Databáze uměleckých výstav v českých zemích 1820 – 1950

The Second Exhibition of the Sursum Art Association

Date:22. September 1912 – 20. October 1912

Place: Prague, Municipal House

Exhibition design:exhibiting artists

Organizer:Fine Arts Section of the Sursum Art Association


On November 11, 1911, the newly-named Sursum Art Association, now officially recognized and expanded to include new members, held its first meeting to discuss the possibilities of a second exhibition. Three months later, Sursum negotiated an exhibition in the Strahov monastery [Váchal 1995, p. 213] but this never materialized. Sursum then asked the “Prague city council” to provide space for its members' exhibition in the recently completed Municipal House [Pacovský 1947, p. 20]. Following lengthy negotiations, Sursum was allowed to use the venue in the Fall of 1912 thanks to Jednota výtvarných umělců (Union of Fine Artists) which agreed to share space in the Municipal House with Sursum. Josef Váchal recollected that the negotiation over the exhibition in the Municipal House with “L. Novák and the grumpy secretary of the Union of Fine Artists” took place on September 11, 1912 [Váchal 1995, p. 231]. The exhibition opened ten days later, coinciding with the second show of Skupina výtvarných umělců (Fine Arts Group) that took place in the adjacent exhibition halls.

As František Kobliha had left the group, only five artists took part in the exhibition: Jan Konůpek, Jan Váchal, Jan Zrzavý and the new members, Rudolf Adámek and Miroslav Sylla. The sculptor Jaroslav Horejc, who was invited as a guest, exhibited 10 artworks; Bohumil Kubišta had one work at the exhibition without knowing about it – his friend Zrzavý hung his 1912 etching Old Prague Motif [Šmejkal, 1976, p. 6]. Kubišta took the place of Emil Pacovský who had stopped painting by then and did not want to participate. Instead, Pacovský devoted himself to organizing the group's activities and editing the Veraikon magazine, which he founded with Jan Konůpek and Antonín Dolenský at the beginning of 1912. Pacovský placed several copies of the magazine on the exhibition's cash desk, a gesture that was not accidental; the magazine was exclusively dedicated to graphic art and the exhibition, too, contained predominantly prints. Pacovský gave the opening address, part of which is  included in his memoirs. He emphasized the importance of the imagination in powering the exhibited artworks and as the force that allows artists to express their feelings and inner worlds [Pacovský 1947, p. 22]. 

The catalogue of this extensive exhibition contains an alphabetical list of artists and the 119 exhibited works, including their sale price. Váchal with his 51 artworks was the best represented artist. Konůpek exhibited 26 works, Adámek 24, Zrzavý 10 and Sylla only 8 prints. Prints (wood engravings, woodcuts, etchings, aquatints and lithographs) far outnumbered the paintings. As expected, the public's response was again rather hesitant, also because the show coincided with the second exhibition of the Cubist-oriented Skupina. This year joined by several German representatives of expressionism. This juxtaposition was not entirely favourable for Sursum. Still, 1295 visitors attended the exhibition [Larvová 1996, p. 27]. 

