Databáze uměleckých výstav v českých zemích 1820 – 1950

Exhibition of the Academy in Prague

Date:spring 1821 [from April 22]

Place: Prague, Klementinum

Organizer:Society of the Patriotic Friends of the Arts


The 1821 Prague Academy exhibition was the first of its kind to be well-documented, including a catalogue, archival documents and press reviews—for this reason, it can be considered Prague's first public exhibition. Although exhibitions associated with annual awards were likely established in 1802, soon after the Prague Academy was founded by the Society of the Patriotic Friends of the Arts (SPFA), we have no information on what they looked like [Hojda – Prahl 2004, p. 16; Lange 2017, p. 80]. 

Exhibitions of student works, connected with granting annual awards for the best artworks, were probably held beginning with the Academy's founding, but the character of these shows is unclear and they were originally closed to the public. At first they took place at the beginning of the year, but in the 1820s they were moved to four weeks after Easter. Circumstances around the establishing of the Academy exhibition and its opening to the public cannot be precisely determined from either the reviews in the press or minutes from SPFA meetings [Lange 2017]. Based on the Society's accounts, it is possible to determine that the SPFA published the first exhibition catalogue in 1821. Accounts from 1822 show revenue from this catalogue and from entrance fees. Information about the exhibition in the press also date to 1822 – Hormay's Archiv published the list of works on display for both 1821 and 1822.

The show's opening to the public was clearly connected to the development of Prague's art scene in the first decades of the 19th century and the changes in artists' position within modern society. In this period, the Academy financially supported its students through scholarships, collective commissions and their long-term affiliation to the school. Public exhibitions of student works offered another way to promote artists and attract clients.

The Prague Academy modelled its shows on exhibitions organized by other European academies from the second half of the 18th century onward. The exhibition at the Academy in Vienna, the closest place to Prague both politically and culturally, was first opened to the public in 1813. Whereas other European exhibitions of this kind showcased student work exclusively, the Prague exhibition included works by independent artists, both local and, later on, international. Activities of modern art associations likely also contributed to the exhibition's establishment. First founded in Karlsruhe and Darmstadt in 1818, these associations aimed to support contemporary artists through exhibitions and other activities. In 1820s Prague, similar activities were seen as a part of artistic life and professional identification: the official Prague association was preceded in a certain sense by the so-called Serapion Brotherhood, organized around Academy students (Josef Führich, Franz Nadorp, Josef Quaisser) at the beginning of the 1820s. The collection of statutes and annual reports from foreign art associations in the property of the former SPFA suggests that this international movement inspired the Prague art world, eventually leading to the founding of Krasoumná jednota (Kunstverein für Böhmen) in 1835.

The 1821 exhibition took place in the Academy's space in the Klementinum where the exhibitions remained until 1839. The catalogue lists 96 artworks divided into several categories with each of the entries containing the artwork's title or brief description and the author.

The exhibition included 36 artists, one of whom was a woman. They were present and former students of the Academy but also independent artists. Josef Bergler, the director, was represented only by students' copies after his designs. The choice of foreigners was clearly random. In 1824, international artists were represented more systematically and in 1840, they began to participate on a regular basis.

In the catalogue, the exhibited artworks were categorized according to their subject matter: original compositions and paintings “according to nature” (further categorized based on the technique, like oil paintings or drawings) and copies, largely prints (there was one sculptural/wrought artwork [Fortner] and 1 copy of a sculpture - bas-relief [Kotula]). The subject matters included religious-historical figural compositions (Führich, Tkadlík, Quaisser) and stories from Czech history (Markovský, Mrňák) but predominantly portraits (Horčička, Machek, Sulzer, Quaisser). The nudes (Quaisser, Nadorp) were clearly student works. Landscapes and vedute (Lexa, Böhm, Mánes, Šembera) were only marginally represented as were architectural drawing in Gothic style (Kranner) and still lifes (Böhm). Copies largely included religious themes and portraits of saints, classical Greek and Roman history themes, geographico-cartographic illustrations (Drda, Döbler), architectural vedute, landscapes, miniatures, still lifes with flowers and paintings of animals. The copies were modelled on works by artists representing the classical academic canon (Rafael, Michelangelo, Reni) but also on modern Neo-Classical works ( J. L. David) and, naturally, Josef Bergler.

