|Robert Guttmann - Painter and Traveller of Prague
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.
Guttmann’s 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
||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
||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
||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 T.G.Masaryk.
||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 Street.
||Travels through Germany, Netherlands, Belgium
||Arthur Heller publishes a monograph entitled
”Guttmann. Eine psychologische Studie über den Maler Robert
Guttmann”, Litevna, Prague.
||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 Parik
Installation: Pavel Brach