On the Waves of Modernism

22 October - 22 December 2015

František Kupka’s Wave (1904—1905), one of the 105 illustrations included in his Man and Earth series, was selected as the exhibition’s title image for several reasons. At Pro arte, we believe that the entire series, created between 1904 and 1906, constitutes a ground-breaking milestone, not only with respect to Kupka’s journey from figurative representation to abstraction, but likewise with regard to the overall development of 20th century modern art.

Several other Czech artists followed suit as far as the creation of new forms of artistic expression in a European context are concerned. The first exhibition held by Pro arte in the relatively close confines of its new gallery thus aims to present works rightfully perceived as the building blocks of Czech modernism. Let us briefly introduce two of them. The 1922 portrait of Louise-Denise Germain, perhaps the first painting created by Josef Šíma in Paris, excels in all of the aspects Šíma is valued for in France to this day, specifically an extraordinary emotionality, which brought the artist from the gates of paradise to the threshold of the underworld and on to the gates of surrealism. Louise-Denise Germain, a prominent Parisian bookbinder, not only provided Šíma with work following his arrival in Paris, but later on also allowed him to marry her daughter.

Toyen’s Paradise of the Blacks (1925), likely the most prominent painting in the Pro Arte portfolio, has only been exhibited once in the past. Regardless of the reasons, some of which are not entirely clear, the painting will be presented to the public once again. During her first visit to Paris, in the autumn 1925, the author of this renowned painting, accompanied by Jindřich Štyrský, witnessed La Revue Nègre with the famous Josephine Baker. The show’s spontaneity and lack of erotic restraint impressed Toyen significantly and inspired her to create her own idea of paradise, which she conceived as a place entirely free of pseudo-ethical, aesthetic or erotic taboos.

Additional exhibited works include paintings by Emil Filla, Jan Zrzavý, Jindřich Štyrský, Josef Váchal, Jakub Obrovský, Georges Kars, Maxim Kopf, Emil Orlik, František Matoušek and other Czech modernists. While some pieces are very well-known, others were recently discovered by the fund. On several occasions, Pro Arte also succeeded in arranging remarkable acquisitions on behalf of state institutions. For instance, the fund managed to acquire an entirely unique dancer marionette by Edgar Degas in Paris for the Chrudim Puppetry Museum. On behalf of Aleš South Bohemian Gallery, Pro Arte experts discovered and acquired in a Dijon auction Soběslav Pinkas’s Prayer for a Hanged Man, one of the most important 19th century Czech paintings, which had been considered lost for over a hundred years.

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