Date:5. February 1930 – 3. March 1930
Exhibition design:Leopold Ehrmann
The exhibition of Jewish artists of the 19th and 20th centuries, which took place in the Fénix Palace on Wenceslas Square in February 1930, received a great response in society. In the catalogue introduction, the exhibition's guarantor Hugo Feigl wrote that the response was not the same everywhere. The German press in particular was critical of the show, as it did not understand why Jewish artists were presented as a separate group. This conception was defended most eloquently by Feigl himself. According to his catalogue text, all exhibited artworks display “a common element, which we would like to define as a remnant of the special Jewish mental complex, a remnant that resisted even the powerful emotional call of pervasive assimilation,” – this, in Feigl's view, justified the exhibition's concept. Further in the introduction, Feigl mentioned the common belief that “in literature and music the Biblical nation can draw from a thousand-year-long tradition. In visual art, however, this tradition is lacking – hence the lack of Jewish talent for the visual arts” [Feigl 1930]. Yet, it is praiseworthy what Jews created in the last 60–70 years since they have been involved in painting. Here, Feigl implicitly presented the view that history of Jewish art only began after Jews were officially emancipated and could enroll in art academies. Today's approach to Jewish art is different in this respect; Jewish emancipation became an important milestone in the history of Jewish art, but it was certainly not its beginning.
The exhibition, unprecedented in Czechoslovakia, was organized by the Prague branch of WIZO, an international women's organization. Similar shows were held in other European cities such as London (1906) and Berlin (1907). The Prague exhibition represented 48 Jewish artists and featured 132 artworks in total. The catalogue lists only 120 artworks, but Viktor Oppenheimer, a Brno sculptor and professor, exhibited 13 portrait busts under the catalogue number 109. The exhibition otherwise featured predominantly paintings and prints (106 artifacts in total) and only 25 sculptures. The most expensive painting – an unspecified still life by Marc Chagall (cat. no. 26, oil on canvas, dimensions 80 x 65 cm) – was appraised at 30,800 CZK, making it three times as expensive as local artists’ works. Newspaper reports suggest that the exhibition also included a collection of art objects from synagogues, but it is not listed in the catalogue.
Irma Pollaková, the WIZO vice-chair, held an opening address. In the following two weeks, two “ matinées” were took place: on February 9, including a lecture by art historian Antonín Matějček, and on February 17, with a talk by the writer and journalist Max Brod. In addition to these events, Feigl led guided tours of the exhibition.
Because of the Zionist character of the organizing institution, it is worth mentioning Fiegl's note in catalogue about art in Mandatory Palestine: “The Palestinian attempt to create earthy, rooted Jewish art has not yet allowed us to predict the future perspective.” Albeit brief, this mention attests to his interest in artistic development in Palestine which was becoming home for more and more artists, such as Ludwig Blum and Salomon Salomonowitz from Czechoslovakia, both represented at the exhibition.
In Feigl's view, the first significant Jewish engagement with painting dates to the Impressionist period but he still believed that Jewish artists “often fail in building compositions. They perhaps lack sufficient inner composure, a sense of physicality that they lost during the hundred years of the ghetto.” [Feigl 1930] Further on, Feigl explained that the greatest Jewish Impressionists, namely Pissaro, Israëls and Liebermann, deserved a special place at the exhibition. Prague artists such as George Kars, Max Horb and Feigl's brother, Friedrich Feigl, all of whom Feigl regarded as pioneers of Impressionism, occupied their own exhibition hall. Interestingly, these latter artists are now considered Expressionists rather than Impressionists.
Further on, Feigl noted that “graphic art is generally considered the form most natural for Jews,” but he strongly disagreed with the widespread notion “that the scant sensual pleasure on the part of Jews and the characteristic predominance of reason over emotional life made them particularly prone to black-and-white art.” [Feigl 1930] At the end of his introduction, Feigl mentioned that for the lack of funds and space, the exhibition did not feature other international Jewish artists such as Pascin, Modigliani and Kandinsky (although Kandinsky was Orthodox Christian). Quite importantly. Feigl also wrote that only a very few artists chose not to participate in the exhibition due to their personal attitude. As evident from press reviews, these artists included Alfred Justitz, Max Kopf and his wife Mary Duras.
