Čeněk Pražák

 

Biography

 

The biography written by John Matheson and Regina Lange in collaboration with Čeněk Pražák for the publication of his monograph in 1989 contains valuable background information about his life in Czechoslovakia before emigrating to Switzerland in 1969. It is therefore published in full. Data starting from 1985 has been added and further information can be forwarded to Nicole.

 

 

 

 

1914

Born in Prague 20. February, at the junction of Kamenická-Gasse/Velentržní-Strasse.

His father Čenĕk was born in Obratany near Tábor in 1890 and his monther Marie in Zličín near Prague in 1895; he was a business man, the mother a housewife.

 

1922

He already painted a lot as a young boy, especially with his friend Pepíček Řečínský. Furthermore he played the violin as the pupil of the organist Plesnivý of the St. Markéta church in Prague. From that time on and throughout most of his life, Pražák continued to practise for threee hours a day. This lifelong interest was given expression in his paintings, as evidenced in Pacific 231 - Hommage to Albert Honegger, presented at the first solo exhibition in Prague.

Friendship with Tonda Polák, Emil Krátky and Olda Vostrý, together with whom he played for the next few years. Polák later studied at the Academy of Music in Prague and was member of the Czech Philharmonie, Polda Vostrý became concertmaster.

 

1923

Friendship with Václav (Vašek) Jalovec, who later played the leading role in the film „Řeka“ (River) directed by Rovenský.

 

1930

First painting lessons with Karel Peterka. Peterka was friends with Luděk Marold, Karel Rašek and Julius Fischer and was the leading architect of the annual exhibition in the Prague Rudolfinum. Entry to the water boy scout group under their “Venner Bratka“, Jaroslav Novák, writer and author of the book “Die Pfadfinderherzen” (The hearts of the boy scouts). Spent time in the study of nature and its forms together with his friends “Loula”, František Polák, „Svantka“, Svantopluk Starý, and „Bob“, the doctor Jaroslav Klika.

 

1934

Trip to Paris. Study of classical art.

 

1936

Military service until Spring 1939.

 

1938

Friendship with Spytihněv Šorm, concertmaster at the National Theatre Prague and First Violinist at the Czech Piano Quartett, who further educated Pražák in playing the violin.

 

1939

Beginning of the war and German occupation.

 

1942

Acquaintance with Ladislav Bradáč whose student he remained until Bradáč’s death in 1949. Bradáč was a friend of Bohumil Kubišta, whose portrait “Harlekin“ is displayed in the section for modern art at the National Gallery Prague. Otokar Nejedlý, Otokar Marvánek, Jaroslav Průcha and Rudolf Kremlička. also belonged to Bradác´s circle. Bradáč had about 60 works of art of this great Czech artist deposited in a bank. The collection included further works by Rouault, Justiz and Jan Zrzavý. These were all study material for Pražák. During this period he also studied art history, in particular Fauvism, Cubism, Orphism, later also Neue Sachlichkeit and the “New Roman School” (Mafai, Scipione u.a.; Kamil Lhoták introduced this art genre  to the Czech Republic).

Member of the artist group „Odborová Oranisace“ at Mánes, the cultural centre of Prague.

Illustrated the story of “The Venus of Ille” by Prosper Merimée.

Intensive engagement with pastel and  ink-pen drawing. Examination of the oeuvres of Cézanne, Picasso, Braque, Matisse, Vlaminck, Derain, Boccioni, Severini, de Chirico, Mafai, Kubišta, Kremlička und Průcha. Alongside the study of European prehistory, paintings from the middle ages, Persian and Indian miniatures, the cultures of Oceania, the Kalahari desert, Anamites, Tun Chuan and Adjunta. Examination of art theoretical literature such as Faure, Matějiček, Volavka, Pečirka, Benda, Breton, Fila, Šalda.

Marriage with Božena Vloká.

