Databáze uměleckých výstav v českých zemích 1820 – 1950

Images from the Battlefields of France

Date:18. April 1919 – 18. May 1919

Place: Prague, Museum of Decorative Arts

Organizer:Museum of Resistance

Conception:František Kupka


The Museum of Resistance, later called the Museum of Liberation, was founded on May 4, 1919 [Krbcová 2008, p. XVII; Havlová 2018b, p. 93]. Its main goals included the creation of an art collection which would represent the history of the Czechoslovak Legions. Artworks in this collection were meant to authentically capture the atmosphere of places where the Czechoslovak Legions had fought during the First World War. For this reason, the museum organized an exhibition prepared by František Kupka, then a reporter at the Ministry of National Defence on French battlefields.

The exhibition, entitled Images from the Battlefields of France, took place at the Prague Museum of Decorative Arts [Havlová 2018a, pp. 65–92], before the official founding of the Museum of Resistance. The exhibiting artists included František Kupka (both under his own name and the pseudonym Private Josef Dálný), Kamil Cipra, Heřman Němeček and Jaroslav Šejnoha. According to the catalogue, the show displayed 52 drawings, prints and oil paintings. This relatively small artistic component was complemented with documentary photographs from Terron, Chestres and Alsace, as well as photographs of heritage monuments destroyed by the Germans.

The first artist-legionnaire in the catalogue is Kamil Cipra (1893–1952) who was among Kupka's close friends. At the end of October 1918, Cipra took part in the Battle of Terron, experiencing the war first hand [Dějev 1937, pp. 78–80]. One of the watercolours on display entitled Chestres, 24.10. was created based on personal recollections from spot height 153 near the village of Chestres. The expressive watercolour depicts massive grenade explosions reflected on the surface of the River Aisne. The emphasis is placed on the blue tones of the water surface contrasting with dark grey smoke and the fire blazing in the distance []. In addition to this watercolour, Cipra was represented by nine more works – one oil painting, one drawing and several pieces in unspecified media. Kupka himself exhibited one watercolour (Terron, Before the Entry to the Village) and two charcoal drawings (The Knights of Blaník, I, II) as Josef Dálný and eleven works in unspecified media (including 7 caricatures) under his own name. The Knights of Blaník reproduced at the end of the catalogue show Kupka in an unusual light because he did not typically depict his fellow legionnaires as heroes. On the contrary, he spent the war drawing caricatures of his soldier friends, undoubtedly because he wanted to lighten up the difficult life situation in which they found themselves. The best represented artist at the exhibition was Heřman Němeček (1877–1946), a graduate from Prague Academy, who had met Kupka in Paris [Dějev 1937, pp. 180–182]. A reproduction of his In the Underground Shelter showcased at the exhibition suggests he was a typical academic painter whose work was based on detailed drawing, precise figural canon and elaborate composition. The last of the represented artists was Jaroslav Šejnoha (1889–1982), also a graduate of the Prague Academy [Dějev 1937, pp. 257–258], who had two pen drawings and two copper engravings at the exhibition. His drawing From Alsace shows that he was a swift draftsman who built volumes using rapid pen strokes and meticulous hatching.

The response to the exhibition in Topičův literární a umělecký sborník (Topič Journal for Literature and Art) was relatively cautious, primarily descriptive, and lacking in critical judgment: “From the very beginning, the purpose of these works was to promote the idea of Czechoslovak freedom abroad and among Czech captives; Kupka, in particular, fulfilled this task in his drawings which, for him, present the optimal medium for his current creative work. However, the next task was to capture the actual combat, the trenches, the attack, the defence, patrols, the life in shelters and everything associated with it ... as a result, the viewer could see an exhibition that became the hardest and most passionate accusation of war.” [Hn 1919, pp. 429–430] Kupka's commentary on the exhibited material in the catalogue's epilogue appears to be the most sincere: “The works on display here may surprise and perhaps dissatisfy many visitors. From the artistic point of view, they are hardly skilful or beautiful renderings. The purpose of these pictures is mainly in their descriptiveness, and for an artist, this is more than a burden. I therefore beg for benevolence for both myself and my colleagues.” Unlike the Topič Journal's reviewer, Kupka commented on the absence of combat scenes, pointing to a certain “invisibility” of the modern war, which caused these records to be necessarily incomplete. The exhibited works resulted primarily from the need at the time to document the war; their artistic function was only secondary.

