Date:27. June 1920 – August 1920
Place: Prague, Queen Anne´s Summer Palace (Belveder)
Organizer:Museum of Resistance
In June 1920, Queen Anne's Summer Palace at the Prague Castle housed an exhibition referred to in literature as the Exhibition of Battlefields or Exhibition of Battlefield Images (in France and Italy). Because neither the catalogue, the invitation, nor the poster have been preserved, the precise title of the exhibition is unclear. Reviews in the press at the time suggest that the exhibition focused on landscape scenes painted immediately after the end of the war on French and Italian battlefields. These scenes were painted both by those directly involved in the war and painters who were “sent by the state to fulfill this noble and rewarding task” [Marek 1920, p. 3]. The Museum of Resistance, which organized the exhibition, intended to create an art collection that would authentically capture the atmosphere of places in which the Czechoslovak legions had distinguished themselves in combat. The collection was assembled at the beginning of 1921 and was initially installed in the Troja chateau. Later on, the Star Villa (letohrádek Hvězda) in Prague-Liboc was adapted to accommodate the Museum of Resistance (1921–1930) before the museum finally settled in its new building at Vítkov in Prague at the beginning of 1930.
Beginning in 1919, the Museum of Resistance organized trips to international battlefields. The first of these study trips took place in May 1919; its destination was France. The participating painters,Vincenc Beneš and Otakar Nejedlý, were accompanied by soldiers Martin Bureš and Captain Bohuslav Harna [Havlová 2018, p. 93]. Based on the plan drafted by František Kupka, then reporting on the French battlefields for the Ministry of National Defence, the painters depicted all the places important for the history of the legions, namely battlefields around Reims (Prunay, Tahure, Vouziers), Arras (Belloy en Santerre, Neuville Saint Vaast), Verdun, Mort-Homme, and in Alsace (Michelbach, Asbach). Otakar Nejedlý kept a journal while on this trip, which he published in 1921 under the title Malířovy vzpomínky z francouzského bojiště (A Painter's Memories of the French Battleground). In Paris, the printmaker Tavík František Šimon briefly collaborated with Beneš and Nejedlý [Petišková 2008, pp. XXXV–XLVI]. Travelling on his own, the painter Emil Artur Longen also traced the steps of the Czechoslovak legions in France [Anonymous author 1923]. The next trip, this time to Italy, took place in June 1919. Oldřich Koníček and Ladislav Šíma, under the leadership of Jan Angel Zeyer, accompanied by two combat soldiers, toured around the Czechoslovak legions' battlefields on the Italian Peninsula. Zeyer later worked on his own, depicting the former war camps in which the Czechoslovaks had been imprisoned [Anonymous author 1922].
Neither the catalogue nor the duration of the show are known. All of the available information comes from the reviews by Vladislav Vančura and Josef Richard Marek, who generally agreed with each other in their evaluations. Marek published his text in July 1920 in the magazine Venkov, Vančura in the review entitled Exhibition of Battlefield Images. Thanks to these two authors, we know that six painters took part in the exhibition, namely Vincenc Beneš, Bohuslav Harna, Oldřich Koníček, Otakar Nejedlý, Ladislav Šíma and Jan Angelo Zeyer. Marek described Nejedlý as an artist for whom“pathos is natural, allowing him to capture most vividly the tragedy of the battleground in all its terrifying gloom.” In contrast, Marek considered Beneš more down to earth and sober - an artist with a talent for the “tranquil landscape in the gentle sun.” Quite similarly, Vančura refers to Nejedlý's works as “full of pathos,” in contrast with Beneš's “optimistic” paintings. Further on,Vančura comments on Šíma's “distant views of mountains as known by the soldiers from the southern front,” again in complete agreement with Marek. According to Marek, Šíma was the most skilled of all the exhibited artists at capturing the wide landscape vistas around the Lago di Garde and Monte Val Bello. In Marek's view, the most decorative works were by Oldřich Koníček, in whose paintings Italy appeared “wistful and vast,” in contrast with watercolour vedute by Zeyer depicting “the blissful Italy from three-star Baedekers.” Vančura suggested that Bohuslav Harna's landscapes, more documentary than artistic, could have been “better than they were” [Marek 1920, p. 3; Blahynka – Vlašín (eds) 1972, pp. 265–266].
Although we only have a vague idea about the appearance and scope of the Belvedere exhibition, we may assume that this was one of the pivotal exhibitions that laid the foundations of the Czechoslovak legions' art collection. The collection of paintings from the French and Italian battlefields was a major part of the show with ca 200 inventory numbers, complemented by documentary paintings from Russia, today's Ukraine, Slovakia and the USA. The Museum of Resistance invited both emerging and wellestablished painters to create images of battlegrounds. In collaboration with those who had directly experienced the war, these artists were able to capture places entirely unknown to the Czech public. The museum did not want to create a first-rate art gallery – its goal goal was primarily didactic. The expeditions to European battlefields, organized immediately after the end of the war, had a clear purpose: to provide images of war events that were not sufficiently documented in the collection (cf. the texts about the exhibitions Images from the Battlefields of France and Russian Legionnaire Artists). The exhibited artworks, then, resulted from a need at the time for documentary record, promotion and caricature, rather than from an artistic need. The Museum of Resistance targeted a wider audience, seeking to draw the public's attention to the role legionnaires had played in the establishment of independent Czechoslovakia. Its goal was to store the material entrusted to it and ensure the material's full presentation to the public.
Anonymous author 1922: Anonymous author, Československé legie v Itálii 1918. Malířské dokumenty, Praha 1922, n. p.
Anonymous author 1923: Anonymous author, Československé legie ve Francii. 1914–1918. Malířské dokumenty, Praha 1923, n. p.
Blahynka – Vlašín (eds) 1972: Vančura 1972: Vladislav Vančura, Výstavy obrazů z bojišť, in: Milan Blahynka – Štěpán Vlašín (eds), Řád nové tvorby. Vladislav Vančura, Praha 1972, pp. 265–266
Havlová 2018: Eliška Havlová, Založení Památníku osvobození, in: František Kupka. Legionář a vlastenec (exh. cat.), Museum Kampa, Praha 2018, pp. 93–97
Marek 1920: Josef Richard Marek, Výtvarné umění. Památka na válku, Venkov XV, 1920, no. 174, 25. 7., p. 3
Petišková 2008: Tereza Petišková, Malba dvacátého století ve sbírkách Vojenského historického ústavu Praha, in: Petr Ingerle, Ilona Krbcová, Tereza Petišková: Pole tvůrčí a válečná. Výtvarné umění ze sbírek Vojenského historického ústavu Praha (exh. cat.), Moravská galerie v Brně, Příbram 2008, pp. XXXV–XLVI
Petr Ingerle, K agitaci a poučení. Vojenské veduty a batailistické scény jako specifický žánr v dějinách umění, in: Pole tvůrčí a válečná. Výtvarné umění ze sbírek Vojenského historického ústavu Praha (ex. cat.), Moravská galerie v Brně, Příbram 2008, p. LXVI
Anonymous author, Příručka československého legionáře, no. 1, Praha 1921, p. 358
Josef Richard Marek, Výtvarné umění. Památka na válku, Venkov XV, 1920, no. 174, 25. 7., p. 3pdf
Vladislav Vančura, Výstavy obrazů z bojišť, in: Milan Blahynka – Štěpán Vlašín, Řád nové tvorby. Vladislav Vančura, Prague 1972, pp. 265–266pdf
Anonymous author, Výstava obrazů z bojišť Francie a Itálie, Československý legionář II, 1920, no. 28, 17. 7., p. 6