The exhibition at the Mikoláš Lehmann Gallery was the first monographic show of the painter Josef Mánes (1820–1871). At the time of his death a decade earlier, Mánes was known only to his circle of supporters – art patrons, fellow artists and patriotic art critics. The exhibition thus crowned the efforts of some Czech critics and journalists (mainly Miroslav Tyrš, as well as Jan Neruda and Eduard Herold) who, in the 1870s, noted the lack of appreciation for Mánes's importance during his lifetime and soon after his death. The used his oeuvre to promote the idea of Czech national art. The exhibition marked the beginning of systematic efforts to increase public presentation of Mánes's works, which, over the course of the 1880s and 1890s, led to his gradual transformation into an icon of Czech modern art focusing on national issues.
The exhibition opened in December 1880 (the magazine Šotek I published a satirical letter about Mánes, dated 6th December 1880, which refers to the opening) and lasted until early February 1881. The printed catalogue was published by Mikoláš Lehmann at the end of January 1881. It listed 148 artworks displayed at the exhibition with each entry containing the artwork's title, technique and owner. The exhibition likely grew over the course of its duration, as evidenced by the note in Národní listy (January 4, 1881) stating that further works for the exhibition had been sent by Countess Silva Tarouca, F. L. Rieger, industrialist G. Noback and the print maker Řeháček. The exhibition included works with religious themes (mostly for the church in Karlín), portraits, decorative objects (targets and shields), landscapes, early figural paintings, designs for the series Life in a Mansion for the lunettes in the Hořovice palace (which attracted much attention), drawings for the Astronomical Clock at Prague´s Old Town Hall, illustrations for Dvůr Králové Manuscript, and a series of large sketches of people in folk costumes from Mánes’s travels in Bohemia and Moravia.
The catalogue introduction contains reviews from the press dating to 1879–1881, devoted in large part to Life in a Mansion, a series of cartoons with motifs from aristocratic life presented by small naked children. The series was probably exhibited in Lehmann's gallery as early as in 1879. The catalogue reprints also include texts about the exhibition (some originally in Czech and others translated from German) published in the press from December 1880 onward. The exhibition played an essential role in the gathering and studying of Mánes's oeuvre. During the exhibition, Lehmann was able to pur-chase a number of works from private collections, which he later offered for sale [Prahl, p. 32 and note 21; Tyršová 1899, pp. 423–424]. Thanks to Miroslav Tyrš and František Ženíšek, the emerging Prague city museum, established with the intention to collect Czech art, acquired a collection of Mánes's works from the exhibition. The city purchased this collection (9 studies of folk costumes, 4 illustrations for the Dvůr Králové Manuscript and 15 cartoons from the Life in a Mansion series) thanks to the outstanding state subsidy of 2400 Guldens. Lehmann purportedly sold the artworks under the condition that, before coming to the museum, they travel to other cities, as written in the Národní listy review (February 1, 1881) and a note in Světozor in which the author, Vilém Weitenberg, cites the intention to move the exhibition to Hamburg, Wroclaw, Budapest and Vienna during the month of February. The purchase was accompanied by an expert opinion (signed by Tyrš and Ženíšek, as well as a number of younger and older artists), a text that was one of the first to interpret Mánes's oeuvre from the perspective of the Czech national artistic identity [Tyršová 1899]. Moreover, in Národní listy from April 7, Tyrš announced that another exhibition was forthcoming.
The reports about the exhibition pointed primarily to the then-current lack of appreciation for Mánes and emphasized Lehmann's contribution to the presentation of Mánes's work and the need to raise awareness about him among both lay and expert audiences, as well as artists themselves. These texts simultaneously presented the first systematic analyses of Mánes's work. Their authors particularly praised Mánes's ability to build wellbalanced compositions, his way of bridging realism with idealism, his feeling for both profound content and original ornament and, importantly, his use of national motifs in art. In addition to this, authors noted the duality of Mánes's character connecting classical austerity with great passion, creative power and an almost childish naivete. A number of these features gradually lay the foundation to the evaluation of Mánes's role within the lineage of Czech art. In this period, voices began to call for disseminating reproductions of Mánes's works among young artists in order to provide models for their creative efforts.
