Place: Prague, Emperor Franz Embankment
Organizer:Union of Creative Artists
Jednota umělců výtvorných (Union of Creative Artists, JUV) was founded at the beginning of 1849 as an association supporting artists of Czech nationality. It was based on the art section of the Slovanská lípa (Slavic Linden) association, which disbanded when the Union of Creative Artists was founded. One of the Union's main goals was to open a permanent exhibition that would allow local artists to exhibit their artworks on an ongoing basis and present themselves to the public. Formulated in this way, the goal was seen as a reaction to the existing annual exhibition organized by Krasoumná jednota (Fine Arts Association), an association founded as part of the Society of Patriotic Friends of Fine Arts (Společnost vlasteneckých přátel umění, SVPU), which, in the eyes of many artists, focused too much on artworks imported from Vienna, Dresden, Munich and Düsseldorf, failing to give sufficient space to local Academy graduates. In the first two years of its existence, when Josef Vojtěch Hellich was the chairman, the Union was very active in pursuing its goals. However, during the consolidation of Bach's absolutism in the 1850s, the Union of Creative Artists gradually lost popularity due to its patriotic Czech and Slavic agenda, its ties to the national movement and increasing conflicts with the SVPU and Academy representatives. These political and social circumstances eventually caused its demise in 1856 [Hojda 1988].
The Union's permanent show in Prague became the first counterpart – and rival – to the annual public art exhibition. The latter was organized by the SVPU from 1821 onward and, beginning in 1836, by the Fine Arts Association, founded as a part of the SVPU. The SVPU's cosmopolitan and aristocratic character and its minimal interest in supporting local emerging artists became the subject of sharp criticism. Beginning in the 1830s, Prague artists aimed to establish their own association. These efforts eventually led to the founding of Union of Creative Artists (JUV), with a goal of supporting artists not only through fundraising but also by establishing a permanent public sale exhibition. [Prahl 1988]
The permanent exhibition opened in 1849 soon after the association was founded. It was open every day in the association's space on the second floor of the building at today's Smetanovo Embankment in Prague. All members were free to exhibit their artworks there. The exhibition was also meant to include winning designs for bonus prints which, unlike the bonuses of the Fine Arts Association (Krasoumná jednota), were the result of a competition. The organizers planned to exchange artworks regularly, possibly once a month – a model inspired by the similar exhibitions organized by European art associations, such as the Viennese Kunstverein, founded around the same time by Rudolf Arthaber. The fragmentary archive of the JUV contains only a few isolated notes about the exhibition. The period press barely mentioned it and even the JUV´s 1849 annual report bears no concrete details. The only text to name the then-current exhibiting artists was Anton Springer's report about the Prague Kunstverein, which focused more on general questions of art organizations. Springer lists the following artists: Karel Svoboda exhibited Attila's Death, Jan Brandeis an unspecified portrait, and the sculptor Göztl [Dimitriou 2021] a model of an Amazon. It is otherwise impossible to find out which of the permanent or contributing members of the JUV (listed in the annual report of its committee) sent their artworks to the exhibition.
The exhibition was not particularly large. The space was limited and the Union also declared that “it cannot be the Union´s purpose to have a large number of artworks on display in its rooms because it would not contribute to the improvement of art in our country ... if we preferred quantity to perfection” [Zpráva 1849, p. 6]. The following report in 1850 shows that 16 of the exhibition's paintings were sold.
This permanent exhibition was presented as a counterbalance to the official academic exhibition and the public likely perceived it in this way: as a “means for learning about the excellent local talents and their artworks, otherwise unavailable to patriotic audiences because the exhibiting monopoly ... of the 'Kunstverein' ... obstructs and damages our local independent artists” [Skupina 1849, p. 989]. However, the exhibition never fulfilled its potential. In the 1850s, adversaries managed to brand it as a controversial venture aimed against the official art institutions. Moreover, the views of the Union´s representatives on Czech and Slavic art became quite contentious in the political atmosphere of the 1850s. All this caused a gradual decline in what was originally a large membership base (566 members at the end of 1849) and the demise of the exhibition and eventually the entire Union around the mid-1850s.
Dimitriou 2021: Alena Dimitriou, Cínař Josef Götzl, BC thesis, ÚpDU FF UK, Praha 2021
Hojda 1988: Zdeněk Hojda, Sociální zázemí Jednoty výtvorných umělců – rozchod s tradiční základnou uměleckého mecenášství v Čechách?, in: Milena Freimannová (ed.), Povědomí tradice v novodobé české kultuře, Praha 1988, pp. 355–358
Prahl 1988: Roman Prahl, „Umělectví“ a spor o jeho tradice: Jednota umělců výtvorných, in: Milena Freimannová (ed.), Povědomí tradice v novodobé české kultuře, Praha 1988, pp. 220–238
Skupina 1849: [Skupina přispívajících členů Jednoty umělců výtvorných], Výstava uměleckých prací Jednoty umělců výtvorných v Čechách, Národní noviny II, 1849, no. 253, 28. 10., p. 989
Zpráva 1849: Proslov a zpráva o činnosti Jednoty umělců výtvorných v Čechách roku 1849, Archive of the National Gallery in Prague, fonds SVPU
Zdeněk Hojda – Roman Prahl, Kunstverein nebo/oder Künstlerverein? Hnutí umělců v Praze 1830–1856/Die Künstlerbewegung in Prag 1830–1856, Praha 2004, esp. pp. 30–31 and edited documents
Václav Ryneš, Výtvarní umělci v Krasoumné jednotě a v Jednotě umělců výtvorných, Praha 1970
ANM, fonds of the collection of Bohuslav Dušek; ANG, fonds SVPU; LA PNP, fonds J. V. Hellich [relevant materials published in: Zdeněk Hojda – Roman Prahl, Kunstverein nebo/oder Künstlerverein? Hnutí umělců v Praze 1830–1856/Die Künstlerbewegung in Prag 1830–1856, Praha 2004]
[Skupina přispívajících členů Jednoty umělců výtvorných], Výstava uměleckých prací Jednoty umělců výtvorných v Čechách, Národní noviny II, 1849, no. 253, 28. 10., p. 989pdf
A. S. [Anton Springer], Der Prager Künstlerverein, Bohemia XX, 1849, no. 83, 7. 4., pp. 4–5pdf