Artistic aspects aside, the exhibition's exceptional features included the fact that as a touring show, it was shown in a number of places. The Museum of Resistance offered it publicly: “The eponymous exhibition of Kupka and company touring Czechoslovak towns and cities consists of 300 photographs, 80 drawings and 4 oil paintings. It is accessible from the second half of July through August. Spas and resorts interested in hosting the show are encouraged to inquire about the conditions” [Klička 2015, p. 90]. The report for President Masaryk mentions fourteen-day stopovers in Pilsen, Písek, and Náchod, as well as and planned exhibitions in Litoměřice, Hořice, Klatovy, Vysoké Mýto, Domažlice and Brno. According to the periodical Osvěta lidu (Education for the People), the exhibition was presented in today's East Bohemian Museum in Hradec Králové. In connection with the exhibition, the Museum of Resistance published the album Československé legie ve Francii 1914–1918. Malířské dokumenty (Czech Legions in France 1914–1918. Painted Documents, 1923) which was an official gift for military officers.

From today's point of view, there are several aspects that make the exhibition important. First, it presents Kupka as a curator, a role to which he never returned. He organized the entire show, selected the artworks, took care of public promotion and wrote the catalogue. This work, as well as the position of reporter at the ministry, clearly did not suit Kupka: in 1920, he left Prague and went back to Paris, leaving the “soldier business” behind. The exhibition, referred to in period texts as “the Kupka group show,” was an important example of the Resistance Museum's activity even before its official opening. It was the first show of its kind, followed by many others over the course of the 1920s and 1930s, not only in Prague (such as the exhibitions Our Resistance, Exhibition of Battlefields, and Russian Legionnaire Artists) but also Hradec Králové, where the legionnaire artist Jindřich Vlček had relocated. In addition to its artistic impact, the exhibition brought financial profit, used for study travels to international battlefields in France and Italy in 1919. The fact that the Museum of Resistance organized this exhibition suggests that during this time, plans for its future permanent exhibition, put together from 1921 at the Star Villa (Letohrádek Hvězda) in Prague-Liboc, were already under way.

Pavla Mikešová

Works Cited

Platon Dějev, Výtvarníci legionáři, Praha 1937

Havlová 2018a: Eliška Havlová, Výstava obrazy z bojišť Francie. 1919, in: František Kupka. Legionář a vlastenec (exh. cat.), Museum Kampa, Praha 2018, pp. 65–92

Havlová 2018b: Eliška Havlová, Založení Památníku osvobození, in: František Kupka. Legionář a vlastenec (exh. cat.), Museum Kampa, Praha 2018, pp. 93–97

Hn 1919: Hn, Výstava maleb a kreseb s francouzského bojiště, Topičův sborník literární a umělecký VI, 1918–1919, no. 9, June 1919, pp. 429–430

Klička 2015: Tomáš Klička, Výstavní prezentace legionářského umění v období první republiky (thesis), Vysoká škola uměleckoprůmyslová, Praha 2015

Krbcová 2008: Ilona Krbcová, O historii uměleckých sbírek Vojenského historického ústavu Praha. Založení Památníku osvobození, in: Petr Ingerle, Ilona Krbcová, Tereza Petišková: Pole tvůrčí a válečná. Výtvarné umění ze sbírek Vojenského historického ústavu Praha (exh. cat.), Moravská galerie v Brně, Příbram 2008

Further Reading

Československé legie ve Francii 1914–1918. Malířské dokumenty, Praha 1923

Jaroslava Pospíšilová, Královehradecké muzeum a péče o legionářské tradice, in: Klára Zářecká: Na bojištích I. světové války, Hradec Králové 2018, pp. 135–144, esp. p. 137

Příručka československého legionáře, no. 1, Praha 1921, p. 358

Archival Sources

Central Military Archives, fonds Památník osvobození, file 1, inv. no. 35, ref. no. 120

Central Military Archives, fond Památník osvobození, file 1, ref. no. 184

Exhibiting authors
Images from the Battlefields of France
Author:Cipra Kamil
Technique: paper, colour lithograph, the bottom part of the poster features coloured stylized drawing, coloured typeset text, 94,5 x 60 cm
Owner: Museum of Decorative Arts in Prague
Images from the Battlefields of France
Author/s:Cipra Kamil
Technique: printed in two colours on handmade paper (folded double sheet), print on the first page only, 12,6 x 15,5cm

The layout is probably by Kamil Cipra

The text was written by František Kupka

Owner: Museum of Decorative Arts in Prague

Obrazy z bojišť Francie (Katalog maleb a kreseb s bojišť Francie) [Images from the Battlefields of France (Catalogue of Paintings and Drawings from the French Battlefields)]


Publisher: Museum of Decorative Arts in Prague

Place and Year of Publication: Praha 1919

Author/s of the introduction:Kupka František
Reviews in the press

Anonymous author, Výstava obrazů družiny Kupkovy, Osvěta lidu XXII, 1919, no. 60, p. 3


E. V., Náš odboj, Nová doba XXV, 1919, no. 300, 31. 10., p. 6


Hn 1919: Hn, Výstava maleb a kreseb z francouzského bojiště, Topičův sborník literární a umělecký VI, 1918–1919, no. 9, June 1919, pp. 429–430

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