The misunderstanding Mánes faced in his lifetime became a central theme for critical-historical analyses (particularly those by Miroslav Tyrš and Renáta Tyršová) with authors referring to his poor living conditions, later emphasized by Jan Neruda in his posthumous recollection of Mánes. The same motif appeared in the satirical text connected with the exhibition, published in Šotek in 1880 and accompanied by Mikoláš Aleš's illustration. Here, the twenty-eight-year old Aleš depicted Mánes as an artist who refused to compromise his artistic principles, never pandering to popular tastes, a position that should have earned him condemnation by general audiences. It is unclear to what extent the exhibition changed the public's view of Mánes. However, art criticism and journalism in this period show signs of the future trend: to collect and study Mánes's oeuvre in order to pinpoint its specifically Czech aspects and present them as a model for contemporary art to follow, to emphasize the specific (psychological) features of his personality that made him stand out among Czech artists, and represent a modern artist prototype for the next artistic generation despite the fact that his contemporaries did not understand him.
Prahl 1999: Roman Prahl, Mikuláš Lehmann. Kapitola z dějin pražských galerií umění, Staletá Praha XXIII, 1999, pp. 23–38
Tyršová 1899: Renáta Tyršová, Jak se u nás psalo o Manesovi. List z historie české kritiky, Osvěta. Listy pro rozhled v umění, vědě a politice XXIX, 1899, no. 4, pp. 354–359; no. 5, pp. 417–427
Anonymous author, Josef Manes, Šotek I, 1880, pp. 84–86
Pavla Machalíková (ed.), Let s voskovými křídly. Josef Mánes (1820–1871), Řevnice 2022 (forthcoming)
Jan Neruda, Josef Manes [Feuilleton], Národní listy X, 1871, no. 342, 13. 12., p. 1
Petr Wittlich, Tvůrčí osobnost Josefa Mánesa a 20. století, Umění XLIV, 1996, pp. 549–554
Seznam výstavy Jos. Manesovy, kterou pořádá Mikoláše Lehmanna cís. král. dvorní umělecký závod v Praze [The List from the Exhibition of Jos. Manes organized by Mikoláš Lehmann, Imperial and Royal Art Company in Prague]
Publisher: Mikoláš Lehmann
Place and year of publication: Prague 1881
Author/s of the introduction: reprint of texts published in the daily press (A. Klar, A. Klemt, J. Neruda, M. Tyrš, R. Tyršová, V. Weitenweber)
Agathon Klemt, Die Kinder-Cartons in der Josef Manes-Ausstellung, Prager Tagblatt V, 1880, no. 351, 18. 12., p. 7 (appendix)pdf
Jan Neruda, Národní listy XX, 1880, in: Seznam výstavy Jos. Manesovy, kterou pořádá Mikoláše Lehmanna cís. král. dvorní umělecký závod v Prazepdf
t. [Miroslav Tyrš], K výstavě Mánesově I–III (Výtvarné umění), Národní listy XX, 1880, nos 295, 298, 305, 9., 12. and 21. 12., n. p. (appendix)pdf
T. [Miroslav Tyrš], Sbírku kreseb Mánesových (Výtvarné umění), Národní listy XI, 1881, no. 83, 7. 4., n. p. (appendix)pdf
Renáta Tyršová, K výstavě děl Manesových, Osvěta: listy pro rozhled v umění, vědě a politice XI, 1881, no. 2, 25. 1., pp. 142–161pdf
Anonymous author, Manesova výstava (Denní zprávy), Národní listy XXI, 1881, no. 3, 4. 1.
Anonymous author, Manesovy kartony koupeny obcí pražskou (Denní zprávy), Národní listy XXI, 1881, no. 27, 1. 2.
t. [Miroslav Tyrš], Zvěst o výstavě Manesově (Výtvarné umění), Národní listy XXI, 1881, no. 35, 10. 2.
V. W. [Vilém Weitenweber], Výtvarná umění, Světozor XV, 1881, no. 9, 25. 2., p. 107