 

1944

Illustrated the Russian fairytale „Zkazky a prikazky“, published by Karel Plicka and František Volf at the publishing house Čin in Prague. As the communists came into power this work was destroyed.

Works with reverse-glass painting technique.

Son Pavel is born on 5th January.

 

1945

End of war. Prague Revolution with a high death toll.  A quote from Prazak from this time“…the Fruit bowls on the table contained hand grenades instead of fruits.”

Military Service until the end of the year.

Further studies in art history.

 

1946

Collaboration with Ladislav Bradáč and Jaroslav Hošek on the monograph on Otokar Marvánek, (Publisher Čin). Realisation of first pastel and gouache works such as orpheus, lost seafarer, the woman who kept her friends to herself, the lady with the blue hat.

Establishment of the „Sozialistischen bildenden Front“ (SWF) together with the artists Antonin Strnadel, Jan Benda, František Tichý, Bohumil Štěpán, Václav Křížek, Karel Černý, František Doležal, František Volf, Jaroslav Hošek, Alois Fišárek, Václav Kautský, Karel Plicka and Alexander Plocek. Friendship with the painter Karel Černý, the leading figure in the art world of that time, who was based in Paris from 1948-49. Collaboration with the printing house Máj for Aragon’s „Les voyageurs de L’impériale“ as well as Jiř Skořepa’s „Orfeus“. Without Pražák’s knowledge the printing director Kaláb sent the cover of Skořepa’s book to London to the exhibition „The Art of the Book Jacket“ at the Victoria and Albert Museum. Pražák was awarded third prize for this work. Later, the exhibition, in a different version, toured with 60 selected works to other English cities and also to France, Germany, Spain and further European countries as well as  the USA. It was featured in numerous art magazines, mostly with an image of Pražák’s orfeus.

First activities fighting general and academic kitsch with Otakar Mrkviěk and the SWF at the cinema Kotva. Huge upheaval about Jakub Obrovský and Vratislav Nachleba. Political infighting concerning the organisation of the Association of Czech Artists.

 

1947

In this and subsequent years worked for the Prague printing houses Čin, Máj, Orbis, Fr. Borový, Klapka, Svoboda, Artia, Mladá Fronta, Supraphon. Illustrated „ Děti a dýka“ by Franrišek Langer (Fr. Borový) and „Sonata of Horizontal Life“ by S.K. Neumann (Svoboda). Pražák realised the illustration for this book outside Prague, because, to the communistic home office lead by Jícha he was too open, sharply criticising and discussing the dilettantish views on aesthetics by Karl Marx. Further book illustrations were undertaken such as „Die Liebe“ by S.K. Neumann (Klapka) and „Ergeni“ by Bajkow (Máj).

Symposium on childrens books at the Jan Amos Comenius Institute in Prague. He argued that illustrations for youngsters and children should not be kitschy.
Meets Anna Mikotová.

 

1948

Together with Anna acquaintance with Kamil Rössler, the appointed counsel to the Reich Governor of the Sudetenland and NS war criminal. Frank Rössler was an excellent expert on the works of Edgar Allan Poe and author of a masterly analysis of the poem “The Raven”. Besides he was vice president of the Czech bibliophiles.

 

1949

Communist seizure of power. At that time Pražák was not able to work as an artist; there was no cultural life to speak of and there were no exhibitions on contemporary art. It was the time of “Socialist Realism”. All publication houses were closed down and so all connections were cut off. There was no contact between the artists in Prague whatsoever and many left Prague. The entire body of work from his youth was destroyed. He went, along with Anna, to Vladimír Neff in Slapy.

 

1950

Together with Anna he fled to the family of the head forester Anrošt Möbes in the woods of Chouzavá. They remained there for a year, working in the woods, setting-up a tree nursery and collecting mushrooms and seeds. During this year, life in Prague gradually normalised, there was no immediate danger anymore, but there was still no cultural milieu.

