Sudeten German Artists [Sudetendeutsche Künstler] was the first exhibition of German-speaking artists in the newly established Czechoslovakia. The choice of artists was based on nationality and all the artworks were for sale. Rather than presenting a stylistic trend or a generational perspective, the show mapped the Sudetenland art scene; its character was nationalist, defensive and promotional. The initial idea came from Karl Krattner, professor at the Academy of Fine Arts in Prague and co-founder of Metznerbund, an art association that served as the platform for the exhibition. Because Krattner was unable to find a suitable exhibition space in Prague – he could not reach an agreement with representatives of the Krasoumná Jednota at the Rudolfinum or elsewhere – he turned to representatives of the Mährischer Kunstverein, who agreed to hold the exhibition in Brno's Künstlerhaus. The exhibition’s title Sudetendeutsche Künstler foreshadowed problems that Metznerbund's activities would face throughout the interwar period.
Even after the establishment of Czechoslovakia, the disconnect between the Czech and German elements characterizing institutions and their activities in the previous three decades of the monarchy continued in virtually all areas of cultural life, including the visual arts. When Krattner founded the Metznerbund in March 1920, his goal was nationalistic: to support German-speaking artists in Bohemia by providing them with a base for their work and contact with buyers in the conditions of the newly founded state, as well as connecting art supporters within the German-speaking community. The original idea was to form regional and local groups. These groups were gradually established in regions with a significant German-speaking population: Prague, Cheb, Karlovy Vary, Teplice, Ústí nad Labem, Liberec, Jablonec nad Nisou and later the Moravian city of Olomouc.
It is not a coincidence that Metznerbund was founded in Teplice and not in Prague where, by this time, the progressive group of young German-speaking artists headed by August Brömse had already formed the group Die Pilger. The installation and the catalogue of the Sudetendeutsche Künstler show clearly reflected the constellation of forces in Prague at the time. Die Pilger members were presented separately and they were listed first in the catalogue. This arrangement foreshadowed the future exclusive position of Prague, but also Brno, Opava and Ostrava, where the all-encompassing Metznerbund played a secondary role during the interwar period. Instead, these cities were home to more liberal and artistically distinct groups and associations organized based on juried competitions.
The exhibition Sudetendeutsche Künstler included an artistically interesting selection of early Expressionist works by Die Pilger members and a cross-section of works from the German-speaking parts of Bohemia, Moravia and Silesia. A total of 49 artists (including two women) presented paintings, drawings, prints, several sculptures and architectural designs. The individual artists were represented rather disproportionately, both in terms of regions and the quantity and quality of their artworks, a reflection of organizational limitations rather than curatorial intention. Most of the artifacts at the exhibition were paintings, but drawings and prints were also included. Alfred Justitz exhibited the largest set of artworks. The Die Pilger section contained, among other artworks, the powerful early works by Maxim Kopf, Josef Pietsch and the prematurely deceased Theodor Sternhell. Some renowned artists of the older generation were also represented, including Wenzel Hablik, Emil Orlik, Wenzel Franz Jäger, Heinrich Hönich and, of course, Karl Krattner. The exhibition showcased progressive younger artists from North Bohemia, such as Rudolf Karasek and Artur Ressel, and the Prague-based painter Fritz Kausek. However, there were also average-quality and conservative artworks by artists of regional importance.
In the winter of 1920 and early spring of 1921when the exhibition was being prepared, the new German speaking art scene in Czechoslovakia was yet to be fully established and many of its future prominent actors were still students at the Academy. Many of the established artists of the middle and older generation, who travelled between their native Czech lands and Vienna, Munich, Dresden, Berlin and other cities, chose to stay abroad after 1918, largely for economic and career reason. These artists were unable or unwilling to send their artworks to the exhibition because of the poor economic situation and the dysfunctional transport system. Transportation also presented a significant hindrance for the majority of sculptors based in Czechoslovakia.
It appears that Czech-language media practically ignored the exhibition. The German speaking dailies Tagesbote (Brno) and Prager Tagblatt published extensive reviews detailing the circumstances of the exhibition's opening in Brno and presented the list of artists, artworks and their brief characteristics. The authors discussed the Czechoslovak German-speaking art scene and the marketing possibilities. Fritz Lehman in Prager Tagblatt praised works by August Brömse and Die Pilger members, as well as the new work by Hugo Steiner, but he criticized other artists for only presenting their older, previously exhibited works. He also commented positively on the architectural section of the show (Arthur Payr, Rudolf Bitzan). Lehmann's review suggests that an entire room was dedicated to Payr's works, while Bitzan's architectural designs took up one separate wall. Examples of these architects' work clearly formed a significant part of the exhibition. However, it has yet to be found out what precisely the exhibition looked like and whether any of these architects took part in designing the installation. In all likelihood, the exhibition design was quite conventional, just like in the case of other 1920s group exhibitions in the Brno Künstlerhaus, organized and installed by administrators, curators and exhibit designers at Brno's Mährischer Kunstverein.
From today's perspective it is clear that the exhibition was the first attempt at a nationwide presentation of the German-speaking art scene in interwar Czechoslovakia. Economic factors strongly influenced its final form, resulting in a certain unevenness in the quality of exhibited artworks. The show's scope and cross-sectional character, however, were exceptional for its time. Similar nationwide exhibitions of art by German-speaking Czechoslovak nationals followed later on, at the end of the 1920s.
Anna Habánová, Metznerbund. Dějiny uměleckého spolku Metznerbund 1920–1945 / Die Geschichte des Kunstvereins Metznerbund 1920–1945, Liberec 2016, pp. 210–212
Ivo Habán, Brněnský dům umělců jako výstavní centrum německy hovořících umělců z Moravy, Slezska a Čech, in: Lubomír Slavíček, Janá Vránová (edd.), 100 let Domu umění města Brna (exh. cat.), Brno 2010, pp. 71–96
Archive of the National Gallery Prague, fonds Moderní galerie (nákupy děl) [Modern Gallery (acquisitions)]
anonymous author, Ausstellung sudetendeutscher Künstler in Brünn, Deutsche Zeitung Bohemia LXXXXIV, 1921, no. 80, 7. 4., p. 5
Anonymous author, Künstlerhaus, Tagesbote LXXI, 1921, no. 142, 27. 3., p. 7