Place: Veletržní Palace
The development of the collection of French Art in the National Gallery has been linked with the development of modern Czech art and its interest in the events occurring in the Parisian artistic milieu. In the past, French art was introduced to the Czech public by the Mánes Association of Fine Artists. In 1902, the Association organized two exhibitions of fundamental importance: the first one being devoted to the sculptor Auguste Rodin, the other one was entitled “Modern French Painting”. In 1907, Mánes presented the exhibition “The Art of Impressionists and Post-Impressionists” and, two years later, the public in the Czech lands was moreover introduced to the oeuvre of Émile-Antoine Bourdelle. In 1910, the painting by André Derain, Bathing (1908), was acquired from the exhibition of the French art group Les Indépendants.
The decisive year was 1923 when the Czechoslovak State purchased a significant collection of paintings, sculptures, drawings and groups of graphic arts from the extensive exhibition French Art of the 19th and 20th Centuries, also held by the Mánes Association. The protector of this cardinal event became the President T. G. Masaryk, while the expansion of the original convolute was entrusted to the historians and art critics V. V. Štech and Václav Nebeský, the respected collector and historian Vincenc Kramář, the director of the Picture Gallery of the Society of Patriotic Friends of the Arts, painter Emil Filla, and the chairman of the Mánes Association, architect Otakar Novotný. They selected more significant works in the galleries and collections of Ambroise Vollard, Paul Rosenberg, Paul Cassier, Daniel-Henry Kahnweiler, Walter Halvorsen and others.
Later, during the 1930s, the collection was enriched by a state purchase of some works by Pierre Bonnard, Marc Chagall and Maurice Utrillo – and also the flagship Gauguin painting Bonjour, Monsieur Gauguin (1889) from the 1937 exhibition “From Manet until Today” (the Mánes Association). Although the acquisition activities became rather subdued after the Second World War, the National Gallery acquired several significant works by Edgar Degas, Claude Monet and Henri Laurens. In 1960, the Galleryʼs French collection was moreover principally contributed to by part of the famed collection developed by Vincenc Kramář, mainly the works from the Cubist period of Pablo Picasso, Georges Braque and André Derain. Yet another noteworthy acquisition was the painting LʼHirondelle Steamer on the Seine (1901) by Paul Signac, purchased by the Czech state in 2009.
The collection of French art was established on the basis of the planned decision to present the determining milestones in the development of French art from 19th-century Romanticism to the artists opening the way to the art of the 20th century.
Its main features are compact concept, intimate and at the same time representative character and extraordinary quality of works of art – and it also represents a historical testimony documenting the development of French and Czech cultural relations.