Mánes Union of Fine Arts

Mánes Union of Fine Arts
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The Manes Association of Fine Artists (in Czech, Spolek výtvarných umělců Mánes or S.V.U. c; commonly abbreviated as Manes) was an artists' association and exhibition society founded in 1887 in Prague and named after the painter Josef Mánes.

The Manes was significant for its international exhibitions before and after World War I, which encouraged interaction between Czech artists and the foreign avant-garde, for its membership, and for its role in the development of Czech Cubism and Rondocubism. Between 1928 and 1930, Manes built a functionalist complex with a restaurant, club, showroom and offices at the site of the Štítkovský Mill and water tower on the Vltava. The architect of the 1928 Manes pavilion was Manes member Otakar Novotný.

The union was liquidated under the Communists and was revived after the Velvet Revolution in 1990. Headquarters of the organization is now the Diamond House in Prague, itself a landmark of cubist architecture.


Origins and Formative Years (1885-1899)

Svaz Výtvarných Umělců Mánes (Association of Fine Artists Mánes) was established in 1887 as a group of Bohemian artists in the Austria-Hungarian Empire. Its forerunner was an organization of Czech art students in Munich, an art center largely visited by Central and Eastern European art students. This group called themselves Škréta spolek (The Škréta Group) after a celebrated seventeenth century Bohemian painter Karel Škréta. The Škréta group, formed in 1885, became one of the largest communities of Czech students abroad. It had its own infrastructure and annual show. It had regular contact with the homeland and published own journal consisting of two separate books Paleta and Špachtle [Palette and Spatula]. This journal was circling the association only in one number at a time and all members had to contribute to it on weekly bases. Although they were patriots, their focus was mainly on German art scene. The group also accepted other Slavic students for their members. Already in Munich, the Škréta Group was thinking of a different name. They renamed the association to Svaz Výtvarných Umělců Mánes (Association of Fine Artists Mánes), after the Bohemian painter Josef Mánes, who lived and worked in the first half of the nineteenth century in Bohemia, Moravia and Germany, and who attended the Munich Art Academy. Many founding members of Škréta moved back to Prague in 1887, probably due to a reform that the Prague Art Academy underwent. They finished their studies there. After their departure from Munich, the Škréta Group was still going on for a while until its members Alfons Mucha and Luděk Marold left Munich for Paris.

The focus of the association between 1885 and 1899 was mainly on publication of the monthly journals Palette and Spatula. Palette was a journal of art and literature and Spatula was a satirical magazine. These first fourteen years were the most important for the future development of modern Czech art scene. SVU Mánes took under its wings not only painting and sculpture but also architecture. This notion also mirrored in their emblem of three shields representing painting, sculpture and architecture.

Goals of SVU Mánes during the formative years mainly based on old idea of patriotism with allegorical paintings from Czech past, but they soon focused on modern art and its influx in Bohemia.

One of the main differences from the neighboring secessionist groups such were Munich and Viennese Secession was in their constant fight against pan-Germanism of other Bohemian exhibiting societies in Czech. Difference from Polish secessionist group Sztuka was in SVU Mánes’ openness to international art scene.


SVU Mánes was a well-organized association with large membership (300 members between 1887 and 1899). It was a large organization for the Prague environment and for a secessionist group. Its first elected honorary president was Mikoláš Aleš, a painter and illustrator (Aleš illustrated Old Czech Manuscripts proclaimed by the critics as naïve, but SVU Mánes supported him and presented him with a diploma for a job well done). Aleš, twenty years older than the rest of the members, had strong leadership skills and ability for good organization. Along with a sculptor, principal patron and chief organizer of SVU Mánes Stanislav Sucharda they formed a strong lead. Editorial board was elected annually on democratic principles. The first most influential editors were painter Karel Vítězslav and painter and draughtsman Jan Preisler. Probably the most important role in SVU Mánes had František Xaver Šalda, a journalist and an art critic.

