In 1908, Krasoumná jednota (Fine Arts Association) organized an anniversary exhibition instead of its usual annual show in order to celebrate the sixty-year rule of Franz Josef. Its time scope corresponded with the period of the emperor's rule; the exhibition aimed to map the local art of the past sixty years. A similar retrospective had taken place in 1891 as part of the Anniversary Provincial Exhibition, but it was much larger in scope than Krasoumná jednota's show.
The exhibition's conception was designed by the exhibition committee chaired by Vojtěch Lanna, an entrepreneur, art collector and an agent of the Society of Patriotic Friends of the Arts. Other members included mostly artists and the art historian Karel Boromejský Mádl. The catalogue was published in both Czech and German. Visitors could purchase either the standard non-illustrated list of exhibited artworks or the catalogue with reproductions. Both language versions contained over 40 illustrations, a relatively large number in this period. This, however, was standard practice for Krasoumná jednota, as it had been working since the 1890s to include large numbers of illustrations in its catalogues. The catalogue was organized according to the individual halls and contained an alphabetical list of artists and the catalogue numbers of their works at the end.
The exhibition was opened at the beginning of June and lasted until October 1908. Rudolfinum's fifteen halls housed approximately 547 artworks. The organizers had to leave out architecture due to lack of space; sculpture and prints were also quite scarce at the exhibition. The largest amount of space was dedicated to paintings, particularly oils, by both living and deceased painters.
The four large canvases in the opening part of the exhibition – František Ženíšek's Portrait of Franz Josef I, Julius Payer's The Gulf of Death, Jaroslav Čermák's Wounded Montenegrin and Václav Brožík's Defenestration of the Vice-Regents in 1618 – attest to the diversity in genre characteristic of all of Krasoumná jednota's exhibitions. But these paintings also illustrate the second typical feature of these exhibitions, namely, conservatism. Not arranged according to schools, the show contained historical painting, genre scenes and landscapes; the latter were generally better received by reviewers than the figural scenes. The arrangement in spaces beyond the opening hall shows that the organizers intended to outline the chronological development from the Josef Mánes generation up to contemporary art.
The presentation of the well known artists such as Josef Mánes and Jaroslav Čermák was more compact, with all of their works placed in one hall. It appears that the selection of artists considered classics was systematic, while works by less important or contemporary artists were scattered around the exhibition. Neither the exhibition's catalogue nor period photographs suggest that there was a clear conception other than a more or less accurate chronological arrangement, unless this conception simply consisted in the intermingling of genre and the effort to represent them as widely as possible. The show thus may have come across as randomly arranged artworks [Vlnas 1996].
The paintings were still installed in line with the “picture gallery” sensibility characteristic of the 19th century but, in contrast with the practice of virtually covering the walls with paintings from floor to ceiling, this presentation was much more restrained. According to the reviewers, the small number of sculptures, scattered around the halls, appeared to have been mere decorations [Q 1908].
The exhibition committee was rather limited in its choice of artworks, which generally depended on what was available. As the organizers mentioned in the catalogue introduction, the committee struggled with owners' unwillingness to lend their artworks to the exhibition, a hindrance also cited by reviewers. The Mánes Association, too, made the situation more difficult, as it refused to lend any artworks from its property or from the collections of its members due to old disputes with the Rudolfinum. Beginning in February 1908, the organizers published press announcements about the upcoming exhibition, asking owners of artworks for loans and cooperation [anonymous author 1908a]. Because of the dearth of artworks, the opening was moved to June, although the show was originally planned to open a month earlier. At the beginning of May, the press published a note announcing that the committee was still searching for artworks by several important artists [anonymous author 1908b]. These artworks in the end made it to the exhibition, to the organizers’ credit.
Living artists, on the other hand, were generally interested in sending their artworks to the exhibition. The registration process was the same as for the annual exhibitions, so the committee had a number of regional artists' works from which to choose. Many works were left out in the committee’s search for the very best. Yet several weaker or even “entirely insignificant” paintings [Q 1908] were shown at the exhibition. Krasoumná jednota's tendency to include almost everything “that artists and owners thought worth showing” [Vlnas 1996] was its persistent drawback. The union was repeatedly accused of protectionism toward some, often unprofessional, artists. The exhibition represented a number of artists whose works appeared regularly at the Rudolfinum, though lacking in artistic merit.
