Bohemia's claim for freedom/Some typical Czech artists

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Cancer, from painting by Josef Mánes.jpg


THIS inspiration of our peasant art, the true flower of the soil of Bohemia, speaks to us from all the real, sincere art of Czech masters. It speaks through different technic, through different medium. Manes, Hynais, Zenisek, Ales, Mucha, Uprka, are a few representative names of modern Czech art. The Slavonic element in these masters is unmistakable.

The memory of the rich flower decoration of Moravian cottages is so strong in Mucha that ornament becomes in his art an end in itself. In his decorative work "Our Father" he prays through exuberant design. It is not so much the depth of his inventions as the decorativeness of his compositions; he forgets all languages; he speaks to God and men only through decorativeness. Much is a true Slav, for in his work there is the essential Slavonic element, a half-savage, half-superhuman mysticism. In Mucha's art the cosmopolitan influences have strangely overgrown the original Slavonic idea; they develop in him a new, spontaneous, and rich decorative expression.

Perhaps the most representative of modern Czech or Slovak artists is Joza Uprka. The love of Slavonic motives drove him out of academic pedantries to the typical people of Moravia and Slovakia. To that poetic corner of Europe Uprka gladly retired, not to dream, but to live and enjoy the richness of colour and ornament. And from his rich paintings comes the vigorous, healthy breeze of rural scenes, full of strong white light, full of perfume from the fields and meadows and gardens. His typical figures of humanity — old, grey-haired patriarchs, manly youths, or buxom young peasant women — are all in the daring rythmic colours of the Slav national costume. Uprka's canvasses rebelliously but triumphantly dance in light and colour; the artist lives and feels with the subjects of his paintings: work in the meadows and fields, village life, joys, feasts, dances, prayers. In his art there is nothing melancholy; no shadows, no miseries, no dying, as if in his happy land people never died nor knew of death! Not, indeed, that Uprka never painted sombre scenes, but by a happy instinct he rushes from them towards light and joyful colour. His work, in its brilliant, direct technic,

Sketch of a peasant by Joža Uprka.jpg

By Joza Upkra
is a fine example of unspoiled national genius. Such buoyant energy our national organism, so permeated by German influence, sorely needs.

It is not mere chance that this master hails from Moravia, because from there and also from the healthy, unspoiled Slovaks, we Czechs expect the strengthening and rejuvenating of our national spirit and the purification of our national ideals. This truly is the great mission of Moravia, of her people and of her art.

Art to be real should be a natural phenomenon, an organic growth, as a tree growing from the soil that it nourishes. Uprka is such an artist, growing from the soil living amongst the peasants, equal among equals. Nowhere else could he live. A cosmopolitan city spoils men by its distracting influences, Uprka runs away from the city. He lives a simple life—works in the garden and on the fields, and paints—paints incessantly the sunlit simple people that he loves so well. That is all the biography that is of interest, or indeed necessary. Full of love of that corner of South Moravia, he works with marvellous intensity. His work will also be valued as a permanent and faithful record of the typical dress of our peasants, fast disappearing; their customs and ceremonies. The materialism of Western Europe, and the speculative Jew, begins to work a mission of barbarism even in that quiet, beautiful country.

The characteristic of Uprka's art—his joy of life, love of colour, glorification of light, all so intimately connected with the innate genius of our poetic peasants—is a triumphant augury for the future of the Czechs. The Slav at last wakes up from melancholy to a joyful life.

M. Ales is a great poet amongst our artists. He draws old Slavonic heroes, dresses them and ornaments them with charms and implements and carvings. He is not a historian, but he dreams his poems so sincerely, and so fully is he immersed in his dreams that he carries us with him. Ales does not "draw" the public with wonderful and clever tricks of his palette or brush, but he who loves direct, simple art, the true Czech modesty of old times, and a pleasant and unaffected communicativeness, will find in Ales a pleasant, valuable companion. His art does not deceive; it is simple, honest, direct. The art of Ales is as simple as a national Czech melody. The decorative lunettes in the National Theatre in Prague were designed by Ales and Zenisek. They are monumental in the outlines of their figures, musical in the rythm of their poses; lyricism vibrates in them everywhere.

Zenisek's work shows an individuality very different from that of foreign masters. We shall learn more and more of his art, and no distant future will show very clearly how much Zenisek's art was a pure Czech art.

Zenisek is Slav, Czech, and where other painters love compositions full of heroic pathos, structural distribution of masses, effects of grouping, Zenisek is all delicacy. He places in space figures musically conceived, simple effects of lines and coloured masses. His allegorical figures are simple to understand; their symbolism flows, as it were, melodiously as a Slavonic song, richly modulated, here joyful, there tearful or festively lyric, nowhere "Secco recitativo," nowhere "parlando."

In the lyricism of his art Zenisek is a true follower of our great lyric painter J. Manes. Zenisek possesses an equal feeling for rythmic lines and can express the sweet charm of the beautiful human figure. Like Manes he delights to draw lovable children, and understands the rythmic sweetness of a child's uncertain steps and gestures. Like Manes he knows only a beautiful, healthy, strong man. The human body is to him, as to Manes, "Crown of the created world," the highest achievement of the Creator of Cosmos. (Quoted from F. X. Harlas.)

The influence of the historical memories of the tragic past on the contradiction of modern life is, in works of some Czech artists, strangely persistent. Such an artist is Holarek. His genius is a continuation of the spirit of John Hus, of the great Humanists, the Bohemian Brethren. Through the drawings of Holarek speaks the same undaunted spirit, the same tenderness, the same understanding of human frailty.

Holarek's Preface to his collection of drawings "Thoughts on the Catechism" speaks eloquently: "This protest of a suffering and martyred soul I give to human society in return for the artificial care with which she educated my heart to such a sensitiveness that, tremble under any emotion, and the sorrow of others feel above my own. The human Society took away from me even as a child the sweet egotism of nature, which is the child's happiness. Instead, she deeply instilled into me the Christian teaching, and permitted the child's faith to depend upon an ideal happiness. So it was, only to deceive. But from the grown-up man she could not keep away her miserable reality nor hide from him her mercenary identity." Holarek unmasked the pseudo-Christianity of our intellectual society. He mercilessly contrasts the facts of reality with that "Brotherhood," that "Equality," that "Love of your neighbour," of which we all so volubly speak.

We cannot omit even from this brief note on Czech art the names of J. Marak, the poetic landscape painter; Hynais, Jansa, Setelik, Kupka, Kalvoda, Klusacek, Svabinsky; Brozik, Marold, and Cermak, the last three painters of wider European reputation, and K. Myslbek and Sucharda, the Czech sculptors. F. X. Salda and Dr. Harlas have produced much valuable art criticism in the Czech language; their works form the beginning of a Slavonic philosophy of art — a serious inquiry into Slavonic artistic genius and its meaning to European civilisation.

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