Databáze uměleckých výstav v českých zemích 1820 – 1950

Retrospective of Hanuš Schwaiger

Date:23. January 1887 – 13. March 1887

Place: Prague, Ruch Gallery

Organizer:Alois Wiesner

Conception:[František Brožík], [Alois Wiesner]


The retrospective of Hanuš Schwaiger was officially the second exhibition organized by Ruch Gallery. The show was of great importance for both the young artist, for whom this was a prestigious opportunity to present his work, and the gallery, as solo exhibitions were still a relatively new concept in the mid-1880s.

Alois Wiesner had met Hanuš Schwaiger before the founding of Ruch Gallery. As an editor, Wiesner decided to publish a fairy-tale album in the early 1980s and commissioned Schweiger to create illustrations. In 1886, their collaboration resulted in Wiesner’s offer to Schweiger to stay in his Prague apartment, followed by the opening of Ruch Gallery, the establishment of Schweiger’s studio on Senovážné Square, and finally, the artist’s solo exhibition.

The Schweiger exhibition was installed in Ruch Gallery between January 17 and 22, 1887; the opening took place on January 23. The first advertisements and notices of the planned exhibition appeared in the press as early as the beginning of January. In contrast to the previous concurrent shows of landscape paintings by Karl Liebscher and The Gulf of Death by Julius Payer, the entire gallery space was dedicated solely to Schwaiger’s works. The gallery’s rooms housed 72 of his paintings and drawings. The exhibition catalogue shows that the exhibition included artworks from the collection of Ruch Gallery, which Wiesner purchased from Schweiger in 1885, and works loaned from private collectors. Several items came from the Viennese gallerist H. O. Miethke. Although Wiesner did not present the show as a sales exhibition, most of the artworks were for sale, including those in the ownership of Ruch and Miethke; this was explicitly stated on the cover of the catalogue. 

The diligence with which Wiesner approached the Schwaiger retrospective is today evident in its catalogue. Published in January 1887, it came in the form of a soft-cover booklet and was offered for sale in the gallery for 20 kreutzers. It had more than 20 pages containing Schwaiger’s brief biography and his photograph, a list of individual works, often with detailed descriptions and, in some cases, reproductions. Its relatively large scope and especially the presence of reproductions made it stand out among the standard exhibition catalogues in Prague.

The show's highlight, the large watercolour Anabaptists in Münster, received the number 1 in the catalogue and a prominent place on the front wall of the main room [Weitenweber 1887, p. 207]. Depicting a scene from a religious conflict in Münster, Germany, it contained, according to some commentaries, up to 400 figures. Schwaiger began to explore the theme inspired by Robert Hammerling’s epic poem The King of Zion in 1881 when he made the first sketches and drafts, as well as the first smaller versions; a few months later, in 1882, he created a larger version of the scene. The watercolour exhibited in Ruch was painted in 1886 and, like many of Schwaiger’s other works, was a property of the gallery. The exhibition included other watercolours and tempera paintings, sketches, and drawings, largely inspired by “the work of poets, contemporary, but more likely old, and most preferably drawing from that mysterious workshop where the people spun their fables full of poetic depth” [Tyršová 1887, p. 551]. The show presented Schwaiger’s latest artworks and also older pieces, such as Eulenspiegel from 1874. In addition, the selection included the illustrations Schwaiger had created for Wiesner's fairy-tale album.

In a rare consensus, art critics characterized Schwaiger as a distinctive artist, whether in the choice of themes, techniques, or the presentation of his characters. The positive reviews result in part from the position that the critics assigned to Schwaiger by portraying him as a complete solitaire whose work cannot be evaluated through any of the generally accepted criteria, as Renáta Tyršová summarized: “On the whole, however, these studies do not present an appealing picture. ... A cripple, an idiot, a wandering gypsy, a hunched old man, a poor vagabond ... Is this a deliberate cult of ugliness, unknowingly inviting viewers to the opposition? ... We do not say that it would be to the advantage of Czech art if the artist were to find followers in this eccentricity. As a contrast to charm and grace, however, the ugly is sometimes beneficial..." [Tyršová 1887, p. 552]. 