Acquaintance with František Tichý, whose student and later co-worker, he became. Tichý was an Avant-Garde and the best Czech graphic artist, drawer and illustrator of that time. After many years living in Paris (together with Jan Zrzavý und Bohumil Martinů) Tichý returned to Prague and after the war became Professor at the Umprum, the Academy of Arts, Architecture and Design. His masterpiece is the illustration of the novel “Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde” by Stephenson.

 

1951

Pražák spots a reproduction of his work Orpheus in the internationally known Swiss magazine Graphis at the library of the Academy of Arts in Prague, the work for which he received the third prize in the international exhibition in London in 1946 - a fact that had never been disclosed to him. He attempts to further investigate via the Swiss embassy, but receives the message that they cannot do anything due to their neutrality.

At that time he was still a lumberjack and seed collector and did not carry out any regular creative work. He returned to Prague. Here he united with Tichý, who had been dismissed from his Professorship and expelled from the Academy.

Friendship with the painter Lubor Suchy. Separation from Božena Vlková.

 

1952

Worked in an acetone factory together with Anna, painting dolls.

Continued to collect seeds…

.. and Anna sewed training trousers for the pioneers.

 

1953

Marriage with Anna. They lived at the Palác Platýz in Prague. František Tichý recommended him to the publishing house „Verlag für schöne Literatur“ (today „Odeon“).

Undertook the illustration for the novel „Cousin Bette“ by Honoré de Balzac.

 

1954

After many years he met again his boyhood friend from the boy scout association Prince Zdeněk Lobkowicz. His family had lost everything, all their belongings had been taken by the state and the precious family jewellery had to be handed over. Among these were a golden sword with precious stones and a heavy golden necklace, which was presented to the Sovereign Lobkowicz in the 15th century by the King Jiří von Poděbrad. Lobkowicz, who also was an excellent Jazz expert, emigrated and died in Germany two years later in a car crash.

František Tichý was commissioned by the national film institute to create drawings for the Bethlehem chapel in Prague in which Jan Hus had already preached. Tichý handed this assignment over to Pražák.

Further commissions for the publisher Práce.

Due to a formality excluded from the Association of Czech Artists…

 

1955

…nevertheless he managed to purchase a humble weekend cottage at the Berounka river. The travels between Prague and Berounka with its ridges and their geological stratifications left a strong impression, which comes to the fore in his later works.

 

1958

Together with Tichý he worked on unrealised plans for the Czech pavilion at the EXPO in Brussels.

 

1960

Member of Máj, a Czech avant-garde association. To this group Miloslav Chlupáč, Ladislav Dydek, Stanislav Podhrázský, Miloslav Hájek, Zdeněk Palcr, Zbyněk Sekal, Jan Švankmajer, Jan Svovoba, Pištek, Vavro Oravec and Vojtěch Nolč belonged.

The group Máj had an exhibition in Poděbrady, a well-known health and bathing resort for heart diseases. After a week the exhibition was taken down with the reasoning that it was “too dangerous for the patients”.

 

1961

The ministry for culture bought the picture Blue Cathedral.

 

1962

With the title „Spring 62“ the first progressive exhibition of the artist association Máj, Trasa, ub 12, Etapa, Makarská took place at the Club Mánes, with the artists Zrzavý, Trnka, Makovský, Tichý, Štefan and Lidický. Pražák’s picture “The astonishment about the universe” provoked a huge outrage at the party central office. Once this had calmed down, some pictures were re-hung and his picture was moved from the foyer to the inner hall.

 

1963

The work Odysseus I was bought by the gallery Eger and the piece Moth Hill purchased by the ministry for culture.

 

1964

First solo exhibition at the Gallery am Karlsplatz in Prague. After this exhibition he was readmitted as a member to the Association of Czech Artists.

Exhibition of the Group Máj. Because the Czech philosopher Ivan Sviták, who later taught at the California State University, was banned from writing, Pražák wrote the catalogue text.