Important members

Sources of secession in Prague

Just like any other secessionist groups SVU Mánes succeeded against old and rigid system of art exhibiting, art politics in its area and pan-Germanism of art in Czech. Few events helped the patriotic SVU Mánes to achieve its success before their first exhibition in 1898. In chronological order:

  1. The first one was successful Jubilejní Výstava Jubilee Exposition in Prague in 1891 that included an art exhibition.
  2. In 1893 was established a student political party Omladina [The Youth] looking for autonomy from the Empire.
  3. Czech artists published a petition in general newspapers in the same year. They appealed on citizens to support Czech art by commissions and visitations of Czech art exhibitions.
  4. Year 1895 was fruitful for Bohemian patriots. At first, Manifest of Czech Modernism was published, signed mainly by writers and critics (F. X. Šalda was among them). It proclaimed its neutrality in politics and humanist ideals. They were interested in Czech past described as a hard work of patriots, in feminist issues, individualism everywhere even in politics. Josef Mánes was their great patriot.
  5. Also published, was a book by Tomaš Garigue-Masaryk (future first president of Czechoslovakia) Česká otázka [Czech Question] whose focus was nation’s evolvement based on humanist principles, solution of social problems and anti-Semitism. Masaryk paralleled Czech history with world’s historical evolution.
  6. First Czech art exhibition in Topič salon with promotional poster by Viktor Oliva that was also the first Bohemian poster exhibited internationally.
  7. In 1897, Rudolfínum (an equivalent to Parisian Salon) exhibited 950 works of art and received mocking reviews of tasteless installation, overcrowding its space with works of art.
  8. A year later Czech-German language decrees (attempt to recognize Czech as equal language to German) reached their height with victory for Czechs. Austrian government in Prague fell and nation became overjoyed with its triumph. This joy was also visible in an annual exhibition of German Art Union trying to exhibit a painting by Franz von Lenbach Theodor Mommsen. Mommsen was a German historian who Czech public viewed as a great chauvinist. The upheaval against this painting by the Czech audience caused the painting’s removal because of danger of destroying it. This was also followed by an appeal in newspapers for artists to leave the German Art Union and to boycott this show.

In 1898, SVU Mánes exhibits its first group show.

Important Exhibitions (chronological order)

(In 1897, SVU Mánes opened its first preliminary exhibition of competing posters. These were designed for its first exhibition for the following year.)

First exhibition was in1898 (February 5 to March 5) in Topič salon (a commercial gallery in the center) in Prague. With this exhibition, SVU Mánes proclaimed itself as a secessionist group. There were thirty participants of eighty members with dominance of landscapes in the first show. The installation was similar to that in Rudolfínum, but there were much fewer works selected on bases of quality.

Second exhibition was also in 1898 (November 3 to November 3) in the same location. Such artists exhibited fifty works as Joža Úprka, František Bílek, Zdenka Braunerová, Antonín Hudeček, Antonín Slavíček and others. With this exhibition, the members refused Rudolfínum as an exhibiting society, stood behind patriotism and autonomy of Czech art and stepped toward future own exhibiting building. The opening speech was by the chief organizer Stanislav Sucharda published in Volné směry [Free Currents] by Stanislav Kostka Neumann. This exhibition went up during the same time of preparation of the first exhibition of the Viennese Secession with which they had a competitive relationship. SVU Mánes show visited members of Viennese society who offered participation to few Czech painters to exhibit in Vienna. František Bílek agreed while Stanislav Sucharda refused under a condition of an autonomous Czech show in Vienna.

Since 1899, SVU Mánes organized traveling exhibitions in other towns of Bohemia and Moravia with primary goal of wider publicity.

In 1900 SVU Mánes exhibited in Viennese Künstlerhaus.

Also in 1900, SVU Mánes opened its third exhibition of sixty works in Topič salon. KU Ministerium supported this show. It toured Brno and Vienna, getting more credit on the home soil as a competitor to Rudolfínum than on Viennese soil, but it brought new audience and inclusion in international press. This exhibition was a great success partly due to previous exposure of Czech artists in Vienna and Rudolfínum. Among the exhibiting artists was Jan Preisler with his The Wind and Breeze, František Bílek who caused surprise and celebrated František Kupka. After this exhibition, Antonín Slavíček and Maxmilián Švabinský (The Poor Country) were invited to Miethke gallery in Vienna and Švabinský became the most reproducible and exportable Bohemian artist. For the first time, SVU Mánes’ exhibition had a designer in architect Jan Kotěra who focused on simplicity and purity with respect to painting, sculpture and prints. This differed from the over-crowdedness of Rudolfínum and over-ornamentation of Viennese Secession. Sculptures were not for decoration but they were installed as autonomous art works.

In 1902, SVU Mánes exhibited in Hagenbund, which became its frequent host.

