Masters of Dreams. Symbolism in the Bohemian Lands 1880–1914

International Cultural Centre Gallery, Kraków
From May 7 until September 7, 2014
The exhibition will include over 200 pieces – paintings, prints, sculptures and books – from dozens of collections both public and private, many rarely accessed.

Although the works on display here are stylistically diverse, their common denominator is the desire to express inner emotions and spiritual and metaphysical messages. Intuition, irrationalism and the subconscious were key elements of the nascent symbolist current that was sweeping not only the visual arts but also the literature and music of the late 19th century. It emerged first in France and Belgium, but rapidly evolved into a Europe-wide movement that made a marked impression in the countries of Central Europe. A prime example of the reception accorded to this new phenomenon is the art of the Bohemian lands from this period.
The subjects addressed by these artists reflect the moods and world view of the age that shaped the theories of Schopenhauer, Nietzsche, Bergson and Freud. Dreams and myths, fairy-tale fantasy, death and ephemerality, birth and decline, love and eroticism are some of the recurring themes in works from this era. In many cases, artists also abandoned conventional representation in favour of a language of symbols, allusions and suggestion.
This exhibition will showcase works by several generations of artists. Among them are Maximilian Pirner and Beneš Knüpfer, who explore the theme of the mythological image, and Hanuš Schwaiger, who references the world of fairy tale and legend; there are sculptures and drawings by František Bílek; Art Nouveau compositions by Jan Preisler; and atmospheric works by Alfons Mucha, Max Švabinský, Jan Zrzavý, and Josef Váchal.
Aside from works by recognised and well-known artists, the show will also comprise rarely exhibited pieces by other, under-appreciated artists. As a pendant to the main body of exhibits there will also be a number of works by artists from among the country’s German minority, who played an active part in moulding the cultural landscape of the age. These include Ferdinand Staeger, Richard Teschner, and Richard Müller.
Prints and drawings, whose prestige as genres in their own right increased in the late 19th century, will be well represented in this exhibition. This was a time when artists began to appreciate the new potential for artistic expression that these techniques offered. Artists whose prints and drawings will be on display include Vojtěch Preissig and Karel Hlaváček. Another integral category of works on show will be a unique collection of books and periodicals (among them Moderní revue and Volné směry). There will even be a Polish accent, in the form of Czech translations of works by Stanisław Przybyszewski; literature played an important role in the development of Czech symbolism. Close links between many visual artists and the community of poets and writers were an important feature of the nascent current. The collection on display here is a superb example of the synthesis of literary text and book art.