, Kotík attended the Prague Academy of Arts, Architecture and Design and was a member of the Artistic Club and the Group of Socially-Tuned Art. Interested in the relationship between the individual and events in society, his early figurative style was influenced both by Cubism and Neoclassicism. After the Second World War his simplified Expressionistic style moved towards Abstraction.
Bohumil Kubišta (1884-1918)
Painter, sculptor, printmaker, art critic and theorist, Kubišta studied at the School of Applied Arts in Prague (1903-04) and at the Academy of Fine Arts (1904-05). In 1906 he visited Florence and enrolled at the Reale Istituto di Belle Arti. A co-founder of Osma (The Eight) in 1907 with Emil Filla and Antonin Procházka, Kubišta exhibited with them in 1907 and 1908. In 1909-10 he went to Paris, and on his return to Prague became one of the leading advocates of Cubism. In 1911 he joined SVU Mánes and was instrumental in the foundation of the Group of Fine Artists, although he never became a formal member. In 1911, invited by members of the Dresden group Die Brücke, he exhibited at the Neue Sezession in Berlin and over the next two years participated in exhibitions across Europe. In 1913 he entered military service and became an officer in the Austrian infantry stations in Yugoslavia.
František Kupka (1871-1957)
Painter, printmaker and illustrator, Kupka studied at the Academy of Fine Arts, Prague (1887-91) and at the Vienna Academy (1891-92). In 1895 he moved to Paris where he worked as a book illustrator and cartoonist. In 1906 he participated in the Salon d’Automne, and from 1911 began to exhibit at the Salon des Indépendants. By 1910 he had begun his book Creation in Fine Arts having arrived at a concept of abstract art inspired by his studies of movement, music and the natural and occult sciences. In 1912 at the Salon d’Automne he showed some of the first abstract paintings exhibited in Paris. During the First World War he supported the movement for Czech independence and in 1919 was made an honorary member of the Prague artists’ association, SVU Mánes, which published Creation in Fine Arts in 1923. From 1931-34 he was a member of Abstraction-Création. In 1946 SVU Mánes organised a retrospective of his work in Prague to celebrate his seventy-fifth birthday.
Jan Matulka (1890-1972)
Painter and printmaker, Matulka began training as an artist in Prague in 1905 before emigrating to the United States with his parents in 1907. He continued his studies at the National Academy of Design and graduated in 1917, but was unable to travel abroad due to passport complications. Instead, he found artistic inspiration in the landscapes and cultures of New Mexico, Arizona and Florida, especially Native American ceremonial dances, which he painted in the Cubist style. By the 1920s, he was allowed to travel to Europe, and spent his time between Paris, New York and Czechoslovakia before returning to the States and enrolling at the Art Students League in New York. He exhibited widely, including at the Whitney Studio Club, the Société Anonyme and the Salon des Indépendants. By the 1930s, Matulka was combining Cubism with Surrealist ideas, associating shapes and colours with personal and poetic themes. His last solo exhibition was held at the A.C.A. Gallery in 1944.
František Muzika (1900-1974)
Painter, illustrator, printer, stage designer and teacher, Muzika studied at the Academy of Fine Arts from 1918-1924 and at the Académie des Beaux Arts in Paris from 1924-1925. He was a founding member of the Devěsil, the 1923 New Group, and the Mánes society. Working with Aventinum publishers, he had a strong influence on the avant-garde with his printing and book binding. Teaching at the Prague School of Applied Art, he worked in the realm of magic Realism and Primitivism. During the 1920s he gravitated from lyrical Cubism towards Surrealism and imaginative painting. Muzika’s works symbolised political change in Europe, becoming narrativeless allegories of war.