Due to a national competition organised by the publisher Mladá Fronta, Prague, Pražák

illustrated Karel Čapek’s novel “War with the Newts”. He was awarded third prize.

 

1965

The first journey to western Europe after the war took him to Munich. Friendship with the American artist Bill Smith. Smith saw Pražák’s painting at the Pavilion at the “Spartakiade” and wanted to get to know the artist. The artwork remained in Prague and after Pražák’s emigration was destroyed.

 

1966

Realisation of a ceramic wall in Moravská Ostrava (Moravian Ostrau) in collaboration with Dydek, Podhrázský.

The illustration of Karel Čapek’s novel “War with the Newts” was exhibited at the international exhibition for illustration in Leibzig. He received the Bronze Medal for this work.

Friendship with Jiři and Běla Kolář. This visual artist and writer of concrete poetry had been expatriated from Czechoslovakia in 1983 and his property and belongings had been seized. Due to vigorous advocacy by Kolář, Pražák received a visa to visit the Biennale in Venice together with the Czech Association of Artists.

Encountered American art.

Organised the 1. Prague Salon. Young as well as older, mostly unknown artists thereby gained the opportunity for an exhibition.

 

1967

Exhibition „Prague Artists“ in Zoppot (Poland). Traveled together with Josef Němec and Zdeněk Sklenář. Got to know the painters Max Kaprowicz and Usarjewicz in Gdingen.

Traveled to Linz. The Austrian artist association März organised an exhibition for the Prague gruppe Máj. Acquaintance with the art historian Peter Kraft. The painting Organic Landscape was acquired by the Museum Zachodniego Pomorskego in Stettin at the exhibition “Fünftländer-Ausstellung“ in Stettin.

 

1968

The Prague Gallery by the Čapek brothers organised an exhibition with the artists association März.

Acquaintance with the sculptors Alfred and Jacqueline Gruber, in whose house in Dittingen he lived after emigrating to Switzerland.

Received a grant from Inter-Nations in Bad-Godesberg and the Adalbert Stifter Foundation in Munich for the study of the art of Lucas Cranach t.O. as well as a grant for the study of modern art in Germany from Inter-Nations. Traveled with Anna to Paris. First stay at Gruber’s in Dittingen, Switzerland. Acquaintance with the architect Giuseppe Gerster and his wife Lucie from nearby Laufen. Back in the Czechoslovakia based in Pirglitz near Prague, he and Anna experience the Russian occupation. He knows that this means the end of their freedom.

 

1969

By appointment of the Prague Gallery he organised and realised the exhibition “Artisi contemporanei di Praga“ at the Museo Civico in Bologna.

2. Prague Salon. After Pražák’s emigration Jiři Kolář leads the Salon.

Emigrated on 3rd September together with Anna via Austria to Switzerland. Friends arrange to get Pražák’s violin illegally out of Czechoslovakia.

 

1970

First solo exhibition in Switzerland.

 

1971

Collaboration with the publishing house Herder, Freiburg i.B.. First commission “Art on Architecture” for the house for personnel at the Feininger hospital in Laufen (today Kantonsspital Laufen).

Illustrated “Die Zeitlosen” by Albin Fringeli (Verlag Jeger-Moll, Breitenbach) as well as “Die helvetischen Alternativen“ and later “Die Demokratie der Teilnahme“ by Rudolf Schilling

(Polygraphischer Verlag Schulthess, Zürich).

Member of the Czecho-Slovak Society of Arts and Sciences, New York.

Traveled to Colmar to see the Grünewald altar. On this impression he creates the painting Hommage a Grünewald, wich today is displayed at the Evangelic-Reformed Church in Laufen.

 

1972

Member of GSMBA; Gesellschaft Schweizerischer Maler, Bildhauer und Architekten (Association of Swiss Painters, Sculptors and Architects). Manfred Kaiser is with intermissions his student until 1984.