In addition to the small exhibition catalogue, newspapers and magazines of the period provide most of the information about the exhibition. Art periodicals focused mainly on the complicated relationship of the Jewish tradition to art. Volné směry, published by the Mánes Fine Arts Association refused the “possibility of Jewish art as national art” due to assimilation [Anonymous author 1930a]. In this author's view, Jewish artists had always embraced a national school, such as French Impressionism or German Expressionism and for this reason, they never created their own style. In Rozpravy Aventina, Jaromír Pečírka described the exhibition as a rare opportunity to see original works by prominent painters, although he believed the whole gave an incoherent impression.
Josef Čapek's review in Lidové noviny stands out among the reports in Czech dailies. Čapek was very skeptical about the question of Jewish art: “we can hardly talk about specifically Jewish art here,” although he also wrote that Jewish artists were active, enterprising and had good taste. “Chagall brought a distinctively Jewish tone to Expressionism” says Čapek [Čapek 1930]. Václav Vilém Štech, on the other hand, aimed to find typical elements and qualities of Jewish art. In Liebermann, he found a sense for reality which, in his view, was Liebermann's most important contribution to German art, and an objectiveness corresponding with alleged Jewish sobriety. Works by Liebermann, and Israëls for that matter, seemed gray to Štech, a product of what he believed was Jewish clumsiness, poor manual skill, because this nation “has lived and continues living largely through the brain” [Štech 1930]. This clumsiness, claimed Štech, was in fact an advantage of sorts, as it brought genuineness of form. The only exception was Pissaro, who “is not clumsy but has a different feature, namely restlessness” [Štech 1930] – Pissaro, according to Štech, was unable to stick with one style and continued searching. In the case of Metzinger and Chagall, Štech cited their hardness of palette as a proof of lacking imagination. He also commented on the presence of irony in their works: “The Jew is usually very humorous, in many paint-ings we can glimpse a self-mocking jeer, that is, the bitterness of knowledge and the sad awareness of one's limitations” [Štech 1930]. Štech's review was full of similar cliches and stereotypes, some bordering on latent antisemitism. It is therefore surprising that Feigl thanked Štech in the catalogue introduction, when the latter approached Jewish art in this simplistic manner.
From among the German periodicals, Prager Tagblatt published an especially critical review by Friss Lehmann. In Lehmann's view, the exhibition tried to prove the existence of Jewish art, a task he regarded as impossible. Form, according to Lehmann, does not come from blood but is a result of an artist's cultural milieu. The sharply-worded text contains expressions such as blood and nation in a way that clearly revealed the author's national-socialist orientation.
Most of the reviews and brief notes about the exhibition appeared in Jewish periodicals. The magazine Rozvoj published by the Union of Czech Jews wrote quite negatively about the show: “There is absolutely nothing specifically Jewish about it and if something did become clear from the purely Jewish point of view, it is only the perfect artistic assimilation of all the represented Jewish painters, without exception [Anonymous author 1930b]. However, the exhibition did in fact include paintings depicting traditional Jewish themes and clear references to the specifics of Jewish culture. We may assume that the harsh judgment was due to the Zionist undertone in an exhibition organized by a Zionist institution.
The weekly Selbstwehr published a number of articles during the exhibition (WIZO financially supported its section, called Blätter für die jüdische Frau). In addition to reviews, the magazine selected several artists and asked them four questions: What is your relationship to Jewishness (political, religious, psychological, general)? For what would you thank your Jewishness and your Jewish origin? What do you think about the peculiar relationship between Jewishness and painting, or art in general? What do you think about the Zionist movement? Marc Chagall, for example, advocated in his answers for authentic artists who created their works in seclusion and whose Jewishness was often questioned. For Chagall, these creative individuals, such as Pissarro, Modigliani, Spinoza, Einstein and Freud, were the true Jewish luminaries.
The largest number of texts about the show appeared in Židovské zprávy. This journal was published by the Central Zionist Union in Czechoslovakia and the articles have a strong Zionist focus. For example, František Gottlieb wrote about the “Jewish substance” which, in his view, proved that there were common ancestral experiences upon which the artists drew. He went on to say that Zionism should be credited for giving artists the idea of active ancestral art. This, said Gottlieb, is the new foundation for future self-confident art. In the title to his article, Max Brod asked: Does Jewish art exist? And for him, the answer was yes: “The common character exists in art as naturally as the Jewish rhythm of life, the Jewish temperament, and the Jewish joke” [Brod 1930].
