Gallery spol. s r. o.
 

 

Antonín Slavíček 1870–1910

Municipal Library, Mariánské náměstí 1, Prague 1
Exhibition will be held from 17 March to 5 September 2004


Author of the exhibition: Jana Orlíková

 

 

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Sun in the Forest, 1898, oil,
canvas, 90 x 115 cm, Gallery of Modern Art in Roudnice nad Labem


The last major exhibition of Antonín Slavíček was held in Prague in 1961, which means that almost two generations have been unable to see a larger selection of works by an artist considered one of the founders of the modern tradition in Czech art. The Gallery of the City of Prague hopes to fill this gap with the current exhibition. It has brought together more than 250 works, and is thus able to show Slavíček’s development to its full extent. In this connection we must thank all those institutions which in many cases have had to change their own permanent display to lend their works for our exhibition.

 


June Day, 1898
tempera, pasteboard, 71 x 105.5 cm, National Gallery in Prague


Whilst still at the Academy of Fine Arts in the landscape studio of Julius Mařák, Antonín Slavíček (1870–1910) was considered to be one of the greatest hopes of the school. In his autumn moods – paintings full of melancholy – he expressed the atmosphere at the end of the century very well. However, his intense, live-loving nature needed to express the joy of life, and so he painted the now famous June Day and a number of similar paintings full of sun and summer. It was generally supposed that after the death of Professor Mařák Antonín Slavíček would lead the landscape studio at the Academy. When this did not happened and the studio was closed, Slavíček re-evaluated his future, seeking themes for his own work and a place which would fulfil his landscape requirements. First he tried painting in the surroundings of Hostišov in the Tábor region, and there discovered the landscape of mountain foothills with its distant views and villages on the slopes of the hills. After the summer visit to Hostišov (1902) he discovered – having read Karel Rais’s Sunset – the surroundings of Hlinsko, above all the picturesque village of Kameničky, where he spent the following three years. This terrain of rolling, high horizons with wonderful clouds and birch and rowan trees defying the everlasting wind – but also with the lofty beauty of thick forests and delightful cottages – provided the themes for Slavíček’s paintings of Kameničky.

 


At Home in Kameničky, 1904
oil, canvas, 166 x 192 cm, National Gallery in Prague


In 1905 the painter felt that he had exhausted the inspiration from this landscape and that to repeat it would not be creative. At the same he was aware that the task he had set himself at the beginning of his stay in Kameničky was in a certain sense non-visual and thus impossible to fulfil. What he had wanted to do was capture the impression which had struck him so strongly, of the hard and difficult life of the people there, a life which seemed to him much more genuine than the café sophistry of the big city. At the end of his stay in that countryside, which he truly loved, he painted a number of small sketches, as though he wanted to preserve the country at least in these. These beautiful little paintings also show a change in his painting style and give greater import to the coloured stroke. It was this relaxation of his style which enabled him to capture the flickering life of Prague to which he always returned from the county in late autumn, and where he was truly at home. Prague became the next major theme of his paintings; both the city with its centuries’ old history, at that time sometimes retreating a little from the indiscriminate challenges of modern life, and the life of the pulsating market-places, quaysides, and promenades in the park.

 


Bellow Letná, 1905–1906,
oil, canvas, 24,3 x 34,8 cm, Galerie moderního umění v Roudnici nad Labem


In 1907 Slavíček felt mature enough for a visit to Paris. He was enchanted by the rush of humanity in the Parisian boulevards and their colourfulness. He admired the works of the old masters in the museums and attentively followed contemporary work in the galleries. Because he himself had been labelled the Czech representative of Impressionism, this convinced him again that only some of the elements of his painting were Impressionist, and that the aesthetic of Impressionism did not correspond to his artistic aims

 


In Stromovka Park / Garden Restaurant in Stromovka Park, 1907
oil, plywood, 18.7 x 24 cm

However, after his return he acknowledged his visit to Paris in a relaxation in colour and a new taste for work. In the autumn he took part in a competition for the decoration of the pavilion of the City of Prague at an exhibition for the sixtieth birthday of Emperor Franz Joseph I. He was entrusted with the View of Prague from Ládví, which he painted in one stretch over several days, and which satisfied him. The monumental painting aroused in him a desire for similar work and so immediately, just for himself, he painted Prague from Letná (188x390 cm) which in the end also appeared in the Jubilee Exhibition, as the property of the artist. After these two monumental works painted in 1908 he went to rest in Hostišov, where he painted a number of landscapes which in a sense returned to his Kameničky period.

 


Cathedral of St. Vitus, 1909
oil, canvas, 216 x 187 cm, Gallery of the City of Prague


For his next work he concentrated on the portrayal of Prague Cathedral. From autumn 1908 he occupied himself with the theme of St. Vitus and thus entered an unconscious competition with French Impressionism. Although he made a number of monumental variants on this theme, Slavíček did not consider any of them definitive. His future work was split asunder by a merciless fate. First, his wife fell seriously ill and so he was forced to interrupt his work and to travel to Dubrovnik for treatment. During their stay he broke his arm. After he had returned to Prague where it healed, he and his family travelled to Německá Rybná in the Eagle Mountains, but whilst bathing he the stream Zdobnice he suffered a stroke. He slowly recovered, and began to paint small still lifes. However, for him, a man overflowing with life, a lover of long walks who laboured with a self-destructive intensity, life without the possibility of moving freely was out of the question. That was why on 1 February 1910 he decided to take his own life.

 


Žamberk High Road, 1909, unfinished
oil, canvas, 90.5 x 99 cm, National Gallery in Prague


Not only is Slavíček’s work exciting from the visual point of view, his artistic fate is also remarkable and unusually dramatic. Throughout his life he followed a fundamental command for truth of expression and real inner involvement, and therefore there were periods when he mercilessly abandoned the certainty he had gained. For his true work he needed an inner tension and a relationship to the theme. It is this truthfulness and intensity, sometimes accompanied by failure, that makes an encounter with Slavíček’s work such an experience.

 

 
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