In the first half of the 20th century, Vratislav Nechleba (1885–1965) – a student of Maxmilián Pirner and member of the Mánes Union of Fine Arts – was the most famous and sought-after painter of official portraits. He painted President T. G. Masaryk, the actor Eduard Vojan, the politician Karel Kramář and numerous wealthy merchants and industrialists. In addition, he created a large number of self-portraits and also produced genre scenes and still-lifes. His work was inspired by Rembrandt’s legacy in portrait painting, and as a conservative follower of the traditional values of Hynais, Ženíšek, Brožík and Schweiger, he was fiercely critical of modernism. It is in this spirit that he taught his students during his time at Prague’s Academy of Fine Arts, where he was a professor from 1918 to 1958 and served several terms as the school’s rector. Nechleba’s passionate support of historicism and his eccentric personality gradually led to his professional isolation. His work was looked down upon, he became the frequent target of criticism and his work was eventually almost completely forgotten.

The GASK collections contain seventy-five works by Nechleba, acquired as a gift from Anna Nechlebová. Many of the canvases are unfinished and some required restoration work that led to new discoveries.

In Study of a German Shepherd, a large part of the painting is missing, especially the face, which the artist himself – probably in a fit of emotion – painted over in short, energetic, broad brushstrokes. An art restoration survey discovered something unexpected. In the unfinished work’s underpainting, the survey identified an earlier portrait whose face is the same as the final image. Although we do not know the man’s identity, his likeness also appears in another of Nechleba’s paintings, Man in Hunting Gear.

Experts and the general public alike are confronted with several questions as to the genesis of both works, the relationship between both unfinished paintings, the artist’s relationship to his subject, and the reason why he never finished, dated, or signed the canvases.