Databáze uměleckých výstav v českých zemích 1820 – 1950

Japanese and Chinese Contemporary Art (51st Exhibition of the Union of Fine Arts)

Date:6 March 1929 – April 1929

Place: Prague, Municipal House

Organizer:Union of Fine Arts


The exhibition of Japanese and Chinese art in 1929 was the second sales exhibition organized by the painter Vojtěch Chytil to present works he had acquired during his stays in the Far East. 

Vojtěch Chytil (1896–1936) was an active part of the art scene in China, or more precisely, Beijing. As a collector, he was among the first in Czechoslovakia to pay increased attention to contemporary Chinese painting. Chytil first visited China during the First World War and continued to return, both physically and in his memories and artworks. He already established contacts with the local artistic community during his first visit. After graduating from the Academy of Fine Arts in Prague under Vojtěch Hynais in 1921, he joined the civil service, which sent him to Tokyo as a member of the team of the ambassador and later controversial Foreign Minister František Chvalkovský. During his time in Japan, he became acquainted with the local art world while maintaining contacts with China – he had successful shows there and even lectured at the Academy of Fine Arts in Beijing. Throughout his stay in the Far East, Chytil purchased contemporary and old art, returning to his homeland with an extensive collection. 

The first of Chytil’s sales exhibitions of art he had brought from Asia took place in January and February 1928 in the Rudolfinum under the auspices of the Krasoumná jednota (Fine Arts Association). The second show was held a year later in the Municipal House under the auspices of the Jednota umělců výtvarných (Union of Fine Arts) and featured both Chinese and Japanese works, along with contemporary and old Buddhist art from Tibet and Mongolia, as well as Chinese carpets; the Japanese section presented old and contemporary woodblock prints and contemporary paintings. In the introduction to the exhibition catalogue, Chytil summarized the development of contemporary art in both countries and the history of the Japanese woodcut. He also mentioned the “Nihon Bijutsni” [sic!: Nihon Bijutsuin], the Institute of Japanese Art founded in 1898 by the famous Japanese theorist and promoter of Japanese art Okakura Tenshin (Kakuzō) (1862-1913), whose members were represented at the exhibition. The Institute promoted modern Japanese art of the Nihonga style, which combined traditional and modern (foreign) art practices. The Institute still exists today. 

Okakura was a prominent theorist of modern Japanese art and aesthetics in the late 19th century. He spent a long time in America, where he became a curator at the Boston Museum of Fine Arts. At the time, the Institute of Japanese Art brought together 26 of Japan’s most well-known artists. The central mission of the Institute at the beginning of its existence was to compile a list of national artistic treasures, preserve them and also to create artistic copies, and promote Japanese art abroad. Chytil’s correspondence suggests that he had been in contact with the Institute since his time in Japan, planning to organize an exhibition of works by contemporary Japanese artists in Czechoslovakia. In January 1930/Showa 5, the Nippon bijutsu-in published a catalogue with 48 reproductions. Although the show never materialized, this catalogue announced that paintings by members of the Institute would travel to an exhibition in Czechoslovakia.

The above-discussed exhibitions were very successful despite the initial skepticism of the organizers and inspired a new wave of interest in the art of the Far East. More collectors were now focusing on it, especially artists such as Emil Filla and Ludvík Kuba.

Helena Čapková

Works Cited

Helena Čapková, Vojnina – záhada několika dopisů. Korespondence malíře Vojtěcha Chytila s architektem Bedřichem Feuersteinem, Umění/Art LVIII, 2010, pp. 63–72

Michaela Pejčochová, Posel z Dálného Východu, Praha 2019

Michaela Pejčochová (ed.), Mistři čínské tušové malby 20. století ze sbírek Národní Galerie v Praze (exh. cat.), Národní galerie v Praze 2008

Exhibiting authors
Japanese and Chinese Contemporary Art (51st Exhibition of the Union of Fine Arts)
Author:Sejpka Josef
Owner: Archiv národní galerie Praha
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