The Obecni Dum, or Municipal House, on the square Namesti Republiky is not only a stunning example of art nouveau architecture, but also an important venue for Czech art exhibitions. It is currently exhibiting the drawings of early 20th century Czech sculptor Otto Gutfreund. The drawings are on loan from the Moravian Gallery in Brno, which has been collecting the sculptor's drawings over the past few decades. The drawings, in conjunction with excerpts from the sculptor's diary, provide illumination into the methods of this internationally renowned artist.
So just who is Otto Gutfreund? Born in the small town of Dvur Kralove nad Labem in 1889, he attended the College of Applied Arts here in Prague. His initial works were influenced by his art-nouveau and naturalist education but an encounter with the work of French sculptor Antoine Bourdelle brought him to Paris and forever altered his style and approach to art. I had the opportunity to ask Marek Pokorny, the director of the Moravian Gallery in Brno, more about this acclaimed sculptor.
"Otto Gutfreund is one of the founders of Czech modern art -he is a representative of the school of Cubism which had a big impact on the Czech art world. He was influenced by the early stages of Cubism - around 1913, 1914 -. He spent some time in Paris so that he benefited from direct contact with the French school of Cubism. On his return to Prague after the war he became one of the leading representatives of that school in the Czech Republic. His work influenced the face of many of our towns and cities. In many ways he is an important figure in the Czech art world."
It's interesting that this exhibition focuses primarily on his drawings, especially since he was chiefly a sculptor. What's the importance of these drawings in relation to this other work?
"That [the drawing] is an independent part of his art- these are sketches of some of his sculptures as they took shape. You can see that in many of them he plays with shape and space to find just the effect he wants. The sketches show how the sculptures were created - step by step from the moment he was inspired to make them. It is an analytical part of his work - of the sculptures that he created."
The drawings on display chronicle Guttfreund's steady transition from expressionist forms to the cubist style he became associated with by his death in 1927 at the young age of 38. Images of faces and bodies as interpreted through Guttfreund's cubist lens pepper the exhibition, as do angled still lifes and expressionistic nudes.
Vanda Skalova, who's in charge of organizing exhibitions at the Obecni Dum told me why they chose to showcase Gutfreund's work.
"This exhibition premiered in the Moravian Gallery and because the Municipal House aims to present to the public the work of leading representatives of Czech modern art we asked our colleagues at the Moravian Gallery to organize a slightly broader exhibition of his work at the Municipal House."
The Gutfreund exhibition began on the 28th of June and will continue until the 17th of September.