This exhibition marking the 200th anniversary of the birth of Charles Baudelaire explores the influence of the French poet’s life and work on Czech art from the late 19th century to the present day. The selected works reflect direct inspiration from Baudelaire’s writings as well as broader unconscious connections. The exhibition has been designed around several fundamental Baudelairean themes in a manner similar to his collection of poems The Flowers of Evil – the testimony of a man existing between light and darkness, seeking a path between God and Satan; the testimony of a poet who spent his entire life trying to distil beauty from evil.

Charles Baudelaire (1821–1867), who has often been called the first of the accursed poets, is today rightfully considered a founding father of modernism. He deeply admired the work of the painters Eugène Delacroix and Francisco Goya. He dedicated The Flowers of Evil to the poet Théophile Gautier, was the first to translate Edgar Allan Poe into French, and worshipped the musical compositions of Richard Wagner. Still during his lifetime, he inspired such artists as Gustave Courbet, Édouard Manet and Félicien Rops. 

In the final decade of the 19th century, the door was slowly opening for the Czech art scene to join European modernism. Czech authors’ and artists’ interest in the work of Charles Baudelaire had begun with the first translations of his poems in 1875, but his influence spread more widely with the approaching turn of the century. The era’s new understanding of artistic personality and individuality is associated primarily with the Decadent movement, whose representatives were driven into voluntary isolation by their contempt for society. Later, with Expressionism, this isolation led to complete exhaustion. Young artists, and later the members of Group 42, expressed their existence on the margins through paintings of the urban periphery. This existential crisis eventually made a dramatic impact with Czech informel art, in which many artists attempted, through violent interventions into the structure of the artistic material, to shout out the fear and anxiety that sprang from the political and social reality of their era. With the onset of Normalization, the Czech underground increasingly retreated into isolation. Feelings of vainness and ennui were later expressed by the punk movement as well. Images of progress and people’s sense of alienation in the city, the themes of death, personal tragedy, fear and evil, and the search for beauty in ugliness remain present in Czech art to this day.

The exhibition’s architectural layout follows a flaneur wandering the streets of 19th-century Paris with its many shop windows, passages and the stalls of the bouquinistes on the banks of the Seine. The arrangement of the works in each room (which among other things recalls the Parisian salons about which Baudelaire wrote important critiques) is meant to evoke something like standalone collections. The works are hung close to one another like the words and lines of a single poem. The tension between the individual works and the exhibition as a whole is brought to a head, with the visual onslaught arousing a sense of heaviness and a desire for emptiness. Melancholy sets in. Attempts at escaping into poetry, into the arms of love, into artificial paradises and back into the city streets. In the end, all that is left is loneliness amidst the crowd.

Kristýna Jirátová


Exhibited artists:
Jiří Balcar, Karel Balcar, Aubrey Beardsley, Maurice de Becque, Alex Beran, Jan Beran, Zdeněk Beran, František Bílek, Josef Bolf, Félix Bracquemond, August Brömse, Karel Černý, Karel Demel, Alén Diviš, František Drtikol, Tereza Eisnerová, Carlo Farnetti, Tony George-Roux, Martin Gerboc, Anna Grmelová, Joseph Hemard, Matouš Háša, Siegfried Herz, Karel Hlaváček, Adam Holý, Jaroslav Horejc, Oskar Hořánek, František Hudeček, Henry Chapront, Dalibor Chatrný, Édouard Chimot, Jakub Janovský, Václav Jirásek a Bratrstvo, Bohumil Kafka, Jan Koblasa, František Kobliha, Quido Kocian, Jiří Kolář, Běla Kolářová, Jan Konůpek, Svatopluk Klimeš, Bohumil Kubišta, Radoslav Kutra, Josef Liesler, Martin Mainer, Jarmila Malátová, Édouard Manet, Luděk Marold, Martin Mulač, František Muzika, Karel Myslbek, Pavel Nešleha, Karolína Netolická, Viktor Oliva, Pierre Pascal, Jiří Petrbok, Pavel Piekar, Ivan Pinkava, Emil Artur Pittermann-Longen, Viktor Pivovarov, Otto Placht, Jan Preisler, Armand Rassenfosse, Odilon Redon, Michael Rittstein, Félicien Rops, Martin Salajka, Artuš Scheiner, Zdeněk Sklenář, Václav Stratil, David Strauzz, Ladislav Šaloun, Jaroslav Šerých, Michal Škapa, Marek Škubal, Karel Špillar, František Štorm, Jan Štursa, Jindřich Štyrský, Max Švabinský, Jaroslav Šváb, Richard Teschner, Mark Ther, František Tichý, Benedikt Tolar, Antonín Tomalík, Félix Édouard Vallotton, Josef Váchal, Aleš Veselý, Karel Votlučka, Ondřej Vyhnánek, Jan Vytiska, Ján Zelinka, Karel Zlín