Cubism, one of the first avant-garde movements in Europe, which drew its inspiration mainly from natural science and from the theories of perception, found an outstandingly fruitful territory in the Czech lands, in the years before WWI.
Here, artists grouped in the Manés Association of Fine Artists, established in 1887 in Prague, on the model of Wiener Werkstätte- the famous Viennese artistic enterprise aimed at imposing the value of craftsmanship in everyday life objects, sought to tap into the avant-garde language in order to proclaim an original style which would extend to all domains of living, from pottery, metalware, and glass to furniture and architecture.
The most prominent members of this group were Josef Gočár, Pavel Janák, František Kysela, Otakar Novotný, and Josef Chochol. They exceeded in designing objects for the interior, including armchairs, sofas, tables, nightstands, chests, but also watches and mirrors, to such an extent that the Czech art industry presented a Cubist interior in the smallest details with the occasion of the Werbund Exhibition in Cologne (1914).
Cubism, which found in the Czech lands proponents in architecture and painting alike, reached a remarkable development in pottery and furniture making*. Prague Art Workshop was an enterprise established by Gočár and Janák that specialised in furniture production, mainly for members of the artistic circles and Prague’s upper bourgeoisie. Indeed, these objects were regarded as works of art per se, on an equal pair with paintings and sculpture, hence they featured in art exhibitions, as well.
Cubism puts a lot of emphasis on geometric shapes, so it was not a coincidence that Czech artists would find it attractive, provided that this style allowed them to exploit the crystalline shapes to the maximum (the reader may know that, since late medieval time-16th century-Czech lands, particularly Bohemia, have been renown for their crystal production). To this, it should be added that, in contrast to glass manufacture and architecture*, furniture, pottery and metalware were easier to design in such way to answer to the dilemma of volume rendition in spatial relations, in other words, to comply to Cubism’s set of principles.
The remarkable fact is that the Czech artists involved in the creation of Cubist design transgressed the dogma of the style, enriching it with new theories, ideas and perspectives to the point in which, following the birth of The Czechoslovak Republic, it became a national style.
Accordingly, Gočár shifted from crystalline and pyramidal forms to cylindric and circular forms, paralleled by the creative approach of the volume in the sense of representing it in a monumental decorative style typical to previous artistic languages. This approach would be known as Rondocubism.
Janák distanced himself from the orthodox Cubist stress on horizontal and vertical lines, and emphasised the originality of diagonal lines, thus conceiving objects in a pronounced orthogonal shape. He will further enrich his finding with elements borrowed from folk art.
Kysela had an outstanding role in blending crystal/geometric shapes, so dear to Cubists, with floral patterns, which were typical to vernacular art.
All these contributions served as artistic identity to the newly established Czechoslovak Republic, suggesting the major cultural influences involved in the new political reality (the stress on rationalism, as represented by the democratic, all-inclusive regime forged on older traditions of the Slavic communities, existing in the rural areas).
*In this article, we are focusing particularly on the latter.
*Textiles were items of design in which Cubist principles could not find application.
Resources> materials (flyers and posters) existing in the Czech Cubism Exhibition in The House of Black Madonna in Prague.
http://www.czkubismus.cz/en/ (accessed on 03.01.2022)