Joža Uprka (1861-1940) - European of the Slovácko Region
The Moravian Slovakia Foundation
Born 150 years ago, the artist Joža Uprka devoted his entire life to depicting everyday activities of his native Moravian Slovakia. To mark this anniversary, the Wallenstein Riding School hosts an exhibition that commemorates the work of Joža Uprka, with the aim of casting new light on the artist's oeuvre.
A born draughtsman, painter and graphic artist, Joža Uprka combined in his works a knowledge of the late 19th-century innovative style of painting with the long tradition of folk art in his native Moravian Slovakia (Slovácko). The hundreds of paintings, watercolours and drawings are infused with immense dedication, passion and an intimate acquaintance with the environment. Owing to his strong bond to the country he grew up in, Uprka created canvases which, in the words of Professor Václav Vilém Štech, convey "highly authentic glimpses of the life of the region, its people and their natural circumstances." His animated paintings have thus preserved the region's visual specificities for future generations.
However, the work of Joža Uprka is recognized for other reasons as well. In 1892-1893, he lived in Paris, which had a major impact on his creative thinking. Like the Impressionist painters of the time (with whom he was sometimes aligned in the Czech lands), he, too, contemplated matters such as light and the effects of pure colour in painting. Contrary to the period tendencies in art, he drew the colour scheme of his pictures directly from his native Slovácko. In the mid-1890s, Uprka embraced a luminous colour palette and, above all, the colour spot concept that endowed his paintings with a feeling of airiness and transparency. During the mature stage of his career, Uprka achieved a harmony between the objective and subjective elements in his work, as he combined descriptive brushwork with his own impression, arriving at a balanced composition.
Joža Uprka was born in 1861 in the village of Kněždub, in the centre of Slovácko. He received his art training at the Academies in Prague (1881-1884, professors Čermák and Lhota) and Munich (1884-1887, professors Gysis and Seitz). After returning from Munich, he completed two more semesters at the Prague Academy (1887-1888, professor Pirner). Shortly afterwards, he decided to settle permanently in Slovácko.
The 1890s and the first decade of the 20th century marked Joža Uprka's most prolific and intensive years in his professional and private life. In 1894, he received an Honourable Mention for his painting Pilgrimage to St. Anthony at the Paris Salon de la Société des artistes français. Later on, he travelled all over the Slovácko region, painting, exhibiting and selling his works. He became involved in the activities of various Moravian societies, an endeavour that culminated in the founding of the Association of Moravian Fine Artists, a grouping he presided over as its first chairman. He befriended and collaborated with a great many Moravian artists, among them the Mrštík brothers and architect Dušan Jurkovič. His astounding diligence is well apparent in his works of this creative period: he painted images with "social" themes and studies of individual types of local inhabitants at work (grass cutters, gravellers, readers, musicians) or during festivities, as well as large figural compositions (pilgrimages and feasts).
The exhibition mounted at the Wallenstein Riding School is divided into sections according to the themes characteristic of Uprka's creative output. In a way, Uprka himself provided the key motto for the exhibition, having labelled the region's foremost aspects of life (and thus also of his own oeuvre) as "Labour, Joy, Piety". These have been extended to include Portraits, Folk Costumes and Albums. Space has been also given to Uprka's formal creative expression: the Colour Spot section features small-scale studies that are demonstrative of his artistic sensitivity, presenting him as an outstanding painter and colourist.
The exhibition is accompanied by a critical monograph that analyzes Uprka's oeuvre from various points of view: for example, it sets his work within the context of Central European art and explores the possible use of his work as a source of learning of the ethnography of Moravian Slovakia. A printed guide that summarizes the most important information on the life and work of Joža Uprka is also available to visitors.
The exhibition has been made possible through the support of the Moravian Slovakia Foundation that has been intensively collecting and presenting the work of Joža Uprka and other artists aligned with Moravian Slovakia.