The Czechoslovak Review/Volume 3/Joža Úprka
FOUR WORKS OF UPRKA
In America the great Slovak painter is little known, but in France and elsewhere in Europe he has many admirers; among them was the great sculptor, Auguste Rodin. All Paris at the time of the victory of French impressionists rushed to praise’s great canvas “Pilgrimage to St. Anthony’s.” This painting is a veritable jewel of Slovak art; its vivid coloring and the beauty of its costumes impelled Rodin to take an interest in Slovakia; in 1902 he visited Úprka at his home and studied with him the picturesque Slovak people.
Joža Úprka is a Moravian Slovak, like. He was born in Knězdub near what used to be the Hungarian frontier. Today he is 56 years old and still as lively as are his paintings. He intended to be a school teacher, but his love of painting manifested itself early and at the age of 19 he entered the Prague Academy of Art. After a course at this school he went to Munich; three years later he returned home as a mature artist. He painted the Slovak people with “Slovak” colors. The Slovaks really have a highly developed sensitiveness for harmony of colors; Úprka’s paintings represent this peculiar talent at its highest. He is an impressionist, but he has nothing in common with the French school: his only teacher was the artless painting of his own people. To look at Úprka’s canvas is to look through a window into the Slovak heaven; his colors full of bold contrasts, shimmer in sunshine and shout with joy, even though the motive be a most simple one. His art aims at one thing only—to register on canvas what he sees around him, people at work, at their pleasures, in church, in the field. But everything he sees with a great master’s eye and so all his work is true, delicious art. Always he paints his own Slovak people and above all children, whom he loves.
In 1911 at a London exhibit he had a painting called “In the Spring Sun,” a charming child scene. It was the talk of the season. An art critic wrote of this painting as follows: “In Úprka’s rich and colorful work the children have their place. The Slovak children are really adults in miniature; their parents do not invent a special dress for them, but cloth them as they do themselves, the only difference being size. Perhaps for that very reason these children strike us as particularly charming and gay. These little people dressed like young men and women look so funny and sweet that the eye does not tire of them. In depicting the children’s world Úprka shows keener psychology than elsewhere. He observes their games with an eye so keen and sympathetic that he can read their little souls . . .”
One of Úprka’s greatest paintings is “March of the Kings”. Both the concept and the technical execution make it his happiest and grandest work. The painting represents an ancient Slovak custom at Whitsuntide. It is difficult to give any description of this painting; even a photograph is very unsatisfactory because Úprka’s greatest talent consists in his handling of colors. He is above all a master of color.
His paintings are found today in the great collections of Europe, principally in Vienna; among them should be mentioned his “Slovak Madonna” bought for the Belvedere for 10,000 crowns, Úprka’s Album, containing reproductions of the master’s best works was published by the graphical firm “Unie” in Prague.