The work of Emil Filla is a pivotal component of the Czech avant-garde movement. The analytically minded artist closely followed global trends, developing and reshaping them in his image. The authenticity of his artistic expression vis-à-vis international influences was thus frequently discussed. Vincenc Kramář, art historian and collector of Picasso’s work, repeatedly commented on the constant comparisons of Filla with Picasso, clearly outlining their disparate approaches to painting. In 1947, he retrospectively commented on Filla’s 1930s work:
“Filla’s paintings are reminiscent of natural organisms; they are more sensual and conceived in a more painterly and more comprehensive manner than Picasso’s women, of which one can merely say that they are sculptures projected onto a two-dimensional plane. This is the fundamental difference between Filla’s art and Picasso’s: though both artists perform similar tasks, Filla’s paintings speak the language of a painter, while Picasso’s that of a sculptor.” (Vincenc Kramář, Emil Filla, práce z let 1946–1947, Prague 1947, pp. 13–14.)
Over the years, Emil Filla moved between different forms of expression infused with a characteristic romantic exaggeration. Most of his works are contemplative in nature in terms of both design and subject matter choice. Not until the second half of the 1920s did Filla first express an interest in the female form – a motif continuously developed by Picasso – which thus freed him from his dedication to cubist distortion and helped him attain a more expressive position. Their conscious reactions to ancient and renaissance images allowed both artists to approach the treatment of female nudes in a unique way.
Thanks to his frequent use of melancholic gestures, Filla’s works exude a sense of sensual contemplation, while, on the other hand, Picasso’s depiction of his mistress Marie-Thérèse Walter is instead sensually erotic in nature, as affirmed by Prof. Lahoda in the latest authoritative monograph on Filla. He characterizes his work, which culminated in 1932–1934, as follows: “It is in paintings of women that Filla achieved the peak of his potential, fusing painterly vitality with the primeval erotic subtext of these forms, though not as explicitly as in the works of Picasso.”
Vojtěch Lahoda, Emil Filla, Academia 2007, p. 340 (drawing).
Private collection of Arnold A. Saltzman (1916–2014), New York.