The relationship of Czech avant-garde artists to the German avant-garde, complicated by the unequal position of the sizeable German minority in the new state of Czechoslovakia created in October 1918 and the clear orientation of Czech artists toward France, went through many changes. 1/ In some cases fruitful relationships were welcomed on both sides. For example, the group Osma had Czech and German members, the group Tvrdošíjní (The Stubborn) exhibited in Dresden, Berlin and Hannover, and invited not only local German artists but also Paul Klee and Otto Dix to its 1921 Prague exhibition.
A number of important German groups were present in Bohemia: in 1919 the group Pilgergruppe was created on the initiative of Maxim Kopf, in the same year the group Metznerbund was founded in Liberec, where, three years later, the group Oktobergruppe began, in 1927 the group Junge Kunst was created on the initiative by Max Kopf, in 1929 modern-oriented German artists founded the group Prager Sezession, whose exhibitions later included Paul Klee, Alfred Kubin and Oskar Kokoschka, and the German gallery owner Hugo Feigl prepared dozens of exhibitions of modern artists in Prague. However, when Raoul Hausmann and Richard Huelsenbeck organized two dadaist evenings in Prague in March 1920, these events met with a wider public only among the German minority, although Czech newspapers also reported on their scandalous proceedings. 2/ Kurt Schwitters’ and Raoul Hausmann’s dance recital evening in the Prague Urania theater in June 1921 took place without great interest from the Czech public and the Czech media. But, although Dadaism on its own did not particularly take hold in Czechoslovakia, it influenced Poetism, which was a unique artistic direction and an important Czech contribution to the international avant-garde. The Prague Modern Art Bazaar, organized by Devětsil group in 1923, was undoubtedly inspired by the Berlin exhibition Dada-Messe three years earlier, which presented artistic works and non-artistic objects next to each other, and in some of the Devětsil picture poems we see certain parallels in motif and style with the collages of Hannah Höch, Raoul Hausmann and Kurt Schwitters.
The Bauhaus especially contributed to deepening contacts with the German avant-garde; a number of Czechs and Slovaks studied there, including Jindřich (Heinrich) Koch 3/ who later succeeded Hans Finsler as head of the photography department at the applied arts school at the castle Giebichenstein at Halle, and, before his tragic death in 1934 was briefly the photographer of the National Museum in Prague, Zdeněk Rossmann, the architect, graphic artist, set designer, photographer and teacher at the School of Applied Arts in Bratislava (1932-38) and in Brno (1939-43), his wife Marie Rossmannová, also a photographer, and the Slovak Irena Blühová, 4/ later organizer of the social photography movement in Bratislava. A relatively large group of Czech architects participated in the Bauhaus architecture exhibition in Weimar in 1923. In 1929 the then director of the Bauhaus, Hannes Meyer, invited Karel Teige, 5/ who shared many of his radical functionalist opinions, to give a series of lectures about the sociology of architecture, typography and aesthetics. Jaromír Funke 6/ also considered studying at the Bauhaus, but eventually chose to teach at the School of Applied Arts in Bratislava. The famous Bauhaus architect, Mies van der Rohe, built one of his best works in Czechoslovakia in 1929-30, the Tugendhat villa in Brno, and also lectured about architecture in Czechoslovakia, as did Walter Gropius, Hannes Meyer and Marcel Breuer. In 1930 the German Bauhaus graduate, photographer and designer Werner David Feist 7/ settled in Prague for almost nine years.
The Bauhaus influence on Czech and Slovak art was multifaceted, and it appeared particularly in functionalist architecture, in many applied art fields, in typography, where photography played a significant role as it did in Bauhaus typophoto, and not least in photography. The inspirational example of the Bauhaus education concept was strongest in the School of Applied Arts in Bratislava 8/ and in Brno. 9/ László Moholy-Nagy especially had rich contacts with the Czech avant-garde; as early as 1925 he lectured in Brno on painting, photography and film at the invitation of Devětsil, and after leaving Bauhaus he had several personal exhibitions in Czechoslovakia (for example, in Bratislava, Brno and České Budějovice). In 1936 František Kalivoda, leader of the Brno branch of the Film-foto group of Levá fronta, even devoted the entire first (and last) double issue of the new exclusive magazine Telehor to Moholy-Nagy’s work. Photographs, photomontages and theoretical articles by Bauhaus teachers and students Kurt Schwitters, László Moholy-Nagy, Paul Citroen, Umbo and others were also often reproduced in many other Czech avant-garde magazines, together with the works of Albert Renger-Patzsch, Aenne Beirmann and other German photographers.