Compared to the first exhibition, the second Sursum show attracted more attention, although most of the reviews were negative. The harshest criticism came from V. V. Štech, a staunch supporter of the Skupina. He described the works by Sursum artists as “naive symbolism ...,  pseudo-psychological depiction of mental states and hallucinations, completely uninteresting in artistic terms. Moreover, [there is] the formal impotence, with its various undigested and disparate influences” [Štech 1912, p. 338]. The only works he spared criticism were two paintings by Zrzavý and Váchal's wood engravings St. Theresa and Crucifix. K. B. Mádl, a representative of the conservative wing of the Mánes Fine Arts Association, condemned both of the exhibitions; he described the works as “poor in imagination and creativity,” unoriginal, permeated with “naive primitivism” a tendency linked to the group's use of new means of expression [Mádl 1912–1913, p. 83]. Arnošt Procházka, editor of the Moderní revue, also denounced both of the shows, even if some thought he would be sympathetic to the Sursum artists' symbolist expression. Procházka, too, used the word primitivism in his characteristic of what he thought was poorly executed form. In his opinion, the artists lacked the craftsmanship necessary to express symbolist content. Karel Handzel in Moravsko-Slezská revue and František Harlas in Národní politika expressed similar views of the works' artistic qualities. Harlas believed the exhibition was uninteresting and fell short of the mission it had set for itself, namely to “elevate the spirit” [Harlas 1912, p. 17]. While Pacovský's text in Veraikon simply outlined the exhibition, offering information on the artists and the exhibited artworks (mainly graphic sheets), Josef Čapek's review in Lumír, agreed with the other critics on Sursum's technical inadequacy and immaturity of artistic form. However, Čapek took a moderate position on the issue. He pointed to the artists' independence and looked to the wider context: the numerous influences from both Czech and international art, and especially French esoteric literature which he mentions in the introduction to his review. Čapek asks: to what extent is it possible to capture philosophical and literary inspiration and translate it in into a relevant artistic form? This inquiry led him to criticize the works' excessive imagination and lack of good craftsmanship. Váchal's imagery in particular provoked Čapek, while the more serious expressions of Zrzavý and Konůpek earned his respect.

The only positive reviews were Gustav Jaroš-Gamma’s neutral reflection on the artists' output in the daily Čas, and Bohumil Kubišta’s similarly open-minded text in Přehled. Kubišta accurately saw the Sursum exhibition as the counterpart to the show of the Cubist-oriented Skupina, stating that both have “the right to exist.” He recognized that one could not judge Skupina and Sursum by the same standards, as each was based on different ideas. From this position, Kubišta defended the Sursum artists as visionaries who live through dreams and imagination, using symbols and religious imagery as means of expression. However, he too was bothered by the lack of craftsmanship and formal mastery and the imbalance between the content and form: “the lack of formal discipline counteracts the effect of the works' spiritual content.”  According to Kubišta, Zrzavý's painting Sleeping (Lying) Youth was the best work at the exhibition because it did not suffer from this problem. Kubišta concludes his review with a general statement about the conception of art which also spoke to the Skupina artists: “Through its exhibition, Sursum has shown how easy it is to fall into extremes when the artwork's content is not held together by the firm bond of form, how easily the formal laws turn into a cliche in the absence of content; both fallacies are equally dangerous and occur everywhere in modern art.” [Kubišta 1913, p. 121]

According to Pacovský, the second exhibition of the Sursum Art Association was not the success they had expected: “The attendance was poor and the magazine reviews showed a complete lack of understanding of the exhibition.” [Pacovský 1947, p. 23] Due to the various controversies and the critical response to the exhibition, Sursum' gradually ceased activities and eventually disbanded; the collective ambition with which the group began withered away. Still, despite all criticisms, the Sursum artists helped broaden the spectrum of views and creative trends in the period, the intricacies of which we are only beginning to understand.  

Mahulena Nešlehová

Works Cited

Harlas 1912: František Harlas, section Umění a věda. Sursum, Národní politika XXX, 1912, supplement 2 for no. 283, 13. 10., p. 17

Kubišta 1913: Bohumil Kubišta, Výstava volného sdružení výtvarných umělců „Sursum“ v Obecním domě, Přehled XI, 1913, no. 7, 8. 11., pp. 120–121

Larvová 1996: Hana Larvová, Sursum, in: eadem (ed.) Umělecké sdružení SURSUM 1910–1912 (exh. cat.), Galerie hlavního města Prahy – Památník národního písemnictví, Praha 1996, pp. 26–28

Pacovský 1947: Emil Pacovský, Umělecké sdružení Sursum, Okénko do dílny umělcovy IV, 1947, no. 2, pp. 17–23

Šmejkal 1976: František Šmejkal, Sursum 1910–1912, Krajská galerie v Hradci Králové, series „Práce galerie“, 1976, pp. 4 –6

