Databáze uměleckých výstav v českých zemích 1820 – 1950

Exhibition of the Society of Patriotic Friends of the Arts

Date:12. April 1841 – 31. May 1841

Place: Prague, Grand Priory Palace

Organizer:Fine Arts Association


After the previous year’s exhibition, reviewers welcomed the 1841 show as another demonstration of a general strategy for supporting the development of local art. Envisioned by the new committee of the Society of Patriotic Friends of the Arts (SVPU), this strategy aimed to open the Prague milieu to international influences and encourage individual artistic growth. The renewed type of exhibition, which included sizable collections of foreign art, was intended to provide the public with a better overview and orientation in contemporary artistic developments.

As usual, there was a call in the press (March 29) for artists to deliver their works to the exhibition site (by April 5). In the end, the exhibition contained 325 artifacts, including additions. Artworks from Munich, Düsseldorf, and Berlin again attracted the most attention, serving as material for the comparison with the domestic output. Until the end of May, Krasoumná jednota shares were sold at 5 guldens apiece; a draw for artworks purchased from the show was scheduled for June 1. Entry to the exhibition cost 6 kreuzers, and visitors could also buy a list of the works on display, sold at the entrance for the same price – or a slightly lower amount of 4 kreuzers. Krasoumná jednota received the offer to use the spaces in the Grand Priory Palace from its current owner, Count Karl von Morzin. It was the first time for the show to take place in this palace, which, supposedly, provided more space and better accessibility for older people (sic!) [Müller 1841, no. 46].

The installation likely changed during the exhibition due to the late shipment of many artworks from abroad. The sets from Düsseldorf (31 pieces), Munich (38 pieces), Dresden (9), and Berlin (7) did not arrive until mid-May, and the descriptions of the exhibition halls suggest that the organizers included them among the artifacts that were already there. The late shipment delayed the release of the catalogue, and some visitors complained that it was difficult to identify the artworks, as these had numbers but no captions. 

Judging by the reviews in the press, the installation was in line with the established conventions, mixing different types, genres, and artists. Critics appreciated that the organizers did not reserve a separate hall for the works of local artists but placed them together with other artworks, thus avoiding complaints about some artists being favoured over others [Müller 1841, no. 46]. The show included a prominent sculptural collection, which attracted much attention, because it presented not only local sculptors but also a sizable collection of French sculpture and a set of works by Ludwig Schwanthaler from Munich. 

The individual halls were likely designed around a few dominant pieces. Right at the entrance, the first large hall was dominated by the Winter Evening in the Monastery Ruins by the famous painter Carl Hasenpflug, considered a highlight of the show. The same room also featured genre paintings (Kirner, Hesse, Reichenbach), including Eagle’s Nest by Josef Mánes and a flower still life by Wilhelm Nerenz from Dresden, accompanied by portraits and miniatures. The smaller second hall was centred around the sculptural collection from Paris, complemented by landscapes by Antonín Mánes and what was supposedly the best history painting of the show (Waldstein and Seni by the Düsseldorf-based painter Kretschmer), as well as other artworks. The third hall featured sculptures by Josef Max and 12 statues of princes by Schwanthaler, installed in a tight row, making the layous somewhat jammed. Around them were figurative historical paintings and genres, including, for example, Hellich's Galileo in Prison. Another room was dominated by Albrecht Adam’s horses, with Daughter of Jephthah by Ondřej Fortner hanging above them. Other paintings in this hall included Spring Morning by Antonín Mánes; a genre painting by the Munich-based painter Marstrand (Scene from the October Festival in Rome), rated as one of the best of the whole exhibition; and the Girl Praying in Front of the Chapel by Josef Mánes, which was criticized for its poor conception of light compared to the highly praised, neighbouring Interior of the Ulm Cathedral. There were also other landscapes by Antonín Mánes and those by August Piepenhagen, as well as historical figure paintings by Antonín Lhota and Josef Vojtěch Hellich: The Good Shepherd, and the canvas Ludmila Teaches St. Wenceslaus at Tetín. Many critics considered the latter painting the best at the exhibition, at least among the local painters. The fifth hall again offered a blend of figurative, genre, and landscape themes.  