Jaroslav Rössler, Abstraction, 1923-24, Kicken Gallery Berlin
Jaroslav Rössler, OMTO, collage, 1926-27
Bohemia, Moravia Czech part of Silesia were the birthplaces of famous architects Adolf Loos, Josef Hofmann and Josef Maria Olbrich, the writers Franz Kafka, Max Brod, Franz Werfel, Rainer Maria Rilke, Egon Erwin Kisch and Franz Carl Weiskopf, the painters Alfred Kubin and Emil Orlik, the composer Gustav Mahler and the founder of psychoanalysis Sigmund Freud, as well as of many German and Austrian photographers: Lucia Moholy was born and studied in Prague, Erich Auerbach was born in Sokolov, studied in Karlovy Vary and Prague, worked as a music critic for Prager Tageblatt and after leaving for Great Britain, where he became known for his pictures of musicians, he worked as the photographer of president Ervard Beneš’s government in exile. Rudolf Koppitz came from a small village in Bruntál region and worked in Brno and Opava, among other places. The renowned portrait photographer Franz Fiedler was born in Prostějov, and even after moving to Dresden, conducted portrait photography courses in various Czech cities in the first half of the 1930s. Hans Watzek came from Bílina and also worked in Chomutov, the long-time chairman of the Vienna Amateur Photographers Club, Emil Mayer was born in Nový Bydžov, Maria Austria was born in Karlovy Vary, the color photography pioneer, Karl Schinzel, was born in Edrovice u Rýmařova and worked in Opava. Although the Czech photographic avant-garde did not have frequent contact with photographers from the German minority in Czechoslovakia, who had their own professional and amateur associations and published several photography magazines, 15/, but mostly did not show much interest in experimental work, except for photographs influenced by New Materialism, nonetheless there was some contact, for instance, the regular participation by members of the German Amateur Photographers Club in České Budějovice (Klub der Amateurfotografen in B. Budweis), Resl Chalupa, Heinrich Wicpalek, Ferry Klein, Richard Nissl and others, in the exhibitions of the České Budějovice avant-garde group Fotolinie, or the participation of eleven members of the club in the joint exhibition in Znojmo with Fotolinie (Photo Line), the Brno group Fotoskupina pěti (Photo Group Five), and the Amateur Photographers Club in Znojmo in 1934. 16/
John Heartfield, Cover of The Adventures of the Good Soldier Svejk, Synek Publisher, Prague 1936
Heinrich Wicpalek, Shade, circa 1931
German photography’s influence in Czechoslovakia between the wars was thus felt primarily in work in the style of New Objectivity, which was popular among avant-garde artists (Jaromír Funke and Eugen Wiškovský especially created a number of original works), among the students of photography schools in Prague, Bratislava and Brno and more modern-thinking amateur photographers. The Bauhaus influence was also strong; in various experimental photographs by a range of Czech avant-garde artists we can find the daring cut-outs, diagonal composition, views from below or above, or negative enlargements typical of the school (here, or course, we cannot overlook the influence of the work of Rodchenko and other Soviet Constructivists, who, along with Bauhaus, also influenced Czech photo-typography and modern advertising photography). The works of Aenne Biermann also provided considerable inspiration for some Czech photographers, as shown by, for example, Lehovec’s details of piano keyboards, which are, in motif and style, virtually identically with her slightly older works. We can even find certain parallels between the movement of German worker photographers and Czech social photography, though, unlike in Germany, avant-garde photographers also took part in the most important exhibitions of social photography in Czechoslovakia. Democratic Czechoslovakia, where avant-garde art could develop freely until the end of the 1930s unlike Germany or the Soviet Union, provided asylum for several years to many German and Jewish artists before their subsequent emigration to the USA or Great Britain. Of course, the German occupation of Bohemia and Moravia in March 1939 mean the end of closer contacts between the Czech and German artistic avant-garde.