Štech 1912: V. V. Štech, Výstava uměleckého sdružení Sursum, Umělecký měsíčník I, 1911–1912, p. 338

Mádl 1912: M. [Karel B. Mádl], Dvě výstavy v Obecním domě, Zlatá Praha XXX, 1912–1913, no. 7, 25. 10., p. 83

Váchal 1995: Josef Váchal, Paměti Josefa Váchala dřevorytce (ed. Milan Drápala) Praha 1995, pp. 181–182, 201–203, 213 and 231

Further Reading

Jan Konůpek, Život v umění, Praha 1947

Otto M. Urban, Umělecké sdružení Sursum 1910–1912, in: Otto M. Urban – Filip Wittlich (edd.), 100 let od otevření Obecního domu v Praze (exh. cat.), Obecní dům, Praha 2012, pp. 111–121

Exhibiting authors
The Second Exhibition of the Sursum Art Association
Owner: Reproduction: Hana Larvová (ed), Umělecké sdružení SURSUM (exhib. cat.), Galerie hlavního města Prahy, Praha 1996, p. 28

Katalog II. výstavy uměleckého sdružení „SURSUM“ in: Hana Larvová (ed.), Umělecké sdružení SURSUM, exhibition catalogue, GHMP, Prague 1996, p. 185; PNP in Prague, fonds Pacovský inv. no. 57/71 – 5475, Archive of the National Gallery Prague – Trade Fair Palace no. VP – AK 1081


Publisher: unspecified

Place and year of Publication: Prague 1912 

Reviews in the press
Čapek Josef

Josef Čapek, section Umění výtvarné, II. výstava uměleckého sdružení „SURSUM“, Lumír XLI, 1912, October, pp. 43–44

Handzel Karel

Karel Handzel, Umělecké výstavy pražské, Moravsko-Slezská revue IX, 1913, pp. 49–50 

Harlas František Xaver

František Harlas, section Umění a věda. Sursum, Národní politika XXX, 1912, supplement 2 for no. 283, 13. 10., p. 17

Jaroš Gustav

anonymous author [Gustav Jaroš-Gamma], Výstava sdružení Sursum, Čas XXVI, 1912, no. 290, 19. 10., pp. 2–3

Kubišta Bohumil

Bohumil Kubišta, Výstava volného sdružení výtvarných umělců „Sursum“ v Obecním domě, Přehled XI, 1913, no. 7, 8. 11., pp. 120–121

Mádl Karel Boromejský

M. [Karel B. Mádl], Dvě výstavy v Obecním domě, Zlatá Praha XXX, 1912–1913, no. 7, 25. 10., p. 83

Pacovský Emil

E. P. [Emil Pacovský], Výstava uměleckého sdružení „Sursum“ v Praze, Veraikon II, 1913, vol. I January and February, pp. 14–15

Procházka Arnošt

Hubert Cyriak [Arnošt Procházka], Výstavy, Moderní revue XXVI, 1913, no. 2, pp. 87–89

Štech Václav Vilém

Václav Vilém Štech, Výstava uměleckého sdružení Sursum, Umělecký měsíčník I, 1911–1912, p. 338

Views of the exhibition

View of the exhibition of the Sursum Art Association

Two paintings are visible in the photo: Jan Zrzavý's, Melancholia I (1912) in the right corner and Sleeping Youth (1912) on the background wall, and a drawing by Zrzavý on the wall to the right.

The exhibition was complemented by sculptures by Jaroslav Horejc


Reproduction: Český svět VIII, 1912, 4. 10.

Brief notes about the exhibition

Anonymous author, Národní politika XXX, 1912, supplement for no. 267, 27. 9., p. 23

Anonymous author, Výstava uměleckého sdružení „Sursum“ v Praze, Veraikon I, 1912, vol.n V, p. 80

Anonymous author, Výstava uměleckého sdružení Sursum, Čas XXVI, 1912, no. 262, 21. 9., p. 3


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