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In the last quarter of 2007, the Jewish Museum in Prague prepared an exhibition on the life and work of Friedrich Feigl, who was one of the first Czech modern artists. The Museum also organized and supported a number of other events, the most important of which are described below. This newsletter also provides details of the Museum’s new acquisitions and new publications.
Friedrich Feigl paintings at the Robert Guttmann Gallery
The 31st of October saw the opening in the Robert Guttmann Gallery of the exhibition Friedrich Feigl (1884–1965). Paintings, Drawings and Graphic Art. Feigl studied at the Prague Academy and in 1907 founded Osma [“Eight”] with his fellow students, including Emil Filla, Bohumil Kubišta, Arnošt Procházka and Willi Nowak – a group that marked the beginning of modern art in the Czech lands. He lived mainly in Berlin between 1910 and 1933. After Hitler's coming to power, Feigl returned to Prague but was soon compelled to emigrate again, this time to London. Although he was one of the founders of Czech modern art, his work remains virtually unknown in the Czech Republic. The show at the Robert Guttmann Gallery (closing on the 20th of January 2008) marks the 100th anniversary of the Osma’s first exhibition and the 70th anniversary of Feigl’s last exhibition in Prague.
The exhibition curator Arno Pařík responds to a few questions about the life and work of Friedrich Feigl below.
Why is Feigl’s work little known today in the Czech Republic? Is it because Feigl spent most of his life abroad?
Only to a certain extent. As with many other Jewish artists, a connection should be sought with his fate during the Second World War. Feigl regularly exhibited and often travelled in Prague in the 1920s and 1930s, returning there for good in 1933, but subsequent events completely changed his situation. He and his wife managed to escape the Nazis by getting to London at the last minute in April 1939. His two sisters and his eldest brother Karel with his family and other relatives were soon deported to Terezín and then sent to Riga, where they all perished. Feigl’s paintings from Jewish collections in Prague were confiscated and many of them were destroyed during the war. For these reasons it is clear why Feigl did not return to Prague.
As a ‘German artist’ and, moreover, an emigrant, there was no interest in Feigl after 1948 in Czechoslovakia. During the Communist regime, his work was hardly ever shown, nothing was written about him, nobody dealt with his oeuvre, and one-man shows or monographs were out of the question. It is no surprise, then, that Feigl’s work remains practically unknown in the Czech Republic, even though a relatively large number of his pre-war paintings are in Czech collections.
How did Feigl’s style develop from the time of Osma’s first show?
Feigl was always referred to as an expressionist in the context of his generation. His expressive style came to the fore mainly in his graphic art from the early 1920s, as in the lithographic series The Prague Ghetto. In December 1932 Feigl left for Palestine, where he painted in the Jerusalem area. The Jewish memorial sites and their present-day life left a deep impression on him, helping to loosen up and animate his painting style, as can be seen in his gouaches and watercolours from the following years. He returned from the Holy Land to Prague with a series of finished paintings and a number of gouaches, watercolours and sketches whose motifs were never to disappear entirely from his subsequent work. Feigl’s return to the Jewish tradition was also apparent in his many paintings with biblical themes. Shortly before leaving Prague, his loose painterly style culminated in a series of landscape compositions. In post-war England, Feigl’s style changed once again, losing some of its expressivity and focusing more attention on figural motifs.
Which of the works exhibited in Prague are of particular interest?
An important work is Feigl’s portrait of his niece Marion, which he made shortly before emigrating. Ten years old at the time, Marion was one of the hundreds of children rescued by the efforts of Sir Nicholas Winton, who arranged for their departure to England. Marion now lives in New York and, as the last descendant of the Feigl family, has kindly donated to the Jewish Museum photographs, old catalogues and rare documents relating to her uncle Friedrich. This material will hopefully lead to a better understanding of the artist's life and work.
Among the important works at the exhibition is a very early self-portrait from 1905, which shows that Feigl was an outstanding painter from the very beginning of his career. Also of note is a group of prints from the early 1920s, mostly with biblical themes, which shows that he was also an exceptional graphic artist and illustrator. A completely unknown aspect of his work is revealed by a group of sketches and gouaches from Jerusalem, which I mentioned earlier. Also surprising are Feigl’s paintings with Prague themes, of which he made a whole series. These works reveal his intimate connection with Prague, whose atmosphere he managed to capture effectively and faithfully in his gouaches and paintings. His final Prague period saw a considerable loosening up of his painting style, often using thick layers of paint and vigorous brush strokes that project the painting into the external space. A dramatic affect holds sway over the depicted figures and the entire scene and atmosphere, suggestive of some mystic event beyond the realm of reality.
