Page:The Bohemian Review, vol1, 1917.djvu/193

This page has been proofread, but needs to be validated.

Fine Arts in Bohemia.


By Dr. J. E. S. Vojan.

The Bohemian, or rather the Prague barocco period closes in the middle of the eighteenth century. Of the great artists who created this epoch Brandl died in 1738, Rainer 1743, Brokof 1731, Braun 1737, Dienzenhofer 1752; after that fine arts in Bohemia rapidly declined. The causes were political. The two principal supporters of art were the church and the nobility. During the reign of Maria Theresa and Joseph II the state greatly increased its power at the expense of the other two elements. The great territorial nobles became less important than the bureaucrats. Secularization of many churches and convents, carried out by Joseph, deprived the painters and sculptors of regular and wealthy patrons, while the nobles gravitated more and more to Vienna to be in attendance at the imperial court, the center of all fashion and power. The less important country gentlemen, scared by the aggressive accents of the French revolution and the increase of democratic tendencies, vegetated upon their estates and abandoned all inclination to patronize art. Then came the dark days of Napoleonic wars. First the ragged armies of revolutionary France, inspired by the Marseillaise, smashed the reputations of the most famous Austrian generals, and then appeared the scarlet star of Bonaparte. The laughing days of rococo were over; guitars played by great nobles and songs of high born shepherdesses were silenced, as every day brought evil reports from the battlefields.

As these great events were taking place, Prague lost its bustling life, squares and streets were empty, the old world was in death throes, and the new world had not yet taken shape. The third new estate, the estate of citizens, was in the process of creation, but some decades elapsed before it was able to undertake the nurture of art.

We come here to an unexpected event. At the very end of the century, in 1796, there was founded the “Society of Patriotic Friends of Art in Prague.” Eight noblemen united to “elevate the decadent artistic taste, to stop further export of works of art still remaining in the country and to establish a picture gallery and school of art.” These men, were not, of course, interested in the liberation of Czech art from slavery to foreign schools, a state of affairs existing since the days of barocco, nor did they intend to cultivate the fertile home soil so that it might give growth to a vigorous, genuinely Bohemian art. Their motives were altogether educational, humanitarian and in the general interest of higher civilization. The founders desired to give a tone to the taste of the burgher classes and to raise new generations of competent artists. At the head of the society was Count Franttišek Šternberk. A public art gallery was organized out of works donated and loaned, and in 1800 a school of art was founded under the pretentious name of the Painters’ Academy. Both institutions are still in existence. The gallery is now in the Rudolfinum, a beautiful home of art erected be tween the years 1876 and 1886 by the Bohemian Savings Bank at a cost of $800,000 in commemoration of its fiftieth anniversary. The Painters’ Academy, made a state institution in 1885, has been housed in a splendid building above the Stromovka Park in 1902.

The first directors of the Academy were not Bohemian and they did not lead their pupils to Bohemian art. The gifted scholars were sent to Rome to study, and so their paintings had an international character. The school produced paintings, but true enthusiasm, the sacred fire, were lacking. Those early days can show no great painter. The first director ,and at first the only profesor, was a protege of the prince-bishops of Passau, Josef Bergler; twenty-nine years of his life spent in Bohemia brought no lasting results for true art, but his contemporaries showered praise upon him.

In the last quarter of the eighteenth century František Mánes, a journeyman miller, came to Prague from Radnice near Rokycany. His biblical name gave rise later to a legend that his family was of Holland origin, but no proofs of this have been found. Two sons of František Mánes and his wife Dorothy became painters: Antonín made a name for himself as a painter of