Czech cubism influenced by the forms of contemporary cubist painting seen in Prague’s galleries and salons at the beginning of the 20th century. Czech Cubism embraced architecture, design and decorative arts and flourished most prolifically in the years immediately preceding and following the outbreak of the First World War. Highly visible in the urban environment in the design of theatres, cafes, tenement blocks, houses, villas and factories, this visually distinctive and dynamic style was characterised by multifaceted surfaces, strong diagonals and fragmented forms.
Break from functionalist trends
It was, in many ways, a three-dimensional counterpart to the ‘simultaneous’ forms seen in French cubist painting. It also made a break with the functionalist trends of contemporary architectural education and the Arts and Crafts ethos that inspired design education.
Leading Czech Designers
The leading Czech designers included Pavel Janák, Josef Gocar, Vlastislav Hofman and Otakar Novotny. An early landmark in the style was the 1912 Black Madonna House of Josef Gocár in Prague with its cubist entrance, balcony railings and capitals. Similar cubist forms were evident in the built-in furniture, fittings and interior of the café on the first floor. Another notable early Czech Cubist commision was the 1912–14 interior of the cinema at the Koruna Palace in central Prague, designed by Ladislav Machon, with wallpapers designed by František Kysela of the Prague School of Applied Arts. The style was also evident in street furniture, as in the Brancusi-like columnar and sculptural forms of the 1912 lighting standard in Prague’s New Town, now attributed to Emil Králícek.
Prague Art Workshops
The Prague Art Workshops (Prazske Umemecke Dilny, PUD), which, like their Prague counterpart Artel Cooperative, were based on precedents such as the Wiener Werkstätte in Austria, were of considerable importance in the spread of this Czech Cubist style. A group of architects associated with the Prague Group of Fine Artists was created at PUD in May 1912. (Skupina Vytvvarych Umelcu, founded 1911). One of the main objectives of the group was to focus on furniture for the home with the stated principle that furniture should be ‘not only as economical as possible, but always strictly artistic.’
The Prague Art Workshops published their first pattern book in 1913, in which it was stated that the members of the architects were joined by František Kysela and other painters who were involved in the design of wallpapers, textiles and carpets, thus providing a full portfolio of domestic design skills. This ability to design all aspects of the home environment was reflected in the presentation of the work of PUD designers at the 1914 Deutscher Werkbund exhibition in Cologne. In contrast to the more functional aesthetics of many of the more progressive displays in Cologne, Pavel Janák showed Czech cubist furniture, a table lamp and a chandelier decorated with walls by Kysela. The striking sofa designed by Josef Gocár, with its back made up of triangular elements, was also shown in Cologne.
After World War 1
Czech Cubist products have often been sold through the Artel Cooperative shop, which has moved several times in the life of the organisation, and the Artel magazine Drobné Uméni (Minor Arts). After the First World War and the establishment of an independent Czechoslovak state, the abstract surfaces of the Cubist design were combined with the indigenous folk art motifs and the characteristic features and colouring of the Art Deco. Such late trends often had more rounded shapes and were known as Rondocubism, seen, for example, in decorative semi-circular motifs on the exterior of Josef Gocár’s 1922 Manes Hall in the New Town, Prague.
Woodham, J. (2004). Czech Cubism. In A Dictionary of Modern Design. : Oxford University Press. Retrieved 11 Feb. 2021, from https://www-oxfordreference-com.ezproxy.csu.edu.au/view/10.1093/acref/9780192800978.001.0001/acref-9780192800978-e-203.
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Frantíšek Kysela (1881 – 1941) was a Czech designer and teacher. He was born in Kourim. Between 1900-04 and 1905-08, he studied at the School of Decorative Arts Prague, under K. Mašek. 1904-05, he attended the Academy of Fine Arts, Prague: under H. Schwaigr. In 1913, he became a professor, School of Decorative Arts, Prague.
Vlastislav Hofman (1884 – 1964) was a Czech architect, designer and artist. He studied at the Czech Technical University. He worked in the building department of the Prague magistrate. He was a member of the Artel Cooperative and Mánes Association of Plastic Artists. In 1911 he left Mánes and joined the group of plastic artists.