Overall, almost half of the artworks from the category of original compositions were portraits (19 oil and 2 drawings) depicting the artists' contemporaries: artists (e.g., a musician, an actor, a singer and a painter), aristocrats and unnamed men, women and children. We can only assume that the high number of portraits reflected the increasing demand for portraits in the contemporary society. The exhibition  presented three larger figural compositions in oil that likely stood out among the rest of the artworks: two religious paintings by Josef Führich and František Tkadlík (then living in Vienna) and one painting depicting a scene from Czech history - Václav Markovský's  Žižka Laying Siege on Prague (now missing). Aside from this, there were three illustrations by Josef Mrňák featuring themes from Czech history (from the legend about the prince Krok) and two compositions with religious themes by Führich and Quaisser. This set shows that Czech themes were increasingly popular with the younger generation of Bergler's students.

The exhibition was the first in the Czech milieu to address the need to introduce the public to the work of contemporary artists. By making art more publicly accessible, the organizers aimed to enhance the public's artistic taste, a task enshrined in SPFA's statutes, but also to enable professional artists to meet their potential clients. 

Pavla Machalíková

Works Cited

Hojda – Prahl 2004: Zdeněk Hojda – Roman Prahl, Kunstverein nebo/oder Künstlerverein? Hnutí umělců v Praze 1830–1856 / Die Künstlerbewegung in Prag 1830–1856, Prague 2004

Lange 2017: Birgit Lange, „Der Stufengang der vaterländischen Kunst.“ Die Prager Akademieaustellungen der Gesellschaft patriotischer Kunstfreunde (1821–1833), in: Susanne Kimmig-Völkner – Eva Pluhařová-Grigienė – Kai Wenzel (edd.), Gestaltungsräume. Studien zur Kunstgeschichte in Mittel- und Ostmitteleuropa. Festschrift zu Ehren von Prof. Dr. Michaela Marek, Regensburg 2017, pp. 79–99

Further Reading

Zdeněk Hojda, Kdo nakupoval na výstavách Krasoumné jednoty?, in: Milena Freimanová (ed.), Město v české kultuře 19. století, Prague 1983, pp. 133–153

Zdeněk Hojda, Geneze uměleckých výstav v Praze 1791–1851, Documenta Pragensia XII, 1995, pp. 317–324

Karel Chytil, Založení Společnosti vlasteneckých přátel umění, in: idem, Josef Manes a jeho rod, Prague 1934, pp. 40–57

Tomáš Jelínek, Zemská výstava v Klementinu roku 1791, Documenta Pragensia XII, 1995, pp. 325–331

František Xaver Jiřík, Ze zapomenutých kapitol našeho umění, Květy XVII, 1895, pp. 151–159

Anna Masaryková, Cizí umělci na výstavách Krasoumné jednoty v Praze, in: Sborník k sedmdesátinám Jana Květa, Praha 1965 (Acta Universitatis Carolinae, 1965, Philosophica et Historica 1), pp. 199–205

Lucie Vlčková, Krajinomalba v Praze 1840–1890. Prezentace krajinomalby a její reflexe na výstavách Krasoumné jednoty, Prague 2009, esp. pp. 11–15

Vít Vlnas, „Výroční trh obrazový“ – Krasoumná jednota a její výstavy před rokem 1918, in: idem (ed.), Obrazárna v Čechách 1796–1918 (ex. cat.), National Gallery in Prague 1996, pp. 185–201

Archival Sources: Archive of the National Gallery in Prague, fonds SPFA

Exhibiting authors

Kunstausstellung in der Akademie zu Prag

Publisher: Society of Patriotic Friend of the Arts

Place and Year of Publication: 1821

no introduction

Reviews in the press

Anonym, Kunstausstellung in der Akademie zu Prag, zu Anfang des Jahres 1821, Archiv für Geographie, Historie, Staats- und Kriegskunst XIII, 1822, 26. 4., pp. 270–271

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