1/ Hana Rousová (ed.): Mezery v historii 1890-1938 - Polemický duch Střední Evropy - Němci, Židé, Češi. Catalogue, Galerie hlavního města Prahy (Prague City Gallery), Prague 1994. – Lenka Bydžovská: Prague. In: Timothy O Benson (ed.): Central European Avant-Gardes: Exchange and Transformation, 1910-1930. Los Angeles County Museum of Art & The MIT Press, Cambridge & London 2002, pp. 82-86. – Vladimír Birgus: Czech Avant-Garde Art and the World. In: Vladimír Birgus (ed): Czech Photographic Avant-Garde 1918-1948. The MIT Press, Cambridge & London 2002, pp. 13-31.
2/ Ludvík Kundera: “Dada v Čechách a na Moravě”.: 52. Bulletin Moravské galerie, Brno 1996, p. 16.
3/ Karel Herain: Práce Jindřicha Kocha. Státní grafická škola (State Graphic School), Prague 1935.
4/ Dušan Škvarna, Václav Macek, Iva Mojžíšová: Irena Blühová. Osveta, Martin 1991.
5/ Manuela Castagnara Codeluppi (ed.): Karel Teige. Architettura, Poesia: Praga 1900-1951. Electa, Milano 1956. - Karel Srp (ed.): Karel Teige 1900-1951. Catalogue, Galerie hlavního města Prahy (Prague City Gallery), Prague 1994. – Eric Dluhosch, Rostislav Švácha (ed.): Karel Teige 1900-1951: L’Enfant Terrible of the Czech Modernist Avant-Garde. The MIT Press, Cambridge & London 1999.
6/ Antonín Dufek: Jaromír Funke – průkopník fotografické avantgardy. / Jaromír Funke – Pioneering Avant-Garde Photography. Catalogue, Moravská galerie, Brno 1996. – Antonín Dufek: Jaromír Funke. TORST, Prague 2004.
7/ Franz Xaver Schlegel: Werner David Feist. Fotografen am Bauhaus 1928-1930. Catalogue, Augsburg 1995.
8/ Susanne Anna (ed.): Bauhaus im Osten. Slowakische und Tschechische Avantgarde 1928-1939. Verlag Gerd Hatje, Ostfildern bei Stuttgart 1997.
9/ Antonín Dufek: Avantgardní fotografie 30. let na Moravě. Catalogue, Galerie výtvarného umění, Olomouc 1981.
10/ Vladimír Birgus: “Šedesát let od výstavy Film a foto ve Stuttgartu”. Revue Fotografie, 1989, No. 3, pp. 70-73.
11/ Antonín Dufek: Ladislav E. Berka. Portfolio. Galerie Faber, Vienna 1991.
12/ Jaroslav Anděl: Alexandr Hackenschmied. TORST, Prague 2000.
13/ Karel Cudlín: „Jiří Lehovec“. Revue Fotografie, 1989, No. 1, pp. 24-31.
14/ Vladimír Birgus: „Photography in the Czech Avant-Garde Theater.“ In: Vladimír Birgus (ed): Czech Photographic Avant-Garde 1918-1948. The MIT Press, Cambridge & London 2002, pp. 273-280.
15/ Sigrid Canz: “Die sudetendeutsche Fotoszene 1918-1938 im Zeitschriftenspiegel.” In: Stifter Jahrbuch, Neue Folge 11. Adalbert Stifter Verein, Munich 1997, p. 81-100.
16/ Milan Kníže: Němečtí fotografové v předválečném Československu. (Diploma thesis), Institute of Creative Photography, Silesian University, Opava 1998, p. 37 - 43. - Zdeněk Stolbenko: Od Linie po Fotos - 30. - 60. léta v českobudějovické fotografii. (Diploma thesis), Department of Photography, FAMU, Prague 1998, p. 19 - 75.
17/ David Evans: John Heartfield AIZ / VI 1930-38. Kent, New York 1992, p. 36-37.