Markéta Theinardt

Aspirations for a Masterpiece

pp. 123–133, resumé s. 132–133 (English)

This paper builds on the modern and modernist concept of the chef d'oeuvre (masterpiece, magnum opus) as developed in the 19th century and subsequently in the sociocultural constellation of the early 20th century with the advent of the avant-gardes. This key issue, which was the overarching theme of the symposium, was pursued with the help of three case studies featuring works by Czech artists exhibiting at the Salons in Paris that had the potential to become masterpieces. At the 1861 Salon, the friends Jaroslav Čermák and Soběslav Hippolyt Pinkas exhibited
their works, Abduction by Bashi-bazouks in a Christian Village in Herzegovina (Dahesh Museum of Art) and Prayer for the Hanged Man (Gallery of Fine Arts Hluboká), respectively. These were artworks of different categories. Čermák, who was not a newcomer to the Parisian exhibition scene, presented a work with a South Slavic theme for the first time. This painter used history to allude to contemporary events in the Balkans, where France had its political interests. He endowed the work with features of current artistic Orientalism while using classical poses at the same time. The work attracted a lot of attention, both positive and negative. It was appreciated especially by Théophile Gautier, a writer and critic and one of the leading actors in the modern concept of chef d'oeuvre, absolute masterpiece. Pinkas, on the other hand, failed to break through with his Prayer for the Hanged Man despite its strong, existential theme, for which he was clearly part of the realistic tendency. This was to be expected, however, since he was - as the work showed - the type of "Barbizon School artist", the kind of artist who, according to the typology of the Goncourt brothers (Manette Salomon), creates out of "inner necessity." Like the "Barbizon
School artists" (Pinkas belonged to the Marlotte group which eventually merged with the Barbizon artists), he drew "telluric" (earthy) lessons from folk drawings, the 16th century German trends, and Holbein. Like Millet's painting Death and the Woodcutter (1859), his work of the same name was rejected by the Salon jury in 1863 and found itself in the famous and ground-breaking Salon des Refusés (exhibition of rejects). By the time of his famous appearance in the Autumn Salon in 1912, František Kupka underwent many stages of artistic work and its sociocultural status. From the presentation of his first non-figurative works, which he gradually worked his way
up to, from Salon to Salon, namely Amorpha, The Fugue in Two Colors (National Gallery Prague) and Amorpha, Warm Chromatic (Museum Kampa), he promised himself to get to the forefront of a new artistic concept. These artworks certainly placed Kupka among those who continually crossed boundaries in a way inherent in contemporary art. That he did not end up spearheading a new artistic tendency is due to his unfavourable and generally more problematic sociocultural setting within the avant-gardes than was generally assumed in historiography.

Keywords: Masterpiece - exhibition - Salon - Autumn Salon - Barbizon School -
Jaroslav Čermák - František Kupka - Soběslav Pinkas


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Organizers of conferences:
Institute of Art History CAS
Institute for Czech Literature CAS
Institute for Art History,
Charles University Prague