Emil Filla’s interest in still life first manifested itself around 1912, his subsequent exploration of the genre lasted until 1948. Still life painting provided him with a permanent laboratory, and the works of cubists and of his beloved old masters – subjects of his numerous scholarly treatises – a rich source of inspiration. For example, while working on Bottle of Wine and Plate of Apples, Filla also collected material for an extensive article on Dutch still life painting, published in 1916 in Volné směry (Free Directions).
The period which the painting was created in was fundamental and full of changes for Filla. In early 1913, he married Hana Krejcova. He stayed twice in Paris, and had 34 pieces displayed at an autumn exhibition at the Sturm-Galerie, an avant-garde Berlin space owned by Herwarth Walden. That winter, the gallery also featured his work at a collective exhibition alongside e.g. Franz Marc and Pablo Picasso. In spring 1914, he began to spend more time in Paris, engaging in various artistic activities and acquiring numerous contacts. He visited Georges Braque with Otto Gutfreund and, with Georges Kars, paid a visit to modern art collector Gertrude Stein, where he was introduced to Pablo Picasso. Otto Gutfreund recalls: “I visited Picasso’s studio with Filla, we were walking down the street, and he passed us in a carriage; when he saw Filla, whom he had already met, he stopped and invited us to the studio.” That summer, Filla definitively decided to move to Paris. He initially stayed at Hotel Roma in 57, rue de Caulaincourt, where Georges Braque’s studio was also located. Unfortunately for Filla, the mobilisation notice of 26 July, issued following the outbreak of the World War, also applied to the artist. In early August, Emil Filla – an Austrian citizen – thus fled France, which, as a foreign national, he would otherwise have been expelled from, to Belgium and subsequently to Holland.
When Emil Filla writes in his 1916 journal “Today’s research task: to seek out and locate influences, patterns of similarity… A strange concern! Was this how Tintoretto thought when he measured and examined ancient statues, or Rembrandt?” he is expressing his unease regarding notions of originality in modernism. What a paradox! The author himself must have been aware of the constant comparisons he made between his own work and the compositions of Pablo Picasso, whom he considered to be a pioneer of Cubism. As if such sentences were capable of justifying his own artistic activity. Filla’s works cannot be perceived as imitations, as the artist's approach was – unlike Picasso’s intuitive creations – entirely analytical. Emil Filla was dedicated to comprehending the principles of the new style, which he then projected into his works. “Around 1913, employing it [Picasso’s method] as a point of departure, Filla moves from expressionist deformation to an independent rendering of three-dimensional interrelationships in space; thanks to multiple simultaneous views from different perspectives, this solution thus facilitates a freely poetic reimagining of reality. Soon, however, Filla’s painterly expression becomes more relaxed and, as demonstrated in his still life series from 1913 and the first half of 1914, he achieves great confidence and liberation with remarkable speed and efficiency” (Vojtěch Volavka, Emil Filla, Demokratický střed IX, 1932, No. 21 (27 May), pp. 2–4.)
The composition entitled Bottle of Wine and Plate of Apples is documented as having been exhibited twice during the artist’s lifetime – in Prague and Brno, though it is impossible to rule out that the painting had been previously exhibited at the Sturm Gallery in Berlin, either in autumn or winter of 1913, as part of a large collection of Filla’s paintings. Given the prestigious nature of the May 1932 exhibition (it was the artist’s first important retrospective held in Czechoslovakia), Filla would certainly have participated in the selection of individual pieces. The chronologically structured catalogue thus indicates that Bottle of Wine and a Plate of Apples may be considered the 48th painting selected by the artist as worthy of display. This is in fact a rather low number, especially in the light of prevailing public perception regarding the artist’s overproduction. A very interesting detail, an envelope with a postage stamp reminiscent of a Dutch trompe l’œil located at upper left (the inscription on the envelope may be considered the artist’s third signature, which makes this Filla’s most signed painting) indicates that work on the painting may have started in March 1913. In case the piece was in fact exhibited in Berlin in autumn 1913, the painting would have to have been completed by then; the signature on the back, indicating a period of origin of 1913–1914, could thus have been added following possible interventions in the spring of 1914 prior to Filla’s departure for Paris later that year. Prague is listed as the place of origin, and it is indeed difficult to imagine Filla bringing the painting with him to Paris. The painting was exhibited in Brno in October 1932. As the exhibition only included paintings intended for sale, no private loans were displayed. Bottle of Wine and Plate of Apples was listed under catalogue No. 4 and priced at 3,500 Czechoslovak crowns. It is thus evident that Emil Filla was one of the most sought-after artists of the day, with only a limited number of his early works still available for purchase.
Jubilejní výstava díla Emila Filly, Mánes Association of Fine Artists, Prague 1932.
Emil Filla, Souborná výstava obrazů pořádaná Skupinou V. U. v Domě umění v Brně, Brno 1932.
Jubilejní výstava díla Emila Filly, Mánes Association of Fine Artists, Prague 1932, catalogue no. 48.
Emil Filla. Souborná výstava obrazů pořádaná Skupinou výtvarných umělců v Domě umění v Brně, Brno 1932, catalogue no. 4.
Volné směry XXXIII, 1937, reproduction p. 96.
Vojtěch Lahoda, Emil Filla, Prague 2007, reproduction p. 209.
Armand Grosz Collection, Prague