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As Cubism spread across the European continent in the early 20th century, its greatest impact can be seen today in Czechoslovakia, formerly known as Bohemia, where Cubism influenced various art forms and even urban life. In the beginning of this century, Prague, Bohemia was known as an artistic center of Europe, drawing various artistic influences from its neighboring countries.
The most elite artistic group of Prague was the Manes Association of Plastic Artists, who organized a series of influential modern art exhibits with artists such as, Rodin and French Impressionists. In 1910, another art exhibit was opened by the Plastic Artists where the Independants introduced Cubism to Prague. This exhibit inspired so many artists that a collection was passed around to raise money to purchase Andre Derain's painting, "Bathers."
In 1911, the younger artists of the Plastic Artists, formed their own group called Skupina Vytarnych Umelcu (SVU), The Group of Plastic Artists, which was geared towards bringing Cubism to Prague. The SVU consisted of Emil Filla, Antonin Prochazka, Vincenc Benes, Vaclav Spala, Josef Capek, Otto Gutfreund, Josef Gocar, Pavel Janak, Josef Chocol, and Vlastislav Hofman.
Because Prague was an artistic center, cubism was adopted quickly to every aspect of art. This began a unique period in Prague's history, known as "Czech Cubism," which flourished for only four years. Czech artists applied cubism in a variety of ways to their pieces. Some maintained the traditional cubist style as defined in France, while others took crystalline forms, such as prisms and pyramids, and combined them to form intricate designs and structures. The second approach was applied to almost everything in Bohemia. It was evident in architecture, furniture, textiles, and even plate patterns.
Even today one can visit the city of Prague and observe the powerful cubist structures that line the city. These pioneers of czech cubism, brought the view of Braque and Picasso into the third dimension. This is due to communist rule, which left this historic city untouched and undisturbed. The foremost Czech Cubist was Pavel Janak, who wrote a key essay in 1911, "The Prism and the Pyramid." He created a theory of "privileged forms," geometric shapes, which he applied to architectural sketches, furniture, and buildings. The first cubist building was a department store, called "At the Black Madonna," by Josef Gocar in 1912. It is now used as the Czech Cubism Museum in Prague. Another convincing building in Prague was constructed by Josef Chocol in 1913. He erected an apartment building and a row of houses with prismatic shapes defining the exterior of the buildings. One of the most unusual structures in Prague is a light post by Emil Kralicek and Matej Blecha built in 1913. Here, the widespread influence of Czech Cubism is apparent.
Although Czech Cubism was a huge art movement in Bohemia, it did not transcend the country's boundaries until 1914, in the Deutsche Werkbund exhibition in Cologne. By this time the Czech Cubism movement had matured and was ready to take off commercially. But unfortunately, the onset of World War I had stopped its momentum, and thus, Czech Cubism never materialized in the rest of the world. By 1918, Czechoslovakia became independent and artists were using a national version of the Cubism, now known as "Rondo-Cubism."
It is our loss that Czech Cubism has been left out of the historical mainstream. After the wars, some tried to pick up the pieces left behind in the form of small exhibits traveling the world. These works never did receive the acclaim as they deserve.
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