Bohumil Lonek (1903-1998): Portrait of Rudolf Slánský (1901-1952), 1951
Oil on canvas (unfinished), 88 x 55 cm
Signed and dated LR: B. Lonek 51
Gift from a private collection, 1996
Rudolf Slánský, a founding member of the Communist Party of Czechoslovakia, lived through World War II in the Soviet Union. Having left for Moscow in 1938 when the Sudetenland was occupied, he was later sent as a delegate of the Communist Party to Slovakia in 1944, where he participated in the Slovak national uprising. Soon after the war’s end he became General Secretary of the Communist Party, and upon the communist’s seizing power in 1948, he was now the second most powerful man in the country after Klement Gottwald. He was 47 years old. He remained General Secretary until his arrest on November 23, 1951. At this moment not only was his fate sealed, but also the fate of those who stood accused with him in the show trial that ensued: Vladimír Clementis, Josef Frank, Ludvík Frejka, Bedřich Geminder, Artur London, Vavro Hajdů, Evžen Löbl, Rudolf Margolius, André Simone, Otto Fischl, Bedřich Reicin, Otto Šling, and Karel Šváb. Everyone received the death penalty save three, who received life sentences. The fate of Slánský’s portrait was also sealed, and it remained unfinished. On December 3, 1952, Rudolf Slánský was executed by hanging in Pankrác prison in Prague. Having suffered torture while in prison, he had made two unsuccessful attempts at taking his own life, and a petition for clemency made to President Gottwald had been rejected. His ashes, along with the ashes of those convicted with him, were dumped somewhere north of Prague. The trial on trumped-up charges of Trotskyism, Titoism, crimes against the Republic, and sabotage was held on Moscow’s directive. The majority of those accused were Jewish, and all were declared enemies of the people of Czechoslovakia and Zionist and bourgeois-nationalist traitors. Rudolf Slánský was posthumously rehabilitated in 1963.
A painter of landscapes and portraits, an illustrator and caricaturist, Bohumil Lonek (1903–1998) studied from 1922 to 1929 at Prague’s Academy of Fine Arts. Upon completing his studies he traveled to France. His brother, Jaroslav, a pilot and aviation engineer, was active in the anti-Nazi resistance, for which he was executed in the last year of the war. The elder of the two by three years, Bohumil was also imprisoned in 1944 and was in the Mauthasen concentration camp when liberation came a year later. While an inmate in the camp he produced more than 100 drawings and tiny watercolors with the most meager of means. These are among the most valuable artistic testimonies of camp life found in Czech art. His pen-and-ink drawings and watercolors were exhibited in 1946 at the J.R. Vilímek Gallery. Another exhibition of Lonek’s work was held in 1966 in Pardubice, and later at Prague’s Old Town Hall. The most comprehensive collection of Lonek’s wartime work is housed at the Terezín Memorial.