In addition to critical commentaries, the exhibition also inspired broader reflections on art, with authors discussing the topical question of realism in art, the relationship between art and politics, and the organization of artistic life. 

The relationship between idealization and realism in art had already resonated in the 1840 Prague exhibition. Here, the debate concerned primarily the questions around the new concept of landscape painting, or rather, the style and artistic practices of Antonín Mánes, the landscape painting professor at the Academy. Critics saw a contradiction between his idealism and realistic observations and tried to bridge it by pointing to the specificity of the places he depicted [Müller 1841, no. 52]. For others, however, this served as an opportunity to condemn his style as obsolete [Seidlitz 1841a, pp. 321–322], especially in contrast with Mánes’s future successor at the Academy, the Munich painter Max Haushofer. For the latter, the 1841 show was the first time he exhibited in Prague. Another representative of Munich landscape painting, Carl Rottmann, sent his Roman Campagna, which some reviewers considered the best painting at the exhibition – it was widely admired for the depiction of the atmosphere and the pure colours applied in thin layers. 

On the occasion of the show, the journalist and critic Julius Seidlitz, by the given name Itzig Jeitteles, published a remarkable text about the oscillation between idealism and realism in different historical epochs and its cosmopolitan character [Seidlitz 1841b]. In his historical overview, Seidlitz discussed the relationship between art and the political situation at the time: he considered the latter an essential condition influencing contemporary artistic output, concluding that the present circumstances were conducive to artistic creation.

But there were also sarcastic voices commenting on the precarity of artists in contemporary Prague. Many of the exhibited canvases (often of poor quality – “Bilderkraam”) served as a pretext for reflections on the artists’ dismal financial situation: while in Prague, painting is more of a craft and a fast way of making money (portraits, signboards, images of saints...), a true masterpiece that is to convey an idea must not be created in haste, as it takes three, even six years to paint it – but of course, buyers do not count the time that artists spent painting, and the price does not reflect it [Manfred 1841, p. 180].

As in the previous year, some reviewers of the 1841 exhibition deemed it necessary to defend the activities of the current SVPU committee. To some degree, these commentaries coincided with the official rhetoric of the SVPU, represented in the committee’s report for 1841-1842, which characterized the domestic artistic situation as ossified and outdated and outlined the direction of the ongoing reorganizations. A cosmopolitan orientation and joint presentation of local and international artists were seen as necessary because “art and science have their homeland anywhere in the world” [Müller 1841, no. 46] and “in art, any patriotism is ridiculous” [Seidlitz 1841a, p. 255]. For this reason, the previously used adjective referring to domestic artists as “vaterlandische” was replaced by the adjective “einheimische” [ibid]. The critics also reflected on the specific character and direction of local painting, significantly influenced by local artistic training, which predetermined its strengths and weaknesses. They concluded that local art lagged in genre and landscape painting but, thanks to Hellich, excelled in history painting. (However, they also noted that very few high-quality history paintings were sent from abroad this year to offer a fair comparison.)

By this time, the history painter and new Academy director Christian Ruben from Munich headed the history studio (he officially took up his post soon after the exhibition, on June 5). This was reflected in some of the reviews as their authors expressed support for his activities focusing on the internationalization of the domestic milieu and the positive presentation of Ruben’s Munich colleagues, who later joined him in Prague (Haushofer) or who were admired as models and invited to teach in Prague (Schwanthaler).

