Wednesday, June 03, 2009

Characters encountered in Czech Art History


This painter, illustrator and designer who died in 1939 was a big force behind the Art Nouveau movement. He first became know and did much work in Paris, starting with his posters of actress Sarah Bernhardt. Even if you never heard of him you've mostly likely seen his paintings or drawings or wallpaper designs of strapping young women in flowing gowns. They usually come with garlands and halos and other flowery stuff. If not his directly there are plenty of imitations. To prove he was more Czech than French he later worked on stamps, currency and landmarks in Prague. We toured the Municipal House where he decorated and did paintings in several sumptuous rooms. He did the Slav Epic glass windows in St. Vitus Cathedral too. His death is generally blamed on the Gestapo which didn't like his Slavic nationalism or his works. He was arrested and interrogated during which he came down with pneumonia from which he did not recover. (Image is from Internet site selling posters. )


Smetana is loved as a nationalist composer and his music is lovely. His bio is one hard luck story after another. He failed as a concert pianist and music school director. When he finally did marry and had four daughters -- three of them died in a two year period.  Then his wife died. He then manages to find another wife and wins some respect and money with the production of his operas and Ma Vlast, a series of symphonic poems that means My Fatherland. Things were looking up. That's when syphilis struck. Eventually he went deaf but before that a horrible whistling rang through his head drowning out music. One of his string quartets incorporates this whistling. He died in 1884 in a Prague lunatic asylum. 

Egon Schiele is Austrian not Czech but we encountered him at a museum in Cesky Krumlov where we lived in exile for a while with his lover. Krumlov was his mother's hometown and he came there to live with a young woman who modeled for him -- his for his mentor Gustav Klimt. They also apparently recruited other young girls for the sake of art, which the town residents didn't appreciate at all and they were run out of town. Today, of course, Schiele is considered a master and so the town has a Schiele museum.

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