Illuminated Synesthetic Symphonies at the Education and Culture Centre in Prague
Between the 18th of October and the 20th of December, the Education and Culture Centre in Prague hosted an exhibition of the U.S. artist and neurosurgeon Nathan Chaim Moskowitz, entitled Illuminated Synesthetic Symphonies. In his paintings, Moskowitz seeks to convey the supernatural message of the Hebrew Bible, the Tanakh. Seemingly disparate biblical stories that take place at different times and in different places are combined in a single image and placed alongside each other in an infinite presence. This exhibition provided a surprising interpretation of biblical texts, as well as an untraditional take on Judaism.
Under the Jewish Hat exhibition in the Brno office of the Education and Culture Centre
In association with the elementary school for the physically challenged in Kociánka Street, Brno, the Brno office of the Education and Culture Centre prepared an exhibition entitled Under the Jewish Hat in December. This featured drawings and paintings by children from the school, conveying their impressions of Jewish traditions and customs and of the Shoah, which they had learnt about from the beginning of the school year.
CONCERTS AT THE SPANISH SYNAGOGUE
Concert for the 63rd anniversary of the transport of artists from Terezín to Birkenau
On the 16th of October, the Terezin International Music Centre, in association with the Jewish Museum in Prague, held a concert at the Spanish Synagogue to commemorate the 63rd anniversary of the transport of Jewish artists from the Terezín ghetto to the Auschwitz-Birkenau death camp. 1,500 people were deported on this train in 1944, including a number of prominent musicians, such as Hans Krása, Gideon Klein, Viktor Ullmann and Pavel Haas; only 110 lived to see the end of the war. In memory of the murdered artists, works by Franz Shubert, Bohuslav Martinů, Zikmund Schul, Gideon Klein and Ludwig van Beethoven were performed by the Ad Libitum String Trio at the Spanish Synagogue.
Songs between Córdoba and Mukachevo
As part of the third year of the series The Unknown Music of Prague Synagogues, a concert entitled Songs between Córdoba and Mukachevo was held in the Spanish Synagogue on the 24th of November. This concert was prepared by the Liberal Jewish Community Bejt Simcha in association with the Jewish Museum in Prague. Songs from the Ashkenazi areas were featured by Cantor Michal Foršt and the Prague Philharmonic Male Quartet, while Medieval Sephardic songs were performed by Musica ad Tabulam. The concert was also supported by the City of Prague.
ABOUT PRAGUE ABOVE PRAGUE
The Jewish Museum’s library took part in the About Prague Above Prague event, which launched the 11th Library Week (1–7 October 2007) held by the Association of Library and Information Professionals of the Czech Republic. On the first of October, readings of texts that have a connection to Prague were read in eleven towers at selected Prague sites. In the afternoon, passages from Alois Hofman and Renata Heuerová's book about the Jewish ghetto were read in the tower of the Old Town Hall.
CONFERENCE ON VIKTOR FISCHL
On the 18th of October, the University of Hradec Králové’s Faculty of Humanities and the University of Pardubice’s Philosophy Faculty held a conference, entitled Viktor Fischl – The Story of Czech Jews in the Twentieth Century. Held at the Museum of Eastern Bohemia in Hradec Králové, this conference focused not only on the distinguished Czech and Israeli writer and diplomat Viktor Fischl (1912–2006) but also on the fate of Czech Jews in the course of the twentieth century. It was held under the auspices of various figures, including the Director of the Jewish Museum in Prague.
UNVEILING OF A MEMORIAL PLAQUE TO PAVEL TIGRID
A memorial plaque to Pavel Tigrid (1917–2003) was unveiled in the Josefov district of Prague on the 25th of October. Pavel Tigrid (originally Pavel Schönfeld) was born in Prague and spent the Second World War in exile in London, where he worked as a BBC editor for the broadcasts of the Czechoslovak government in exile. After the Communist takeover in 1948, Tigrid left his country once again and contributed to the establishment of one of the most acclaimed Czech periodicals in exile Svědectví [Testimony]. After the collapse of the Communist regime, he returned to his country, where he became the Minister of Culture and an advisor to Václav Havel. He played an important role in ensuring that the then State Jewish Museum was returned to the Czech Jewish community. The memorial plaque was unveiled on the occasion of what would have been Tigrid’s 90th birthday and is located in the street (U Starého hřbitova 3) where he lived from 1993 until his death in 2003. The plaque was executed by the Academy-trained sculptor Michal Vitanovský.
The unveiling ceremony was organized by the Jewish Museum in Prague in association with the Jewish Community in Prague and Economia Publishing House. It was attended by the Czech President Václav Klaus, the former Czech President Václav Havel, the Minister of Culture Václav Jehlička, the Mayor of Prague Pavel Bém, the Mayor of the Prague 1 Borough Petr Hejma and the Director of the Jewish Museum in Prague Leo Pavlát. Pavel Tigrid’s wife Ivana Tigridová gave a few words at the end of the ceremony.