The exhibition of Jewish artists of the 19th and 20th centuries became an important social and cultural event in its time and beyond. It was historically the first and simultaneously the last comprehensive exhibition of Jewish artists in Bohemia.
Anonymous author 1930a: Anonymous author, without title, Volné směry XXVII, 1930, no. 2, p. 273
Anonymous author 1930b: Anonymous author, without title, Rozvoj XXXVII, 1930, no. 6, p. 6
Brod 1930: Max Brod, Existuje židovské umění?, Židovské zprávy VIII, 1930, no. 7., p. 2
Čapek 1930: Josef Čapek, Výstava židovských umělců 19. a 20. století, Lidové noviny XXXVIII, 1930, 13. 2., p. 5
Feigl 1930: Výstava židovských umělců 19. a 20. století (exh. cat.), Praha 1930
Štech 1930: Václav Vilém Štěch, Židovské umění, České slovo XXIV, 1930, no. 13, 15. 2., p. 7
Lenka Hebáková, Pražská výstava židovského umění v roce 1930, Documenta Pragensia XX, 2002, pp. 157–190
Lenka Hebáková, Výstava židovských umělců 19. a 20. století (thesis), Praha 2001
Arno Pařík, Mezi Čechy a Němci, in: Mezery v historii 1890–1938. Polemický duch Střední Evropy – Němci, Židé, Češi, Praha 1994, pp. 32–33
Arno Pařík, Výstavní činnost Galerie Hugo Feigl, manuscript, Praha 2010
Výstava židovských umělců 19. a 20. století [Exhibition of Jewish Artists of the 19th and 20th Centu-ries], Praha 1930
Place and year of publication: Praha 1930
a. st., Ausstellung jüdischer Künstler, Bohemia CIII, 1930, no. 20, p. 7pdf
Anonymous author, Die Künstler über ihr Judentum, Selbstwehr. Blätter für die jüdische Frau IV, 1930, no. 2, 14. 2., p. 2pdf
Anonymous author, without title, Umění III, 1930, no. 2, p. 116pdf
Anonymous author, without title, Volné směry XXVII, 1930, no. 2, p. 273pdf
jč [Josef Čapek], Výstava židovských umělců 19. a 20. století, Lidové noviny XXXVIII, 1930, 13. 2., p. 5pdf
Hugo Feigl, Kritische Bemerkungen über die Ausstellung „Jüdischer Künstler 19. und 20. Jahrhunderts“, Selbstwehr. Blätter für die jüdische Frau IV, 1930, no. 2, 14. 2., p. 2pdf
František Gottlieb, K výstavě židovských umělců, Židovské zprávy XIII, 1930, no. 7., p. 4pdf
František Gottlieb, O náš svéráz v umění, Židovské zprávy XIII, 1930, no. 7., p. 4pdf
Friss Lehmann, Ausstellung jüdischer Künstler, Prager Tagblatt LV, 1930, no. 31, p. 8pdf
N. [Viktor Nikodem], Výstava židovských umělců 19. a 20. století, Národní osvobození VII, 1930, no. 36, 6. 2., p. 4
A. Pečírka, Ausstellung der jüdischen Künstler des 19. und 20. Jahrhunderts, Prager Presse X, 1930, 16. 2., p. 10pdf
Irma Polaková, Několik poznámek k výstavě židovských umělců v Praze, Židovské zprávy XIII, 1930, no. 7., p. 4pdf
V. V. Š. [Václav Vilém Štech], Židovské umění, České slovo XXIV, 1930, no. 13, 15. 2., p. 7pdf
Anonymous author, Výstavu židovských umělců ..., Rozvoj. Týdeník českých pokrokových židů XXXVII, 1930, no. 6, p. 9
p., Výstava židovských umělců 19. a 20. století, Židovské zprávy XIII, 1930, no. 7., p. 4
K., Výstava židovských umělců, Židovské zprávy XIII, 1930, no. 7., p. 4
V. H., bez názvu, Lidové listy IX, 1930, no. 6, p. 6