The Prague Academy's fourth spring exhibition was the first to present works by three important contemporary international artists: Caspar David Friedrich, Johan Christian Clausen Dahl and Carl Christian Vogel von Vogelstein, all professors at the Dresden Academy. The show also included a remarkable set of figural works by younger students of the Academy in Prague who, in the eyes of contemporary critics, were strongly adhering to new trends in German painting and to Romanticism. In the Prague milieu, the encounter with international art inspired the first critical debate about the role of painting, Romanticism and the existence of national artistic schools, questioning the existing Neo-Classicist idea of universalism in art.
The exhibition included over 200 artworks, more than doubling the scope of the first Prague Academy exhibition in 1821, which exhibited less than 100 artworks.
The ensuing discussion in the press revealed the clash between the traditional, Neo-Classicist aesthetics seeking universal, pan-human values in art (Václav Alois Svoboda) and the younger generation of artists and art critics (Martin Tejček) who demanded authenticity and intensive emotional expression in art. What the Neo-Classicists called “Old-German mannerism” and “ultraromanticism” was subjected to sharp criticism with pointed comments aiming not only against the unacceptable visual appearance of a number of paintings (striking colours, stylized broken lines) but particularly the overwrought content, emotional strain and the choice of subject matter in some of the paintings inspired by Romantic literature and imagery (e. g. Führich's oils Temptation of St. Anthony and The Ghost King – Der Erlkönig modelled on a motif from Goethe).
Prague was introduced to these themes and to art as an expression of the artist's spirit and imagination through younger Academy students gathered around Josef Führich. These artists filled their works with elements of admiration for the Middle Ages, imagination and the sense for the fantastic from German Romantic literature. They were interested in Christian themes and the legacy of Christian art, applying new approaches to the stylistic aspect of painting as an expression of a characteristic, national style. (In the work of Prof. Vogel, too, critics saw association with national, Czech themes.) Führich and his classmates from the Academy were attracted to new German painting (and its forebears, particularly Albrecht Dürer), represented by the Nazarene painters. Several years before, works by the Nazarenes were exhibited in Rome (1819), causing an upheaval. At the beginning of the 1820s, a discussion circle formed around Führich, where students analyzed their newest works. Modelled on the Berlin Serapion Brotherhood around E. T. A. Hoffmann and his collection of novellas and fairy tales Die Märchen des Serapionsbrüder (1819–1821), this circle became the breeding ground for the opposition to the official Bergler-style academism.
The somewhat agitated critical debate kindled by the 1824 exhibition highlighted the contrast between Führich's heightened style and the moderate expression of his older colleague, František Tkadlík, who also exhibited that year and whose style drew on Bergler's classicism. Based on comparison with Führich, Tkadlík's style was then considered specifically Czech [Rittersberg 1825]. Texts published in Prague's German-language magazine Der Kranz and in Hormayr's Archiv in Vienna between 1824 and 1825 show the shift from the refusal of “ultraromanticism” as “painting from a wolf's den” (V. A. Svoboda) toward the promotion of free artistic imagination and the appreciation of the artist striving for spiritual expression (K. Woltmann, M. Tejček).
The participation of the landscape painters Friedrich and Dahl in the exhibition inspired an equally lively critical debate. The shipment of their works was organized by Führich and Nadorp who were interested in artistic developments in Germany and who had previously visited Dresden. At the beginning of the 1820s, Führich made a portrait of Dahl and in 1823, Nadorp's portrait of Friedrich was featured at the Prague Academy exhibition. Friedrich himself visited Prague in 1807 and perhaps also in 1809, but did not accompany his paintings in 1824 [Reitharová 1990, pp. 156–157]. He sent five pieces to Prague, while Dahl sent four. SPFA purchased one painting from each of them for its Gallery of Living Painters: Friedrich's North Sea under Northern Lights (1823–1824) and Dahl's Mountain Landscape (1824) [Prahl 2000, p. 87 and 280]. Friedrich's and Dahl's style stirred up a discussion that influenced the development of Czech landscape painting and its technique – critics debated whether the exhibited works were sketches or finished artworks.
In terms of its legacy, the exhibition was a key influence in the development of art criticism in Prague and thinking about art in general. It strongly contributed to a reflection on the terms essential for evaluating the emerging modern art, the assessment of national orientation in art and introduction of new formal methods of modern painting.
Prahl 2000: Roman Prahl, Prag 1780–1830. Kunst und Kultur zwischen den Epochen und Völkern, Prag 2000, esp. pp. 82–83 (Kunstaustellungen)
Reitharová 1990: Eva Reitharová, Caspar-David-Friedrich-Ehrung, Umění XXXVIII, 1990, pp. 141–170
Rittersberg 1825: Johann Rittersberg, Kunst. Wanderung durch die Ateliers unserer Künstler, Archiv für Geschichte, Statistik, Litteratur und Kunst XVI, 1825, pp. 23–24 and 44
Pavla Machalíková, České versus německé? Diskuse o stylu v Praze ve dvacátých letech 19. století, in: Václav Petrbok – Taťána Petrasová – Pavla Machalíková (eds), Neviditelná loajalita? Rakušané, Němci a Češi v české kultuře 19. století. Sborník příspěvků z 35. ročníku sympozia k problematice 19. století, Praha 2016, pp. 146–156
Pavla Machalíková – Petr Tomášek, Josef Führich (1800–1875). Von Kratzau nach Wien, Prag 2014, esp. pp. 95–122
Anna Masaryková, Obrazy Gaspara Davida Friedricha a Johanna Christiana Dahla v Praze v roce 1824, Umění XII, 1964, p. 99
Roman Prahl, Počátky a „konce“ výtvarné kritiky v Praze, Documenta Pragensia XIX: Praha – město zpráv a zpravodajství, Praha 2001, pp. 305–318
Vít Vlnas, Obrazárna v Čechách 1796–1918 (exhib. cat.), National Gallery in Prague 1996, pp. 59–61
Archive of the National Gallery in Prague, fonds SVPU, AA 1506
anonymous author, [Prag. Offentliches und Leben des Tages im März], Der Kranz II, 1824, p. 44 and 46–48pdf
anonymous author [P. A. K. d. S.], Prag. Kunst. Vogels Gemählde auf der Ausstellung im März, Der Kranz II, 1824, pp. 72, 76, 80, 84pdf
Wenzel Alois Svoboda, Die Prager Kunstausstellung von 1824, Archiv für Geschichte, Statistik, Litteratur und Kunst XV, 1824, pp. 350–352 and 375–380pdf
Wenzel Alois Svoboda, Antwort auf die Stimmen gegen meinen Bericht über die Prager Kunstausstellung im Junius Hefte des Archivs, Archiv für Geschichte, Statistik, Litteratur und Kunst XVI, 1825, pp. 57–60pdf