Vitĕzslav Nezval 1900-1958)
Poet, dramatist, and essayist, Nezval was a leading figure of the Czech avant-garde between the wars. In 1922 he became a member of Devĕtsil and contributed to the anthologies Devĕtsil and Život II (Life II). In 1924 he and Karel Teige defined a new artistic trend, Poetism, which found expression in Nezval’s anthology Pantomime, for which Štyrský designed the cover and Teige the typography. Among Nezval’s most celebrated publications of this period was Abeceda (Alphabet) of 1926, created in collaboration with Karel Paspa, Karel Teige, and Milča Mayerová. In 1928 Teige and Nezval prepared a special issue of ReD magazine with new Poetist manifestos. In 1930 Nezval published the magazine Zvĕrokruh (The Zodiac), in which he included a translation of André Breton’s Second Manifesto of Surrealism. He met Breton in person in 1933. On 21 March 1934 he co-founded the Skupina surrealist v ČSR (Surrealist Group in Czechoslovakia).
Jindřich Štyrský (1899-1942)
One of the avatars of the Czech avant-garde, Štyrský studied at the Academy of Fine Art in Prague from 1920-23 before travelling through Italy and Yugoslavia, where he met the painter Marie Čerminová (Toyen), with whom he lived and worked closely until the end of his life. He became a member of the Prague artists association Devětsil, exhibiting with both the Devětsil exhibition and in the Paris exhibition L’Art d’aujourd’ hui in Paris between 1924 and 1925. In Paris, he and Toyen developed their artistic style known as Artificialism, and organised exhibitions at the Galerie d’Art Moderne and the Vavin art gallery before returning to Prague in 1928 to exhibit at the Aventinská mansard art gallery. By 1932 he had participated in the international Surrealist art exhibition in Paris, and in 1934 was the co-founder of the Czech Surrealist Group whose first exhibition took place in 1935 at the Mánes building. He founded The Erotic Review (1930-33) and Edition 69 (1931-33).
Toyen (Marie Ĉermínová) (1902-1980)
Painter and illustrator, Toyen studied at the School of Applied Arts in Prague between 1919 and 1922. In 1922 she befriended Štyrský, with whom she formed a profound partnership until his death in 1942. She joined Devětsil in 1923, and adopted the name Toyen, derived from the French citoyen(citizen). In the 1920s, Toyen and Štyrský developed the style known as Artificialism. In 1925 she was represented at the Paris exhibition L’Art d’aujourd’hui. On their return to Prague, Toyen contributed numerous drawings to Štyrský’s Erotic Review (1930-33) and Edition 69 (1931-33). She was one of the founding members of the Czech Surrealist Group in 1934. In 1947, she and Jindřich Heisler, whom she had sheltered in her apartment from 1941 to 1945, moved to Paris, where Toyen became an active member of Breton’s postwar Surrealist circle of artists and poets.
Karel Teige (1900-1951)
Collagist, theorist, typographer and critic, Teige was a founding member of the Devětsil group in 1920 and a spokesman for the Czech Surrealist group. His earliest works in the 1920s and 1930s in typography were heavily influenced by Cubism, but in the 1940s he became primarily a Surrealist collagist, focusing on the female nude. After visiting Paris in 1923, he started to make picture poems, and with the poet Vítĕzslav Nezval, he invented an artistic style, Poetism, which he promoted in two manifestos, published in 1924 and 1928. His goal in the 1920s was to unite Poetism and Constructivism. From 1927 to 1931 he edited the Devětsil review, ReD. By 1930 he was becoming internationally known for his theories on modern architecture. In response to the rise of Fascism in Germany and the invasion of Czechoslovakia, he began to grow in his radical leftists theories and had to withdraw from public life. He attempted to re-establish himself after the war, but was violently denounced by the Communist Party in 1950.
Alois Wachsman (1898-1942)
Painter, stage designer, architect and illustrator, Wachsman studied at the Czech Technical University from 1917-1922 followed with studies at the Academy of Fine Arts from 1925-1928. Wachsman was a founding member of the Devětsil Artistic Union and a member of the Mánes society from 1923. His early works are influenced by magic Realism and poetic Naivism, but turned to lyrical Cubism in the later 1920s, influenced by Picasso. During the 1930s, Wachsman embraced Surrealist iconography, creating images of incidental encounters and exploiting the world of the unconscious.