 

1973

Travelled with Anna to Vienna.

 

1974

Joined the chamber orchestra Laufental-Thierstein and is appointed concertmaster.

 

1975

The book “history of a small city” published in Laufen includes an article about Pražák by Albin Fringeli.

 

1976

First solo exhibition in Laufen.

 

1981

Translated the last major interview by Marcel Duchamp with Pierre Cabanne into Czech.

 

1982

Traveled in this as in subsequent years, several times to Italy.

 

1983

Elected to join the chairmanship of the Society of Arts and Sciences, Switzerland.

 

1984

Illustrated „Büchlein der Küsse“ by Jaroslav Seifert. On the occasion of the award ceremony of the Nobel Price to this Czech poet the book was exhibited in Stockholm together with works by Brabenec, Kolář, Kristofori and Trinkiewicz.

Nicole Ackermann became his student.

 

1985

Anna dies on 2nd November. She was laid to rest on the cemetery in Laufen in a free country. Her gravestone was decorated with Pražák’s angels, which she loved so much.

 

1986

First study trip with his student (to Venice). Over the years several educational journeys follow in Europe and Switzerland.

 

1989

Pražák became a Swiss citizen.

 

1990

Pražák wrote the essay “Nördliches Lächeln - Lucas Cranach der Ältere”, published by the newly founded Europäischer Kulturklub (EKK) in German and Czech. Co-founder of the EKK is Josef Císařovský.

 

1991

Pražák returned to Prague with “mixed emotions” for the first exhibition in his home country since 1969. The exhibition is staged at the Palast Palffy, organised by the “Europäischer Kulturklub”. Pražák donates the work “Hommage to Jiři Kolář” to the president Vaclav Havel. Yet the painting was not collected.

European Dialogues 91; 1st festival of the European Culture Club at the Museum Bochum, Germany. Pražák invited the German sculptor Helmut Gsöllpointner as dialogue partner.

 

1992

The documentary “Durchdringende Welten – Le peintre Cenek Prazak” is made by the Swiss National Television for the channel 3SAT, directed by the writer Anne Cuneo.

A comprehensive retrospective is realised in collaboration with ARCOS Art contemporain in Saint-Ursanne.

 

1993

The documentary Čenĕk Pražák is made for the Czech National Television, directed by Jiři Havrda.

 

1996

Čenĕk Pražák died on 13. October at the hospital in Laufen. He was laid to rest at the cemetery in Laufen, united with his beloved Anna.

Pražák in his studio 1980, Auf dem Chattel, Dittingen, Switzerland

Photograph: Ernst Scheidegger, Zurich

Pražák with his mother around 1916

František Tichý, Pražák's teacher and later co-worker

Pražák in his stuio in Prague 1965 (photo Bill Smith)

Book cover for Skořepa’s Orfeus, which was shown in the international exhibition „The Art of the Book Jacket“ at the Victoria and Albert Museum in London in 1946 for which he was awarded the third prize.

Pražák at his home in Prague, 1964

Pražák with his artist peers Zdeněk Palcr, Ladislav Dydek and Stanislav Podhrázský, around 1960

Pražák with his artist peers Zdeněk Palcr and Ladislav Dydek

Zdeněk Palcr, Ladislav Dydek, Zdeněk Čihák and Čeněk Pražák

Pražák at his studio, Prague, 1964

The orchestra Laufental-Thierstein at a concert in the St. Katharina Church in Laufen

Pražák playing his violin at an opening of an exhibition in Laufen (photo may have been taken in 1976)

Pražák's wife Anna Pražákova and artist Jiři Kolář, 1984

Pražák and his pupil Nicole Ackermann at her first solo show, gallery bel-étage, UBS, Basel, 1992

 

 

This photo was taken during a visit in the country outside Prague at the home of Jiři Havrda and family, ca. 1993.

 

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