After a visit to Parisian Exposition Universelle in 1900, Alfons Mucha and Josef Mařatka invited sculptor August Rodin to exhibit his works in Prague. This event took place in Manes’ new exhibiting building the Mánes Pavilion in 1902 designed by Jan Kotěra. He also designed the show. Kotěra took on an idea of Paradise with each sculpture displayed in its own space not competing with each other, with floors covered with gravel and shrubs completing the garden theme. This show utterly overshadowed Rudolfínum and SVU Mánes became prominent exhibiting body in Bohemia. The exhibition also gave rise of interest of Czech public to foreign art. Rodin influenced artists such were Stanislav Sucharda, Ladislav Šaloun and Bohumil Kafka. This show also had a political background of Czech intellectuals looking toward France appealing on French republicanism freedom of arts and aesthetic forms. Rodin showed eighty sculptures and seventy drawings. Mainly his sculptures of intimate body details, sexuality and psychological expression, was art that Prague has never seen before. He was taken as genius by artists and critics who appealed in Czech artists to follow his path but not by copying him but by looking to themselves. This exhibition had a further immense impact on Austria and Germany. After Prague, Rodin took some of his pieces to Vienna, traveling through Moravia accompanied by Mucha. Due to this show, Prague became an international exhibiting city and while some societies were competing with SVU Mánes within Prague other were looking to SVU Mánes for ideas.

Following Rodin’s exhibition, SVU Mánes had a retrospective show of contemporary French painting the Nabis who Czech artists knew since 1890s from their Parisian visits for their freedom of form and deliberate experiments.

After the Nabis, in the same year, exhibition of Mikolaš Aleš, Antonín Hudeček and French graphic arts was provided for the viewers in the Mánes Pavilion.

Last exhibition of this year was a visiting show in Krakow hosted by Sztuka. Among the 132 Czech artists who exhibited there, belonged František Bílek, Stanislav Sucharda, Bohumil Kafka, Ladislav Šaloun, Joža Úprka, Maxmilián Švabinský, Alois Kalvoda, Antonín Slavíček, František Kupka and others. They represented all trends in modern art in this survey of Bohemian art.

Similar exhibition also opened in 1903 in the Mánes Pavilion. It was also a survey of Czech art production of the members.

Following was a retrospective of Josef Mánes, the patron of the society, also in 1903. He was the only non-contemporary artist exhibiting in SVU Mánes.

Exhibition of Worpswede continued SVU Mánes’ interest in international art scene along with another show of Croatian contemporary art of Družstvo umjetnosti [Association of Art], both in the 1903.

Returning to the domestic art scene, SVU Mánes hosted a retrospective of Joža Úprka in 1904.

Also in the same year, SVU Mánes members had their first group show in their new building, followed by an exhibition of a group show of artists Antonín Slavíček, Bohumil Kafka, Josef Mařatka, Stanislav Sucharda and Ladislav Šaloun.

In 1905, SVU Mánes presented another international star in Prague. It was an exhibition of Edward Munch, which over some controversy from the public, had a great success and just like Rodin, the artists and critics also proclaimed Munch.

Following Munch show was another group exhibition in 1905, and after that an exhibition of T. F. Simon.

In winter of 1905-06, SVU Mánes hosted Danish artists.

Year 1906 brought exhibition of N. K. Roerich along with Francisco Goya, and another member show.

Following year exhibited Henri le Sidaner together with Louis Dejean. After that, French Impressionism occupied the Mánes Pavilion.

The year 1907 was important for members/architects who established Sdružení architektů Mánese [Association of Mánes’ Architects] that, a year later, began publishing of its journal Styl [Style] only concentrating of contemporary art and design.

At the turn of 1907 and 1908, English etchings arrived to Prague under the SVU Mánes’ umbrella.

Auguste Rodin together with Ludwig v. Hofmann exhibited in 1908, followed by SVU Mánes’ group show.

1909: Emile Bernard; E. A. Bourdelle; SVU Mánes’ group show.

1910: SVU Mánes’ group show of sketches; Les Independents; Antonín Slavíček; Axel Gellen-Kellela and Edward Munch; Swedish Art

Impact of Munch Show on Czech Art Scene and establishment of Osma

When in 1905 SVU Mánes presented Edward Munch to Prague, some audience was shocked however; this artist had an immense impact on the future development of modern art in Bohemia. There was no other show that divided the Czech artists as much as the Munch exhibition did. The artist community fell into two hostile camps. In 1907, eight art students formed a group called Osma [The Eight]. At this point of time, SVU Mánes was too provincial for them. F. X. Šalda was the only critic who agreed with the new generation describing Munch controversial, as the modern society is duality of human beings, conflict of individuals in the world. The main two members of Osma were Bohumil Kubišta and Emil Filla. Kubišta responded with Night of Love in 1908 and Filla with Reader of Dostoevsky in 1907. Jan Preisler was the only SVU Mánes member who responded to Munch with his painting Woman by a Lake, however after harsh criticism he abandoned this style. Criticism of Preisler’s work angered Osma even more.