Although originally conceived of as a retrospective, the show contained many more works by living artists than by those who had already passed away. The works by older artists still stood out, however, because the selection of new art was not entirely satisfactory. This incongruence was quite logical; as Máj’s critic had noted [Q 1908], contemporary art cannot be seen with hindsight. On the whole, the show did not manage to present all of the key artworks that would demarcate the main developmental milestones of Czech art between 1848 and 1908. Some prominent artists were absent from the exhibition, and even those who did appear there were not well-represented. For example, Josef Mánes had mere 9 work there, none of which was particularly significant in the context of his oeuvre. The organizers' goal – presenting a comprehensive overview of art in the selected period – remained unfulfilled, a shortcoming the committee admitted in the catalogue introduction.
This situation suggests that the committee was not discerning enough in its selection of artworks. Its lack of critical judgment, necessary for curating a successful retrospective, was considered one of the exhibition's greatest flaws. The aforementioned conservatism was also criticized. It appeared well suited to Prague audiences, but progressive artists, especially those associated with Mánes, strongly disagreed with it.
For both Mánes artists and those outside the association, Krasoumná jednota was an obsolete organization which continued to favour German artists over Czech ones. The exhibition treated the Czech and German painters in a neutral, somewhat ambiguous way – there was no clear methodological key based on which it would classify artists and thereby determine the evolutionary line of local art. However, the demand for national and subsequently stylistic classification was increasingly powerful (fully visible two decades later in a retrospective called A Hundred Years of Czech Art).
The exhibiting artists included a relatively high number of women, not all of whom were wealthy, art-loving, bourgeois ladies lacking artistic education. Some of the first professional female artists in the Czech lands, such as Zdenka Braunerová and Marie Kirschnerová, exhibited at the show. Female artists had been present at Krasoumná jednota's exhibitions since the end of the 1880s, a fact that contradicts the union's conservative reputation. From the perspective of slowly emerging women’s art, Krasoumná jednota was in fact quite progressive.
The exhibition was meant to be a sale show, with roughly half of the 547 displayed artworks for sale. It is worth mentioning that Krasoumná jednota aimed to make it available for the broader public – collective school and club visits, especially from outside Prague, were offered a reduced entrance fee. Despite critical reviews, the show was quite popular, probably because such historical retrospectives were uncommon at the beginning of the 20th century [Harlas 1908].
anonymous author 1908b: anonymous author, Jubilejní výstava, Národní listy XLVIII, 1908, no. 122, morning edition, 3. 5., p. 4
anonymous author, 1908a: anonymous author, Jubilejní výstava v Rudolfinu v Praze, Lidové noviny XVI, 1908, no. 40, evening edition, 10. 2., p. 6
Harlas 1908: František X. Harlas, Jubilejní výstava v Rudolfině, Osvěta XXXVIII – volume II, no. 8, 1908, pp. 851–855
Q, 1908: Q, Šedesát let uměleckého života v Čechách, Máj VI, 1907–1908, no. 39, 26. 6., pp. 590–591
Vlnas 1996: Vít Vlnas (ed.), Obrazárna v Čechách 1796–1918 (ex. cat.), Prague 1996, p. 195
Vladimír Novotný, Sto let Krasoumné jednoty: 1835–1935, Prague 1935