Pavla Machalíková

Works Cited

Anonymous author 1841: Anonymous author, Letošnj umělecká wýstawa w Praze, Dennice, 1841, vol. 3, pp. 58–63

Manfred 1841: Manfred, Die Kunstausstellung in Prag für das Jahr 1841, Camellien, 1841, vol. 2, pp. 176–184

Müller 1841: Anton Müller, Über die diesjährige Kunstausstellung, Bohemia XIV, 1841, no. 46, 16. 4., p. 4; no. 48, 20. 4., p. 4; no. 49, 23. 4., p. 4; no. 50, 25. 4., pp. 3–4; no. 51, 27. 4., pp. 3–4; no. 52, 30. 4., p. 4; no. 54, 4. 5., p. 4; no. 55, 7. 5., pp. 3–4; no. 56, 9. 5., p. 4; no. 58, 14. 5., p. 4; no. 60, 18. 5., pp. 3–4; no. 62, 23. 5., pp. 3–4; no. 64, 28. 5., pp. 3–4; no. 65, 29. 5., pp. 3–4; no. 67, 4. 6., pp. 3–4; no. 68, 6. 6., p. 4; no. 71, 13. 6., pp. 3–4; no. 72, 15. 6., p. 4; no. 75, 22. 6., pp. 2–3 

Seidlitz 1841a: Julius Seidlitz [Izák Itzig Jeitteles], Kunstausstellung, Ost und West VI (příloha Prag), 1841, no. 58, 12. 4., p. 232; no. 64, 22. 4., pp. 255–256; no. 65, 24. 4., pp. 259–260; no. 76, 13. 5., s. 320–322; no. 79, 19. 5., pp. 332–333; no. 81, 22. 5., pp. 341–342; no. 84, 27. 5., pp. 35 –353; no. 86, 31. 5., pp. 360–362; no. 89, 5. 6., pp. 372–373; no. 92, 10. 6., pp. 385–386; no. 96, 17. 6., pp. 400–402

Seidlitz 1841b: Julius Seidlitz [Izák Itzig Jeitteles], Bei Gelegenheit der Prager Kunstausstellung, Ost und West VI (supplement Prag), 1841, no. 61, 17. 4., p. 243; no. 62, 19. 4., p. 247; no. 64, 22. 4., p. 255; no. 65, 24. 4., p. 259; no. 67, 28. 4., p. 265; no. 76, 13. 5., pp. 319–320; no. 80, 20. 5., p. 338; no. 82, 24. 5., pp. 344–345; no. 83, 26. 5., pp. 347–349; no. 87, 2. 6., p. 366; no. 90, 7. 6., pp. 377–378

Archival Sources

Archive of the National Gallery in Prague, fonds SVPU

Exhibiting authors

Katalog der Kunstausstellung der Gesellschaft patriotischer Kunstfreunde in Prag 1841

Publisher: SVPU
Place and year of publication: Praha 1841

Reviews in the press

Anonymous author, Letošnj umělecká wýstawa w Praze, Dennice, 1841, vol. 3, pp. 58–63


Manfred, Die Kunstausstellung in Prag für das Jahr 1841, Camellien, 1841, vol. 2, pp. 176–184

Müller Anton

Anton Müller, Über die diesjährige Kunstausstellung, Bohemia XIV, 1841, no. 46, 16. 4., p. 4; no. 48, 20. 4.; no. 49, 23. 4.; no. 50, 25. 4., pp. 3–4; no. 51, 27. 4., pp. 3–4; no. 52, 30. 4.; no. 54, 4. 5.; no. 55, 7. 5., pp. 3–4

Seidlitz Julius

Julius Seidlitz, Kunstausstellung, Ost und West (supplement Prag) VI, 1841, no. 58, 12. 4., p. 232; no. 64, 22. 4., pp. 255–256; no. 65, 24. 4., pp. 259–260; no. 76, 13. 5., pp. 320–321; no. 79, 19. 5., pp. 333–334; no. 81, 22. 5., pp. 341–342; no. 84, 27. 5., pp. 352–353; no. 86, 31. 5., pp. 360–362; no. 89, 5. 6., pp. 373–374; no. 92, 10. 6., pp. 385–386; no. 96, 17. 6., pp. 400–402

Brief notes about the exhibition

Joh[ann] Ritter von Rittersberg, Kunst-Anzeige, Prager Zeitung XVII, 1841, no. 52, 1. 4., p. 3

Anonym, Kunstvereins-Anzeige, Prager Zeitung XVII, 1841, no. 76, 14. 5., p. 4

Anonym, Kunstvereins-Nachricht, Prager Zeitung XVII, 1841, no. 82, 25. 5., p. 3

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