Date:25. July 1867 – 19. August 1867
Place: Kutná Hora, Secondary school building
Organizer:Vesna kutnohorská Arts and Crafts Union
The Vesna kutnohorská Arts and Crafts Union started its activities in the spring of 1867 (the founding decree was approved on April 24). Vesna was founded to promote industry, trades and art in Kutná Hora – it was modelled on and supported by similar Prague societies, namely the Americký klub dam (American Ladies Club) and Umělecká beseda (Artistic Forum). Vesna planned to establish a reading room with up-to-date periodicals, organize lectures about art and art industry, host literary, dramatic and musical events, and organize exhibitions. These exhibitions functioned as a regional parallel to the educational activities of the Artistic Forum in Prague. Both of the aforementioned Prague societies sent representatives to the official opening of Vesna’s spaces. It took place on June 8, 1867 and Vojtěch Náprstek, the chairman of the American Ladies Club, and the Artistic Forum representatives brought a number of books as a gift [Materka 1906]. It is likely that Vesna was also supported by Jan Erazim Vocel, a national revivalist, historian and Kutná Hora native, whose estate now contains most of the surviving documents about Vesna’s activities.
Vesna promoted not only contemporary trades and industry but also cultural and social life. It organized five exhibitions for the public focused on flowers (in May 1867), paintings, industrial design (May 31 – June 11, 1868, the show included a raffle), antiques (1871) and trade and industry (1872). For some time, the association also published the weekly Vesna kutnohorská (only the 1868 volume has been found) containing news about Vesna's activities as well as economic and social events in Kutná Hora. Vesna ceased its activities at the beginning of 1874 and handed its property over to the town to establish a charitable foundation.
The poster of the 1867 art show characterized it as an “exhibition of our country’s artists in the present and past.” It was opened to the public in the great hall of the Kutná Hora secondary school. The printed catalogue lists 154 exhibited artworks including paintings, prints, three-dimensional works, applied arts objects and photographs of sculptures. The catalogue also suggests that while some of the artworks were on loan from private collections, others were for sale.
Reports on the exhibition show that it received due attention; it was announced in not only the regional but also the Prague press. Vesna’s reports give us a rough idea about how the exhibition was organized. Painters Karel Purkyně and František Čermák, brother of the more famous Jaroslav Čermák chose the artworks from private collections in Prague and Kutná Hora with a goal to represent old masters along with contemporary paintings, sculptures and applied art objects [Pavlíček 1868, p. 140]. The exhibition thus showcased paintings by Peter Brandl (who died in Kutná Hora in 1735 and, beginning in the early 19th century, was celebrated in Bohemia as a model artist), Karel Škréta (from a Kutná Hora private collection), the recently deceased Josef Navrátil and Josef Mánes (who was celebrated in the Artistic Forum circles as one of the greatest living painters). Although Mánes himself did not attempt to have his works exhibited, his Portrait of Anna Náprstková made it to the exhibition through Vojtěch Náprstek. There were also photographs of sculptures by Václav Levý and a medieval Crucifixion from the Artistic Forum’s collection, then thought to have been carved by St. Prokopius, as well as Bernhard Grueber's plans for the completion of St. Barbara's Church in Kutná Hora. In terms of quality, the exhibition met the organizer’s expectations and reportedly even overshadowed the Prague annual exhibition held in the previous year. Although it received some promotion, the attendance was poor, despite the fact that Artistic Forum and American Ladies Club organized a tour to Kutná Hora. In addition, Vesna had recently been labelled a political club and so it failed to received permission to hold a raffle, which meant the exhibition lost money [ibidem].
The exhibition’s content shows that Vesna’s goal was to promote cultural consciousness in the region, building on exhibitions and cultural events in Prague. The involvement of leading representatives of Prague's social life played an important role in these efforts (apart from the aforementioned figures, supporters included Professor Jan Evangelista Purkyně, a representative of the Artistic Forum, and the architect Ignác Vojtěch Ullmann, both of whom are among the lenders). By situating the show in a regional location, the organizers were likely able to offer a more representative selection of contemporary Czech art than the Prague annual exhibitions, criticized in this period for prioritizing salon painting of international provenance over innovative local artists. The Kutná Hora show presented the best of the contemporary Czech art scene, including many artists who did not make it to these official annual exhibitions.
Materka 1906: Antonín Materka, Vesna, jednota umělecko-živnostenská v Kutné Hoře, nepublikovaný rukopis, State Archives (SOA) Kutná Hora, OSF Materka Antonín, file 2, inv. no. 99
Pavlíček 1868: [Bartoloměj Pavlíček], Zpráva tajemníka Vesny kutnohorské, Vesna kutnohorská I, 1868, no. 24, 26. 6., pp. 139–140
SOA Kutná Hora, OSF Materka Antonín (file. 2, inv. no. 99, file. 4, inv. no. 159 and file. 6, inv. no. 281) and fonds Vocel – archeologický sbor [Vocel – Archaeology Board], file. 3, inv. no. 16, fol. 1–16
Pinkas, Hippolyt Soběslav
Anonymous author, Umělecká výstava v Kutné Hoře, Květy II, 1867, no. 5, 1. 8., p. 44
[Bartoloměj Pavlíček], Zpráva tajemníka Vesny kutnohorské, Vesna kutnohorská I, 1868, no. 24, 26. 6., p. 140