Jana Cermanová, Pražské sochařské výstavy 1898–1916. Příspěvek k problematice galerijní prezentace sochy (dissertation), Faculty of Arts, Charles University in Prague 2013
Archive of the National Gallery Prague, fonds SVPU, Krasoumná jednota, inv. no. 148 and 150
Jubiläums-Ausstellung der Kunstvereins für Böhmen in Prag 1908 / Seznam Jubilejní výstavy Krasoumné jednoty pro Čechy v Praze 1908
Publisher: Krasoumná jednota pro Čechy v Praze (Fine Arts Association for Czechs in Prague)
Place and year of publication: Praha 1908
Author/s of the introduction: exhibition committee (Vojtěch Lanna, J. V. Novák, J. Schulz, P. Bergner, J. L. Klusáček, K. Krattner, K. B. Mádl, J. V. Myslbek, L. Novák, H. Schwaiger, F. Thiele, K. Wilfert)
František Xaver Harlas, Jubilejní výstava v Rudolfině, Osvěta XXXVIII – volume II, no. 8, 1908, pp. 851–855pdf
Miloš Jiránek, Jubilejní výstava Krasoumné jednoty v Rudolfinu (1848–1908), Volné směry XII, 1908, pp. 236–240pdf
M. [Karel Boromejský Mádl], Výstavy, Moderní revue XV, 1908–1909, pp. 56–57pdf
O, Jubilaums-Kunstausstellung im Rudolfinum, Prager Abendblatt XLII, 1908, no. 162, 17. 7., p. 8pdf
Q, Jubilejní výstava krasoumné jednoty pro Čechy v Praze, Máj VI, 1907–1908, no. 38, 19. 6., pp. 575–576pdf
Q, Šedesát let uměleckého života v Čechách, Máj VI, 1907–1908, no. 39, 26. 6., pp. 590–591pdf
Anonymous author, Jubilaums-Kunstausstellung im Rudolfinum, Prager Abendblatt XLII, 1908, no. 141, 22. 6., p. 3
Anonymous author, Jubilaums-Kunstausstellung im Rudolfinum, Prager Zeitung XCIV, 1908, no. 136, 14. 6., p. 2
Anonymous author, Jubilaums-Kunstausstellung im Rudolfinum, Prager Zeitung XCIV, 1908, no. 139, 18. 6., p. 3
Anonymous author, Jubilejní retrospektivní umělecká výstava Krasoumné jednoty pro Čechy, Moravská Orlice XLVI, 1908, no. 131, 7. 6., p. 3
Anonymous author, Jubilejní retrospektivní umělecká výstava Krasoumné jednoty pro Čechy, Národní listy XLVIII, 1908, no. 150, morning edition, 31. 5., p. 3
Anonymous author, Jubilejní umělecká výstava Krasoumné jednoty v Rudolfinu, Venkov III, 1908, no. 76, 29. 3., p. 5
Anonymous author, Jubilejní umělecká výstava v Rudolfinu, Venkov III, 1908, no. 145, 21. 6., p. 10
Anonymous author, Jubilejní umělecká výstava v Rudolfinu, Venkov III, 1908, no. 162, 12. 7., p. 9
Anonymous author, Jubilejní umělecká výstava v Rudolfinu, Venkov III, 1908, no. 168, 19. 7., p. 10
Anonymous author, Jubilejní umělecká výstava v Rudolfinu, Venkov III, 1908, no. 228, 27. 9., p. 8
Anonymous author, Jubilejní umělecká výstava, Venkov III, 1908, no. 186, 9. 8., p. 8
Anonymous author, Jubilejní výstava krasoumné jednoty pro Čechy v Rudolfině, Národní listy XLVIII, 1908, no. 72, morning edition, 13. 3., p. 3
Anonymous author, Jubilejní výstava Krasoumné jednoty v Rudolfinu, Národní listy XLVIII, 1908, no. 88, morning edition, 29. 3., p. 4
Anonymous author, Jubilejní výstava v Rudolfinu v Praze, Lidové noviny XVI, 1908, no. 40, evening edition, 10. 2., p. 6
Anonymous author, Jubilejní výstava v Rudolfinu, Moravská Orlice XLVI, 1908, no. 33, 9. 2., p. 5
Anonymous author, Jubilejní výstava v Rudolfinu, Moravská Orlice XLVI, 1908, no. 112, 15. 5., p. 3
Anonymous author, Jubilejní výstava, Národní listy XLVIII, 1908, no. 122, morning edition, 3. 5., p. 4
Anonymous author, Prémie Krasoumné jednoty pro Čechy, Lidové noviny XVI, 1908, no. 187, evening edition, 11. 7., p. 21
Anonymous author, Retrospektivní umělecká výstava v Rudolfinu v Praze, Lidové noviny XVI, 1908, no. 148, evening edition, 30. 5., p. 6
Anonymous author, Retrospektivní umělecká výstava v Rudolfinu v Praze, Moravská Orlice XLVI, 1908, no. 123, 28. 5., p. 5