On 14 May 1916, the Czechoslovak National Council – originally under the somewhat misleading French title of Conseil national des Pays tchèques – was established in the present-day Czech Centre headquarters at 18 rue Bonaparte in Paris. Its leaders, Tomáš Garrigue Masaryk and Edvard Beneš, were both to become future presidents of the First Czechoslovak Republic. Standing by their side was the Slovak astronomer, visionary and adventurer Milan Rastislav Štefánik, then already based in Paris. Their closest friends and collaborators included two painters and political cartoonists: František Kupka, a member of the Czech compatriots of Paris, and Ludvík Strimpl, a close friend and confidante of Edvard Beneš. This historical coincidence links the genius loci with the event and with the artistic activities of the participants themselves. The exhibition thus presents their works alongside pieces created by Czech artists arriving in France, and especially Paris – whether for artistic or political reasons – in significant numbers throughout the existence of the independent Czechoslovak state (1918–1992). Though some of them became French citizens, few managed to break the emotional ties that bound them with their former homeland, especially when under threat.
Works created by great Czech-French artists, largely well-known in France, form the core of the exhibition. These key figures include František Kupka, one of the co-founders of the abstract art movement, the brilliant art-nouveau artist Alfons Mucha, the cubist sculptor Otto Gutfreund, surrealists such as Toyen, Jindřich Štyrský and Jindřich Heislar, the imaginative painter from the Le Grand Jeu group Josef Šíma, the landscape painter of Provence Otakar Kubín, the excellent caricaturist Adolf Hoffmeister and the visual poet Jiří Kolář. Their works are complemented by pieces created by artists who, though not well-known in France – or in the Czech Republic in some cases, had in their day left a meaningful Czech mark in cosmopolitan Paris. Among them were e.g. Georges Kars, František Zdeněk Eberl, Tavík František Šimon, Václav Hradecký, Vojtěch Preissig, Jan Zrzavý, Alén Diviš, Jan Křížek and Jiří Hejna. Furthermore, the exhibition also features the works of artists whose creative output was significantly influenced by their stays in France, however short. This group includes Jan Honsa, Bohuslav Reynek, Kamil Lhoták and Herta Prymusová-Stachová. These artists were included by the exhibition curators in hopes of accentuating the Czech fascination with France in the context of historical events – with the 1916 renewal of Czechoslovak statehood at 18 rue Bonaparte perceived as the first key occurrence. Next came the momentous and ultimately fatal role which France played in the establishment, existence and downfall of the First Czechoslovak Republic (1918—1938), culminating with the Munich Agreement. The overwhelmingly positive and freedom-inspiring role played by France following the 1948 Communist coup d’état and then after the occupation of Czechoslovakia by Warsaw Pact troops in 1968 up to the Velvet Revolution of 1989 constitutes a third key period.
Alfons Mucha – František Kupka – Ludvík Strimpl
Jan Zrzavý – Otakar Kubín – Vojtěch Preissig
Otto Gutfreund – Josef Mařatka – Jan Honsa
Tavík František Šimon – Georges Kars – František Zdeněk Eberl
Josef Šíma – Věra Jičínská – Alén Diviš – František Matoušek
Adolf Hoffmeister – Toyen – Jindřich Štyrský
Jindřich Heisler – Bohuslav Reynek – Kamil Lhoták
Jan Křížek – Otta Mizera – Jiří Hejna – Irena Dědičová – Jiří Kolář