In addition to his focus on painting, throughout his stay in Košice František Foltýn remained dedicated to the search for a distinct national style. In the Czechoslovak environment, examples of such a style may be found in numerous 1920s architectural implementations of so-called Rondocubism, which utilizes a markedly Cubist vocabulary. Foltýn was very close to the Moravian group Koliba which included e.g. Josef Kubíček and Ferdiš Duša and which perceived the issue of national art as closely linked to Pan-Slavic tendencies. The search for a common Czechoslovak artistic identity included frequent attempts designed to interconnect a historically justified tradition with progressive elements associated in particular with the avant-garde.
Foltýn’s utilization of cubism is thus justifiable in spite of the fact that the style had already been abandoned by e.g. French artists. However, for him this was not a question of eclectic thinking but a deliberate justification of Cubism as a method: “How beautiful if Cubism painted in our country were more than a mere imitation of Picasso’s French Cubism, that is if it were truly a Cubism developed by our race. When art created by a race is presented to the world, it will appear unusual by virtue of being different, by expressing its own country and race, it will bear the hallmarks of its race. This also allows us to provide the nation with its very own artistic tradition.” (František Foltýn, “National Art and Cosmopolitanism”, Slovenský východ, No. 231, 9 October, p. 4.).
While Foltýn focused on topics complying with notions of a national art, he also attempted to capture the emotional and psychological aspects of the depicted protagonists, inspired by the works of F. M. Dostoevsky (paintings including e.g. Raskolnikov and Dostoevsky). In Blue Madonna, he puts the Cubist vocabulary of his famous Raskolnikov to good use.
The Blue Madonna was painted in Košice in 1922–1924. The analogous but unsigned Slovak Madonna (Moravian Gallery in Brno, A 1767) constitutes its pendant painting. The work is in many ways a synthesis of Foltýn landscapes, many of which utilize similar themes. The background of the composition includes three hills previously found in The Bridge (Brno City Museum, 54,810) and a church building from The Pond (Brno City Museum, 56,700). The painting also features the Cubism of Raskolnikov (Moravian Gallery in Brno, A 2378) and Dostoevsky (Moravian Gallery in Brno, A 1594). It is precisely with regard to the 1922 origin of the above-mentioned paintings that a reconsideration of the dating of the Blue Madonna may be called for, regardless of the unjustified 1924 date ascribed to the Slovak Madonna.
The composition constitutes a view of a landscape framed by intersecting tree branches. A static sitting figure of a Madonna with a child on her lap is placed at the centre of the image. Her blue robe, spread out and fading into tree roots at the bottom, comprises the base of a geometric composition while her head forms the apex of an isosceles triangle. The composition is reinforced by three hills in the background, with the highest peak covered by Madonna’s head. A potential national interpretation of the Blue Madonna thus cannot be ruled out: in a sense, the three background peaks may be a depiction of Tatra, Matra and Fatra, the central motif of the Slovak national emblem. However, instead of the double cross, the artist painted a hieratic Virgin Mary holding Baby Jesus, a typological parallel to the double cross – and perhaps even a symbol of the young republic. The painting may thus be viewed both as an altar painting and as the Slovak national emblem. Foltýn’s subsequent civilian phase may be characterised by a certain secularization of the subject matter. In this case, both Madonna and the Christ child are devoid of all attributes and may thus represent a Slovak mother with a child, placed in the Slovak landscape.
František Foltýn, Slovak Madonna, 1924, Moravian Gallery in Brno.
Following his grammar school studies, Foltýn entered a porcelain painting apprenticeship with Augustin Němejc. His studies at the Academy of Arts, Architecture and Design in Prague under Emanuel Dítě were interrupted by the outbreak of World War I. Between 1918 and 1924 he worked in Bratislava, Košice and Carpathian Ruthenia, where he actively engaged in the revival of artistic life. He went on to live and work in Paris, albeit for less than a decade (1924–1934). During his stay he actively participated in the avant-garde movement, becoming a member of several artistic groups including Porza, Cercle et Carré and Abstraction-Création. In 1937 the painter permanently settled in Brno, where he continued to work until his death. František Foltýn is one of the few Czech artists and theoreticians who managed to influence the international development of fine arts during the interwar period.
Tschechischer Kubismus, Emil Filla und Zeitgenossen, Kulturhaus der Stadt Graz, Graz, 1991.
Košická moderna / kontexty meziválečného umění, Aleš South Bohemian Gallery, Czech Republic, 18. 3. – 27. 5. 2018.
Gerwald Sonnberger, Tschechischer Kubismus, Emil Filla und Zeitgenossen, Museum Moderner kunst Passau, 1991.
Private collection of Milan Heidenreich, Gothenburg.