Otto Gutfreund (3 August 1889 – 2 June 1927), Feather Strippers, 1922
bronze, height 33 cm
Provenance: a cast from an original plaster model which belonged to the pre-war collection of Dr. Emil Freund (1886-1942); cast acquired by the State Jewish Museum in Prague in 1971
Acc. no. 27.653/02
The 2nd of June of this year will mark the 80th anniversary of the tragic death of the most important Czech modernist sculptor Otto Gutfreund. Gutfreund was born into a Jewish family in Dvůr Králové on 3 August 1889, the fourth son of Karel and Emilie Gutfreund. After attending pottery school in Bechyně (1903–06), he moved on to the figurative and ornamental modelling department at the Prague Academy of Applied Arts (1906–09) and then to the Paris Académie de la Grand Chaumière with Antoine Bourdell. His first shows were held before the First World War as part of the exhibitions of the Fine Artists’ Group. During the first two years of the war he was engaged in battle in Alsace as a member of the Foreign Legion. In 1916, however, he was demobbed and spent the rest of the war in the Saint Michel de Frigolet and Blanzy internment camps. After his release in January 1919 he returned to the newly established Czechoslovakia. In Prague he became a member of the Mánes Fine Artists’ Group. He lived alternately in his home town of Dvůr Králové and in Prague, where he was regularly involved in Mánes exhibitions. In 1921 he took part in the third exhibition of the group Tvrdošíjní and gained numerous public commissions. In 1926 he was appointed professor at the Prague Academy of Applied Arts. One sultry afternoon, on 2 June 1927, he drowned whole swimming in the River Vltava near Shooter’s Island.
At the beginning of his career he was strongly influenced by Cubism, through which he gave a more distinct expression to his reliefs, free-standing sculptures and preparatory drawings, of which he made a great number during his life. After the end of the First World War and his return to what was then Czechoslovakia, he inclined towards the ideas of the New Objectivity movement and Social Civilism. This small sculpture of women stripping feathers is a good example of Gutfreund’s work from this period.