TOGETHER AGAINST NEO-NAZISM
On the 10th of November, three memorial gatherings were held in Prague for the victims of the pogrom that was unleashed by the Nazis in Germany on the night of the 9th and 10th of November 1938. Known as the Night of Broken Glass, this pogrom was a major turning point in the Nazis' anti-Jewish policy, which in the end led to an attempt to completely wipe out the Jews. All three memorial gatherings were held in protest against the Neo-Nazi march through the Jewish Town that had been planned for the anniversary of this tragic event. For the religious gathering held by the Jewish Community in Prague, the Jewish Museum in Prague arranged for the printing of brochures with detailed information on the background to the Night of Broken Glass. The text was prepared by the Terezín Initiative Institute. The Jewish Museum also financially contributed to a concert and video screening, which was organized by the Tolerance and Civic Society Association to mark the end of this commemorative day.
NEW AID FOR TEACHING ABOUT THE HOLOCAUST
The People in Need society has prepared a new aid for teaching high school students about the Holocaust – a CD-ROM that seeks to highlight the issues of the Shoah and xenophobia through music. It features a video by the band The Tchendos for the song I Can’t Understand. Including snippets from an interview with Anna Hyndráková-Kovanicová, who survived several concentration camps, the video merges footage from the Second World War with recordings from recent Neo-Nazi events. The Jewish Museum’s Education and Culture Centre also contributed to the making of the video. In addition, the CD-ROM contains texts for teachers, as well as a recommended bibliography and website links. This is the first part of a multicultural education project, entitled Can I Understand?, which seeks to highlight the possible causes and consequences of intolerance by focusing on the topic of the Holocaust. Other important projects with a similar focus include the Neighbours who Disappeared project, which was launched by the Jewish Museum in 1999 and is still developing.
At the end of the traditional Jewish wedding ceremony, it is customary for the newly weds to break a glass or ceramic plate as a reminder of the destruction of the Temple of Jerusalem. The married couple usually keep two shards as a keepsake to be worn around the neck as pendants. Such personal items are hard to distinguish without additional information, which is why they hardly ever appear in specialist collections. The Jewish Museum was recently donated two such wedding pendants – porcelain shards set in a gold frame with a handle and an engraved inscription of the names of the husband and wife (Fritz and Irma) and the wedding date (28 February 1926) on the back. All that is known of the original owners is that they perished during the Second World War. Both of these items substantially enrich the Museum’s collection.
Torah binder returned to the Museum
In December the Kingston, Surbiton & District Synagogue returned a Torah binder to the collec-tions of the Jewish Museum in Prague. This item was sent to the UK during the Communist Regime in 1964, when the Westminster Synagogue in London acquired via the state-owned Artia corporation the vast majority of Torah scrolls from what was then the State Jewish Museum in Prague. Through an oversight, some Torah scrolls were sent together with binders, which split up the Museum’s collection of Torah binders: about 2,000 of them remained in Prague, while about 400 were sent to London. The Westminster Synagogue distributes these Czech scrolls, on permanent loan, to Jewish congregations throughout the world. Some have been handed over along with binders. Thanks to the Jewish Museum’s long-term and friendly collaboration with Kingston, Surbiton & District Synagogue and its representative David Lawson, one of these Torah binders has now returned to Prague after all these years.
Jewish Customs and Traditions in German
At the end of the year, the Jewish Museum published a German guidebook to the exhibition in the Klausen Synagogue and the Ceremonial Hall, entitled Jewish Customs and Traditions. With numerous colour photographs of items on display, this guide focuses on the synagogue, Jewish festivals, everyday Jewish family life and the activities of the Burial Society. It has already been published in Czech, English and French. The guidebooks to the exhibitions in the Maisel and Spanish Synagogues, which focus on the history of the Jews in Bohemia and Moravia, can also be purchased in the Museum’s stores or online at www.jewishmuseum.cz. These catalogues are all richly illustrated and are available in Czech, English, French and German. A Spanish version is currently under preparation.
Jews in Bohemia proceedings
The Jewish Museum in Prague has recently published Jews in Bohemia, the proceedings from a seminar of October 2006 in Liberec, which it organized with the Museum of Northern Bohemia. The papers focus on the twentieth century history of the Jews in Bohemia and on research into the history of Jewish communities in the area occupied by Nazi Germany in 1938. The first part of the proceedings includes chronological studies on topics from the First World War period through to the end of the 1950s; the second part contains articles with a regional focus. The final paper deals with the Jewish history of Liberec.
Her Excellency the Right Honourable Michaëlle Jean, Governor General of Canada
Delegates of the Wealth and Giving Forum, thefinancial supporter of this year’s Forum 2000.