In December 1866, the sculptor Václav Levý returned to Prague after his thirteen-year sojourn in Rome. The 1871 exhibition was the first large sculptural show in Prague and simultaneously the first posthumous exhibition of Levý’s work, installed within the permanent exhibition of Umělecká beseda (Artistic Forum) presenting also works of other artists, from home and abroad, and ranging form old (including anonymous pieces ascribed to school provenance only) to contemporary art. The 26 works by Václav Levý presented the largest exhibited collection.
The Forum raised money to transport Levý’s sculptures from Rome to Prague and to purchase the sculptor’s major works. At the exhibition, these works were accompanied by sculptures borrowed from private collectors: the Society for the Construction of the Church of St. Cyril and Methodius in Karlin, the Society for the Completion of St. Vitus Cathedral, the Lanna and Šebek families, and Mrs. Pinkas. Some of the exhibited sculptures and reliefs (cat. no. 186–210) were original plaster casts and terracotta sketches for the final stone sculptures. The titles of the exhibited works can be identified with existing sculptures. The order of the works in the exhibition may not have corresponded to the way the sculptures were arranged in the catalogue but if it did, the arrangement was largely chronological, with Levý’s work from the Munich period dominating the final part of the show. These works included Faith (1853), Enthroned Madonna (1857), St. Elizabeth (1861), St. James (1864), Immaculate Conception (1858), Christ with two Angels (1857), reliefs Faith and Hope (1869), Love and Humility (1869), two reliefs for the Church of Cyril and Methodius (probably Annunciation, Eve and Adam, 1865), the relief Enthroned Madonna (perhaps Madona Sta Maria dell’Anima, 1858), St. John the Baptist and St. Cyril for the Cathedral of St. Vitus (terracotta, 1869–1871) and several sculptural bozettos, marked in the catalogue as sketches – Immaculate Conception, St. Cyril, St. Methodius, Seated Angel for a tombstone (1869), St. Elizabeth (1861), St. Francis, Artillery (Bellona, 1866) and Genie (ca. 1866) for the Vienna Arsenal. The exhibition also featured the small sculpture Žižka (1845) from Levý’s early oeuvre, the Munich-period masterwork Adam and Eve (1849) and two reliefs for the tomb of the Lanna and Šebek family in Prague (1867–1870) which were among Levý’s last finished artworks.
The idea to organize the exhibition and publish a catalogue was first proposed by Jan Neruda who wrote the following in his feuilleton/obituary of Václav Levý from May 3, 1870: “Perhaps the Umělecká beseda, perhaps one of our other, now more enterprising publishers, should soon and thoroughly edit an album of all his works for us; the material profit would certainly come. Perhaps the Umělecká beseda, perhaps the Czech Museum should, as soon as possible, make a move to acquire Levý’s Rome collection; there are many works and models of his left in Rome” [Neruda 1870]. The executive report of Umělecká beseda’s fine arts section for the administrative year 1871 emphasizes that the Levý exhibition will be “a true delicacy as far as sculpture is concerned, for sculpture has never been represented in such great numbers and with such dignity at any exhibition in Prague” [Museum of Czech Literature, fonds Umělecká beseda, file C 56]. Levý had previously exhibited his individual works at annual exhibitions of Krasoumná jednota (Fine Arts Association) in 1843, 1849, 1856, 1866 and 1870; the authors who reviewed these works held diverse worldviews, and their published work on sculpture usually focused on prominent sculptors of early historicism (Jan Maixner, Kamil Böhm, Václav Seidan, Gustav Popp, Emanuel and Josef Max). The Czech and German-language reviews of the 1871 “exhibition within the exhibition” are therefore particularly interesting. Otakar Hostinský, along with Miroslav Tyrš and Wilhelm Ambros, emphasized the role of the Classical Antiquity as a basis for the extraordinarily high quality of Levý’s work, in contrast with Romanticism. Jan Neruda pointed out that Levý was standing outside any style, living in “artistic abstraction” [Neruda 1871]. This way, Neruda freed Levý’s work from both the Neoclassicist tradition (ranging stylistically between Antonio Canova and Bertel Thorwaldsen) and its national-historical modification as taught by Ludwig Schwanthaler at the Munich academy.
Neruda 1870: Jan Neruda, Václav Levý, Národní listy X, 1870, 3. 5., p. 1
Neruda 1871: Jan Neruda, Výstava Umělecké besedy II, Národní listy XI, 1871, 18. 4., p. 1
Anonymous author, Odkaz Václava Levého „Umělecké besedě“ a naši mecenášové, Svoboda IV, 1870, no. 24, 29. 12., p. 575
Karel B. Mádl, Věstník České akademie pro slovesnost a umění IX, 1900, no. 3, pp. 213–243
Marie Černá, Václav Levý, Praha 1964
Museum of Czech Literature, fonds Umělecká beseda, file C 56 (minutes from meetings); file B 19 (catalogue of the 1871 exhibition)
Wilhelm Ambros, Die Ausstellung der „Umělecká Beseda“, Prager Zeitung XLVII, 1871, no. 74, 28. 3., p. 1; no. 75, 29. 3., p. 1pdf
O. H. [Otakar Hostinský], Výstava „Umělecké Besedy.“, Pokrok III, 1871, no. 89, 30. 3., p. 1–2pdf