Robert Guttmann Gallery,
U Stare skoly 3, Prague 1
12 April - 19 June 2001
The Jewish Museum in Prague is opening its new exhibition venue, the
Robert Guttmann Gallery, with an exhibition of pictures by the popular
Prague painter Robert Guttmann. Following the Orlická Gallery exhibition
in the Rychnově nad Kněžnou Chateau in 1994, this is the largest exhibition
to date of the work of this famous naive artist from the First Republic.
This show features virtually all of Guttmann’s pictures from the collection
of the Jewish Museum in Prague, as well as numerous pictures and caricatures
of Guttmann by other artists, period photographs and documents which
the Museum has managed to collect over the years. The Museum would also
like to ask the public for help in its search for other pictures, sketches
and photographs of or by Robert Guttmann or any other material relating
to this artist.
Robert Guttmann was born on 22 April 1880 in Sušice, South
Bohemia. His paternal ancestors came from Central Bohemia and his mother’s
family, the Fischers, were from Moravia. Guttmann spent his childhood
in Sušice and attended primary school in Planá nad Lužnicí. He went
to secondary school in České Budějovice but after two troublesome years
was sent home to learn the family business. He preferred to roam around
the countryside, having loved flowers and animals (especially horses)
since his childhood. Because of his dreamy nature he became known as
“the village poet”.
Guttmann came to Prague in 1895, attending the Bergmann
Business School. Having developed a fine baritone voice he wanted to
become a cantor. As a keen athlete he also dreamt of being in the Olympics.
For several years he attended a private art school run by the landscape
painter Alois Kirnig. But
all these interests were pushed aside by Guttmann’s first encounter
with the burgeoning Jewish national movement which proved to be the
most important experience of his life. He went to lectures held by the
Maccabi Students’ Association (1893) and in 1896 read Herzl’s book ,
Der Judenstaat (The Jewish State). In 1897 he walked all the
way to the First Zionist Congress in Basle: “It was an exhilarating
march—sheer ecstasy! I was 17 years old at the time and the march took
14 and a half weeks. I had some money on me, but apart from that, I
sold my hand-painted postcards and mainly caricatures…”, he later recalled.
By 1925 he had visited most of the Zionist congresses in various cities
of Europe. But not everyone understood Guttmann’s devotion to the Zionist
movement: “The local [Prague] Jews repaid me with the worst gratitude
you can imagine... they told me not to appear in public as a Zionist
because that would only hurt the movement... As a result of the personal
animosity and antipathy I came across in Zionist circles I began to
focus more intensively on painting.”
In the inter-war period Guttmann was better known in Prague
for his distinct appearance than for his pictures. His opinions, photographs,
caricatures and reproductions were occasionally featured in a number
of Prague newspapers. In summer he would set out on long hikes to Zionist
Congresses abroad or would travel throughout the country on foot. He
often visited spa towns where he would sketch the guests or sell his
own caricatures. But he preferred to visit Zionist organizations in
Slovakia and traditional Jewish communities in Subcarpathian Ruthenia.
paintings are unconventional and unclassifiable, and therefore unsettling.
According to Dr. Arthur Heller, a Prague psychiatrist, they share similar
traits to the works of schizophrenics, children, primitive people and
certain Expressionists. They afford an insight into a secluded, sensitive
soul which was drawn to nature, to the integrity of childhood and to
a profound faith. Guttmann’s eccentricity and defiance may have been
a way of protecting his fragile, sensitive world from outside encroachment.
As an artist, he refused to be a mere reproducer of reality and defended
his right to his own creative self-expression. “I am completely independent
and happy that I have escaped the pedantry of the academic world and
that I am free to live and rage!”.
After the German occupation of Czechoslovakia, Guttman’s
lost the genial world in which he had been accustomed to live. He could
go only to the ‘Jewish’ Café Roxy in Dlouhá Street, but he
spent most of his time on his own in his tiny room where his newspaper
clippings and pictures reminded him of better times. His last paintings
(1939-41) were based on these memories, all in vivid bright colours;
apart from a few earlier pictures, these are the only ones to have survived.
On 16 October 1941 Guttmann was put on the first transport that left
Prague for the Lodz ghetto. Ghetto life must have been incomprehensible
and unbearable for such a globetrotter who had criss-crossed half of
Europe on foot. He became completely apathetic and silent. He just stared
into space with a hopeless, faraway look in his eyes, clutching his
folder in his arms. He died at Lodz on 12 March 1942.
Biography of Robert Guttmann
||Born in Sušice, Southern Bohemia (20 April).
||Attends a Czech school in Planá nad Lužnicí;
learns Hebrew and German at home.
||His family moves to Prague. Attends a business
school on his father’s wishes. Keen to become cantor in a Synagogue.
Active in sport.
||Discovers Theodor Herzl’s book , Der Judenstaat.
Participates in lectures and discussions at the Maccabi Club. Attends
an academy of art run by Alois Kirnig Makes a 102-day pilgrimage
on foot to the 1st Zionist Congress in Basle, selling hand-painted
postcards on the way. 1898 His father’s death prevents his participation
in the 2nd Zionist Congress in Basle.
||Co-founds a Czech branch of the ”Zion” association.
Visits the 3rd Zionist Congress in Basle.
||Participates in the 4th Zionist Congress in
||Participates in the 6th Zionist Congress in
||Participates in the 8th Zionist Congress in
The Hague. In the following years visits all Zionist Congresses
until 1925. Devotes himself to painting as the main source of income.
||A period of intense creativity, spending time
in his favourite Prague cafés and travelling. Makes further journeys
to France, Austria, Slovakia and Subcarpathian Ruthenia. Involved
in all events connected to the Zionist movement at home and abroad.
Becomes a popular subject for Prague newspapers and magazines due
to his unconventional life-style and appearance.
||Dedicates a series of his work to President
||Completes an allegorical honorary diploma for
President T.G.Masaryk . His wedding is announced in the Prague press.
Has disagreements with Prague Zionists. Devotes more time to painting.
Sends a donation for the opening of the Hebrew University in Jerusalem.
||Travels across Bohemia, Moravia and Slovakia.
||Lays a wreath on the grave of Charlotte G.Masaryk
; goes on a pilgrimage to Lány. On the occasion of the tenth anniversary
of the establishment of Czechoslovakia (28 October), his first complete
exhibition of artwork (40 oil paintings, water-colours and pastels)
is held with the support of Hugo Kalista at the Monopol Publishing
House on Charles Square
||Exhibition in Zikmund Reach’s second-hand bookshop
in Skořepka Street, Prague. The Jewish Community of Prague finds
him a permanent place in Lämml’s poor people’s shelter on Na Bojišti
||Travels through Germany, Netherlands, Belgium
||Arthur Heller publishes a monograph entitled
”Guttmann. Eine psychologische Studie über den Maler Robert Guttmann”,
||Spends time in U Karasů snack bar in Žižkov
where he sketches a number of pictures.
||(16 October) Put on the first transport (A)
from Prague to Lodz ghetto
||Dies of hunger in the Lodz ghetto (14 March)
Exhibition curator: Dr. Arno
Installation: Pavel Brach