Date:25 September 1875 – October 1875
Organizer:Liberec Industry Association
In 1875, Josef Führich celebrated his 75th birthday. By this time, he was a successful painter and an official authority in Vienna, where he had been teaching at the Viennese Academy since 1840. At the beginning of March 1875, an exhibition of his works was organized in the Viennese Künstlerhaus and then repeated, on a smaller scale and with modifications, in Prague, with the help of Prague's St. Luke Association. Rudolf Müller, a member of the Liberec Industry Association and Führich's student and admirer, took this opportunity to organize an exhibition of works by his teacher, who was considered one of the period's greatest living artists. The Liberec exhibition likely contained no works from the Prague and Viennese exhibitions. However, it was the first show to present Führich's early oeuvre and point out its importance.
The show was organized as a part of the Liberec industrial exhibition, which built on three important industrial exhibitions held in September 1875 in the North Bohemian towns of Teplice, Česká Lípa and Frýdlant. Thanks to the exhibition committee’s efforts, Liberec hosted a part of the Teplice exhibition, borrowed from the property of the Austrian Museum of Applied Arts and the Austrian Ministry of Commerce. This exhibition was associated with the activities of the recently founded Liberec Industrial Museum (1873) and the systematic efforts to establish a school of applied arts, which was achieved in the following year. The applied arts exhibition was held on the second and third floor of what was then the Liberec Poverty Relief Institute (now an elementary school on the corner of Šamánkova and Masarykova streets). In 1876, this space was given to the school of applied arts. The exhibition was a typical example of its kind, including “glass and porcelain products, faience and maiolica, book covers, textiles, electrotypes, silk industry products, artificial flowers, linen and cotton textiles, horsehair products, etc., which will attract both experts and lay persons” [-a- 1875].
The exhibition's highlight, however, was found in the “true artworks by our compatriot and famous history painter, Josef Führich“ [Anonymous author 1875]. This Führichsammlung, a collection consisting primarily of Führich’s early works, was on display in the main exhibition hall as the show's first section. The collection itself came to the new Liberec Gewerbemuseum thanks to the painter and art historian Rudolf Müller (1816–1904). A native of Liberec, Müller studied with Führich in Vienna, and was his friend and admirer. In 1872, he started teaching at the state lyceum in Liberec and became involved in the local industry association, significantly contributing to the founding of the Museum of Applied Arts. Because he was in charge of Führich's estate, he was able to gather a large collection of Führich's early works, many from the family's property. (This collection was later transferred to the Liberec Regional Gallery, where it has remained until today.)
The Reichenberg Zeitung’s review of the applied arts exhibition contained a separate passage dedicated to Führich, emphasizing the local-patriotic importance of the famous native's show, encouraging Liberec residents to give the exhibition the attention it deserved. Führich's early works, collected by Müller, formed the core of the exhibition. This part of Führich's oeuvre was tied to his youth and his lesser known artistic activity in the surroundings of Chrastava (near Liberec) where he received training from his father. According to the reviewer, these works were interesting because they showed the artist's gradual progress and ascent to distinction. Most of the exhibits were clearly works on paper – drawings, gouaches, and also engravings. The latter were interesting for contemporaries because they could be compared to Führich's originals and reproductions in copper or steel engraving, executed either by Führich himself or other artists. The review places particular emphasis on a series of cartoons which Führich donated to the applied arts museum on the occasion of the exhibition and which were used as models for frescoes in the newly built Altlerchenfeld church in Vienna, executed mostly by other painters between 1854–1861. These cartoons show that Müller had personal contacts with Führich or his son Lucas and that Führich was interested in supporting local art institutions. However, it is not clear whether he visited Liberec on this occasion. If he did, the press probably would have mentioned it.
Führich's exhibition in the first hall was arranged chronologically. Although this was supposed to be a solo exhibition, the organizers were not entirely successful in fulfilling their intention: “Several applied arts objects and artifacts with literary content were installed in this first section of our exhibition, either due to the lack of space or for unknown other reasons, to the detriment of the overall impression...” [Anonymous author 1875].
The show enjoyed great popularity, fuelling further interest in studying and gathering Führich's work in Liberec. New works were added to the collection on an ongoing basis. On October 6, Reichenberger Zeitung published an appendix to the previous review, informing readers that Müller had managed to borrow two more oils by Führich for the exhibition. Mrs. Hocke, a widow from Krásná Lípa, lent the exhibition the 1831 painting St. Christopher. The second painting from 1832, St. Peter Rescued by Christ, now better known as Christ at Sea, was a gift from Franz von Siegmund, director of the Chamber of Commerce. The exhibition also inspired the idea for the creation of a photographic documentation of Führich's complete works. The museum soon took up this activity and, in 1878, its advisory board published an album of Führich's works from 1815–1825 (the project was halted after the first two series). Through purchases and gifts, the museum then acquired a number of Führich's print series, published as albums of original prints or later as reproductions. Their number attests to the considerable attention that Führich received as a result of Müller's activity. The case of the collection and exhibition shows how the legacy of a local luminary was treated and interpreted at the end of the 19th century when local cultural heritage became the priority for local elites as a means of regional self-presentation.
Anonymous author 1875: Anonymous author, Ueber die Kunst- und Gewebeausstellung im Reichenberger Armenversorgungshause, Reichenberger Zeitung XVII, 1875, no. 227, 3. 10., p. 1991
–a– 1875: –a–, Kunst- und Gewerbeausstellung des hiesigen Museums, Reichenberger Zeitung XVII, 1875, no. 220, 24. 9., p. 1929
Moriz Dreger, Josef Führich, Wien 1912
Pavla Machalíková, Josef Führich, andělé v Altlerchenfeldu a první výstava Führichovy sbírky v Liberci, Fontes Nissae XXI, 2020, no. 1, pp. 3–17
Pavla Machalíková – Petr Tomášek, Josef Führich (1800–1876). Von Kratzau nach Wien, Prag 2014
Heinrich von Wörndle, Josef Führich´s Werke nebst dokumentarischen Beiträgen und Bibliographie, Wien 1914
Anonymous author, Ueber die Kunst- und Gewebeausstellung im Reichenberger Armenversorgungshause, Reichenberger Zeitung XVII, 1875, no. 227, 3. 10., p. 1991
–a–, Kunst- und Gewerbeausstellung des hiesigen Museums, Reichenberger Zeitung XVII, 1875, no. 220, 24. 9., p. 1929
Anonymous author, Zur Ausstellung im Armenversorgungshause, Reichenberger Zeitung XVII, 1875, no. 229, 6. 10., p. 2009