EMIL FILLA (1882–1953)

Date: 30.05.2007 - 31.10.2007

Prague Castle Riding School

The retrospective exhibition of the work of Emil Filla is held under the auspices of the President of the Czech Republic, Mr. Václav Klaus.

This retrospective exhibition of the oeuvre of Emil Filla provides the first comprehensive survey of the lifelong work of one of the most important figures of Czech art during the first half of the 20th century.

Emil Filla was born April 4, 1882, in the town of Chropyně in the Haná region. He studied at the Prague Fine Arts Academy under the professors Franz Thiele and Vlaho Bukovac. Among the formative experiences that nurtured his creative profile and his work were the seminal exhibition of Edvard Munch held in Prague in 1905 and Filla’s own continuous contact both as a painter and theoretician of art with a wide range of Classical and Modern European art. A key event in the history of Czech modern art was Filla’s subsequent role in the preparation and presentation of paintings at the exhibitions of the artistic group The Eight in the years 1907 and 1908. As the leading talent of the younger generation, he was in 1909 accepted as a member of the Mánes Association of Artists (SVU Mánes), and of the editorial board of the Association’s magazine, Volné směry. A common feature of his work in the painting medium between the years 1905–1910 was a search for a modern form of expression in terms of lyricism of color and dynamic brushwork. Filla’s work as a whole formed itself from the very beginning within the context of a critical reflection on art, based on early Modernist research in the field of art history. His ability to see the issues surrounding Modern art in a broader context lead the painter to clarify his views through the study of paintings presented at most major European exhibitions as well as in the primary collections. In the years 1906-1910 he traveled to Germany, Holland, Belgium, France and Italy. After 1911 his interest in European art shifted predominantly to Paris. Together with other Czech artists, he recognized the revolutionary significance of the Cubism of Picasso and Braque as providing a comprehensive concept within Modern art. Together with Otto Gutfreund, Filla evolved into an artist with the ability to congenially elaborate on the poetic of Cubism in the works of both its analytic and synthetic phases. He was also involved in the promotion of Cubism in terms of the evolution of Czech Modernism as an organizer. He was a founding member of the Group of Visual Artists, and also served as editor of the Artistic Monthly. The eruption of the First World War found Filla in Paris, from where he then relocated to spend more than six years in the Netherlands. There he became one of the most respected figures of the international artistic avant-garde. He participated in the cultural life of the day also through his political activities, taking an active part in the Czech exile resistance. He was also a co-publisher of the anti-war magazine Michel im Sumpf. He studied classical Dutch painting, and reassessed the poetics of Cubism in a number of his works in the still life. After returning to Prague in 1920, he became intensely involved in the local artistic and cultural scene. He rejoined the Mánes Association, and became one of its leading figures during the 1920s and 1930s.            

In his work as a painter, graphic artist and sculptor, he elaborated on the revelations of Cubism, which he brought up to date with new theoretical research, but above all with new formal approaches influenced by both the trend towards abstraction and the poetics found in Picasso’s rendering of Surrealism. In the early 1930s, Filla’s work entered a new phase, again evincing a tendency towards Expressionism, which in the cycles of Fights and Struggles and Songs and Ballads was anchored in a Humanist attitude, something as relevant as ever to the political atmosphere on the eve of the occupation of Czechoslovakia and the outbreak of the Second World War. As one of the most eminent figures of a free and democratic Czechoslovakia, he was arrested and interned in German prisons and eventually the concentration camp in Buchenwald. After the liberation of the camp and a period of convalescence, he continued in his work. In 1945 he was appointed professor at the Academy of Arts, Architecture and Design. One of the honors bestowed on him was that he was given free use of one wing at the Château in Peruc in 1947. Yet the political upheavals and contradictions after the Communist coup of 1948 threw Filla into a new period of adversity and hardship, from which he sought an escape by employing realist motifs in his landscape work, now combined with an effort to reassess the influences of Chinese painting on European art. This chapter of Filla’s work remained unfinished. He died on October 6, 1953 in Prague.

The current exhibition provides a survey of the evolution and metamorphoses of Filla’s work through various stylistically differentiated phases. A new emphasis is placed on work from the artist’s Cubist period, and above all on a full appreciation of the conceptual components of Filla’s creativity, particularly as it found expression in his collages, as well as presenting an attempt to comprehend the tendencies in which after the mid-1930s Filla reassessed Cubism on the path to a new form of expression. In keeping with the adulation that Filla won as an outstanding colorist and painter par excellence, the exhibition also provides impulses for rethinking the profile of the type of Czech Modernist art, for rethinking the main themes of the figure and still life in the context of Filla’s attempt at a new codification of the norms of Modernist culture, as based on the Humanist tradition. The significance of Filla’s work is also outlined in the exhibition by presenting works by several of Filla’s many students, who in their diverse styles were also able to revaluate some of the possibilities of Filla’s creative legacy. 

Tomáš Vlček

The reprise of the exhibition Emil Filla (1882–1953) will be held at the Museum of Fine Art in Olomouc - November 29, 2007 – February 17, 2008

Open: daily (including Mondays) 10 a.m. – 6 p.m.

Entrance Fee
Full price 140 CZK, reduced 70 CZK, families 210 CZK, Registration fee 10 CZK
School groups 20 CZK per person

Attention: National Gallery free entrance days do not apply to the exhibition Emil Filla (1882–1953)

Prague Castle Riding School
Praha 1 - Hrad; telephone: 224 373 368


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