Picasso and Braque’s Influence on SVU Mánes and establishment of Skupina výtvarných umělců

In 1912, SVU Mánes separated according to the Cubist art scene in Paris: Montmartre Cubism of Picasso and Braque, and Montparnasse Cubism with leading with leading protagonists Gleizese and Metzinger. The key followers of the Montmartre Cubism in Prague were artists Emil Filla and Otto Gutfreund, while the nucleus of the opposing camp was created around the Čapek brothers. The Bohemian Montparnasse Cubists combined Cubism with expressionism, some with futurism, orphism and rayonnism, while others concentrated on national or intense existential subject matters. The artists of the Montmartre Cubism established Skupina výtvarných umelců [Group of Artists]. This emancipation is similar to that of SVU Mánes’ in 1890s with Skupina trying to distinguish itself and to look for new possibilities.

Volné směry Journal [Free Currents]

Volné směry was a journal of SVU Mánes with its first publication in 1896. At its beginning, the association oriented its journal mainly toward literature, which was also a driving force behind the Czech secessionist movement. On its pages members of the association competed with each other, for the journal worked as a Gesamtkunstwerk [total work of art]. Next to the literary focus, the editors also included information about international and domestic art scene and art criticism.

From 1902, installation designs began to appear in the Volné směry. The journal competed mainly with Ver Sacrum of the Viennese Secession in its quality of content and form. At this point, its primary goal was promotion of Czech art along with introduction and commenting on international art scene.

Its funding came at first from its members, but later they were looking for patrons elsewhere.

Main editors were Vojtěch Preisler and Arnošt Hofbauer. Volné směry reached wide public, with coverage better than its main competitor journal Moderní revue [Modern Review]. Other competing journals in Czech at the time of Free Current's formative years were: L’ Art, L’ Art et industrie, Gazette des Beaux-Arts, Revue des Arts Decoratifs, La Plume, L’ Art et les artistes, The Art Amateur, Art Journal, Art Pictorial & Industrial, The Studio, Formenschatz, Dekorative Kunst, Die Kunst, Deutsche Kunst und Dekoration, Kunst und Handwerk, Skulpturenschatz, Zeitschrift für Bildende Kunst, Die Graphischen Kunste.

In 1897, in its second volume, a special issue was dedicated to regionalist painter Joža Úprka.

A year later, Jan Kotěra published an essay to appeal to Czech citizens to think for themselves when looking at art and architecture. He stated that Czech art and architecture should be Czech, with Czech form, using local materials and technologies. Form should reflect modern fast time and should not be mimesis of foreign art and architectural production. Kotěra used universal and pragmatic tone in his essay not providing a specific idea of the Czech form however, his essay was important for the time of its publication. Open debates in Volné směry and other journals were going on about planned destruction of Prague’s historical center.

In 1899, a special issue was dedicated to a symbolist sculptor František Bílek.

In the same year, Kotěra became one of the main editors of Volné směry and a professor of University of Architecture and Applied Arts in Prague. The architect Kotěra studied directly under Otto Wagner in Vienna.

At the turn of century, a special issue devoted to the Third SVU Mánes exhibition was also for the first time produced for Viennese audience.

The great Rodin show was accompanied by a special double-issue dedicated to the sculptor in 1901, a year before its opening.

By 1903, the journal established a comfortable position financially with approximately 1800 subscribing readers.

Mánes Pavilion

In 1902 Jan Kotěra designed the Mánes Pavilion for the upcoming exhibition of August Rodin. It was supposed to be only a temporary building and SVU Mánes erected it in four weeks. The pavilion was functional and flexible built only for purposes of art shows. Lit from the top, it had movable walls and Karel Špillar adorned it with patriotic Slavic wooden lintel and allegorical mosaic. Although built only for this one show, Manes used it until 1914. Its location was near the city center, close to a space where Prague officials wanted to build Modern Gallery.


  • Clegg, Elizabeth. Art, Design & Architecture in Central Europe 1890-1920. New Haven and London: Yale University Press, 2006.
  • Krzysztofowics-Kozakowska, Stefania. “ Sztuka – Weiner Secession – Manes. The Central European Art Triangle.” Artibus et Historiae 53 (2006): 217-259.
  • Lahoda, Vojtech, Mahulena Neslehova, Marie Platovska, Rostislav Svacha and Lenka Bydzovska, eds. Dejiny ceskeho vytvarneho umeni (IV/1, IV/2) 1890-1938. Prague: Ustav dejin umeni AV CR Academia, 1998.

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