Jan Zrzavý (1890–1977), Still life with apples (detail), 1928
oil on canvas, 35 x 46.5 cm, estimate € 150,000 – 200,000
Geometry and composition, space and colour: Dorotheum’s Modern Art auction in June features paintings by Jan Zrzavý, Emil Filla, Václav Špála and Josef Šíma – some of the most eminent artists of the Czech interwar period.
Outstanding artworks from the Czech interwar period
The Modern Art auction in June this year includes seven outstanding artworks from the Czech interwar period. Artists such as Emil Filla, Jan Zrzavý and Josef Šíma have gained renown far beyond Czech borders; the growing interest in modern Czech art has increased attention at international auction houses over the past 15 years.
The seven paintings offered for sale include three pieces by Jan Zrzavý, two by Emil Filla, and one oil painting each by Václav Špála and Josef Šíma, all well-known figures in Czech art. Filla, a prominent exponent of Czech Cubism, was one of the leading artist personalities of his day. Jan Zrzavý’s œuvre, albeit related to Expressionism and Cubism, is as unique as he himself was in person. Josef Šíma’s fate and œuvre exemplifies Czechoslovak artists from the period between 1900 and the outbreak of the Second World War who felt connected to France both politically and artistically.
Jan Zrzavý’s compositions
The most important of the present seven paintings is Zrzavý’s “Stilllife with apples” (1928). The artfully minimalist arrangement is a beautiful example of the artist’s brilliant compositions, his talent for colour, and his masterful play with illusions of space and dimension.
Its counterpart is his second painting, “Stilllife with two vases” (1928). It is no coincidence that these two works were juxtaposed in Jan Zrzavý’s first major monograph: in contrast to “Stilllife with apples”, “Stilllife with two vases” finds the artist opting for the total abstraction of spatial dimensions and plasticity, questioning the spatial relation between individual objects of his interest.
Zrzavý’s work and impact
The history of both paintings reflects important milestones in Zrzavý’s work and impact. He collaborated with Otakar Štorch-Marien’s publishing house Aventinum, where the pieces were first exhibited at “The Aventinum Loft”. Both paintings also featured in a major 1940 retrospective as well as in exhibitions in the 1960s, when Zrzavý was no longer presented as an avant-garde pioneer but as one of a few surviving classical painters.
Significantly, both paintings share a page in Zrzavý’s 1941 monograph, a book published to accompany a show in the exhibition hall of the Prague Municipal House on the occasion of the artist’s 50th birthday. Eighty years later, the two paintings meet again in the pages of an auction catalogue.