The exhibition was open every day from 9 am to 5 pm. One week before the show ended, the gallery extended its opening hours, allowing viewers to visit until 5.30 pm. Although the exhibition was scheduled to close on March 13, 1887, an invitation to the Schwaiger show appeared in the daily announcer of the Národní listy as late as March 17. Since a new exhibition had already been underway in Ruch Gallery on March 15, we may assume that this was merely an oversight on the part of the newspaper’s editorial office and that the show ended on the scheduled date.

This extensive retrospective of a relatively young and, for some critics, somewhat nationally problematic artist was yet another attempt by Wiesner to draw attention to himself and his gallery. He wanted Ruch Gallery to establish itself as a prominent Prague venue, following the example of the successful salon of Mikoláš Lehmann. A few weeks after the start of the Schwaiger exhibition, Wiesner added works by other artists to the gallery’s rooms: two paintings by Alfred Seifert, a sculpture by Bernard Seeling, and a relief representing the Madonna by Josef Václav Myslbek. This way, he slowly began to prepare his audience for the permanent exhibition he presented in March 1887.

Lucie Česká

Works Cited

Tyršová 1887: Renáta Tyršová, České malířství na letošních výstavách Pražských, Osvěta XVII, 1887, no. 6, 06, pp. 548–563

Weitwenweber 1887: V. W. [Vilém Weitenweber], Souborná výstava děl Jana Schwaigera, Zlatá Praha IV, 1886–1887, no. 13, 18. 2., pp. 207–208

Further Reading

Ondřej Chrobák, „Ruch“ ve výtvarném umění v Praze 80. letech 19. století (thesis), Praha 2002

Exhibiting authors

List of Works from the Exhibition of J. Schwaiger

Publisher: Alois Wiesner

Place and year of publication: Praha 1887

Reviews in the press
Mádl Karel Boromejský

Karel Boromejský Mádl, Jan Schwaiger, Ruch IX, 1887, no. 4, 5. 2., pp. 62–63; no. 5, 15. 2., pp. 78–79; no. 6, 25. 2., pp. 93–94

Tyršová Renáta

R. T–á. [Renáta Tyršová], K výstavě děl J. Schwaigera, Světozor XXI, 1887, no. 12, 11. 2., p. 190

Tyršová Renáta

Renáta Tyršová, České malířství na letošních výstavách Pražských, Osvěta XVII, 1887, no. 6, 06, pp. 548–563

Weitenweber Vilém

V. W. [Vilém Weitenweber], Souborná výstava děl Jana Schwaigera, Zlatá Praha IV, 1886–1887, no. 13, 18. 2., pp. 207–208

Brief notes about the exhibition

Anonymous author, Galerie Ruch, Národní listy XXVII, 1887, no. 1, 1. 1., p. 2

Anonymous author, „Galerie Ruch“, Národní listy XXVII, 1887, no. 5, 6. 1., p. 2

Anonymous author, Výstava nejnovějších děl, Zlatá Praha IV, 1886–1887, no. 7, 9. 1., p. 111

Anonymous author, Galerie „Ruch“, Národní listy XXVII, 1887, no. 10, 11. 1., p. 3

Anonymous author, „Galerie Ruch“, Národní listy XXVII, 1887, no. 15, 16. 1., p. 2

Anonymous author, Výstava akvarelů, Zlatá Praha IV, 1886–1887, no. 9, 21. 1., p. 143

Anonymous author, Galerie „Ruch“, Národní listy XXVII, 1887, no. 22, 23. 1., p. 7

Anonymous author, „Galerie Ruch“, Národní listy XXVII, 1887, no. 26, 27. 1., p. 2

Anonymous author, Souborná výstava, Zlatá Praha IV, 1886–1887, no. 10, 28. 1., p. 159

Anonymous author, Umělecké výstavy, Národní listy XXVII, 1887, no. 43, 13. 2., p. 2

Anonymous author, Galerie Ruch, Národní listy XXVII, 1887, no. 55, 25. 2., p. 3

Anonymous author, Umělecké výstavy v Praze, Národní listy XXVII, 1887, no. 57, 27. 2., p. 3

Anonymous author, výstavy umělecké, Národní listy XXVII, 1887, no. 64, 6. 3., p. 2

Anonymous author, Souborná výstava akvarelů, Zlatá Praha IV, 1886–1887, no. 16, 11. 3., p. 255

Anonymous author, Umělecké výstavy, Národní listy XXVII, 1887, no. 71, 13. 3., p. 2

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