Place: Kinsky Palace
Tibetan Art and Photographs from Tibet in the Permanent Exhibition The Art of Asia in Kinský Palace
On the occasion of His Holiness the 14th Dalai Lama arriving to Prague, where he traditionally participates at the conference Forum 2000, the National Gallery in Prague exhibits several photographs produced by the cameraman and photographer, Josef Vaniš (1927–2009), in the framework of its permanent exhibition in the hall The Art of Tibetan Buddhism. On their way to Lhasa in 1954, Vaniš and the filmmaker Vladimír Sís had a chance to meet His Holiness Dalai Lama and take his very first official portrait, which soon became famous worldwide. This unique photograph is a central motif of the displayed selection of photographs. It is accompanied by pictures of the old Lhasa, capturing Tibetan culture in its utmost authentic form, still undisturbed by the Chinese occupation. The National Gallery displays the photographs – first presented sixty years ago – to remind the cultural wealth of Tibet and the fates of its population.
The collection The Art of Asia, in Kinský Palace at Old Town Square, focuses on the art of Tibetan Buddhism and currently represents the only permanent exhibition in the Czech Republic that introduces to the traditional Tibetan sculpture and painting. The most precious part of the Tibetan collection is thangkas – Tibetan paintings on Buddhist subjects. Some date as early as to the 17th century and were brought to the Czech lands in the 1920s and 1930s.
History of the Collection of Tibetan Art in the National Gallery in Prague
The crucial aspect in developing the Gallery’s Chinese collections was the activities of Vojtěch Chytil (1896–1936) and Josef Martínek (1888–1976), art enthusiasts who also brought Tibetan and Mongolian artefacts to the Czech lands. Vojtěch Chytil settled in Beijing in 1922, but managed to get to China several years before. He worked at the local academy of fine arts and was in frequent touch with the local artists and foreign figures of the local social and artistic scene. He pursued collecting Chinese and Tibetan art from the 1920s. He was probably purchasing the objects in Beijing and its surroundings, perhaps also having some of them delivered directly from Mongolia and Tibet thanks to his extensive contacts. Josef Martínek set off to China in 1906 and was the director of the Third Department of the British Customs House in Shanghai from the 1930s. He mainly collected Chinese funeral sculpture, bronzes, and Buddhist art including painting.
Vojtěch Chytil and Josef Martínek regularly presented their collections at sales exhibitions in Prague as well as other European cities during the 1920s and 1930s, thus arousing the interest of Czech public especially in Chinese art. Several Czech artists, such as Jakub Obrovský, Adolf Hoffmeister and Zdeněk Sklenář, followed their example and began collecting Chinese art but also owned Tibetan artefacts. The 1931 Mánes exhibition of objects collected by Chytil was co-prepared by artists, to name just a few, Jan Bauch, Emil Filla, Josef Gočár, Jan Lauda, Václav Špála, and Antonín Matějček, and it presented not only Chinese but also Mongolian and Tibetan works. Chytil in the foreword to the accompanying catalogue wrote that in Beijing, the Harvard University funded the Institute for Researching Tibetan Iconography (the Harvard-Yenching Institute, established in 1928), headed by professors A. Staël von Holstein and B. I. Pankratov who also provided the majority of expert opinions for the exhibition. The most precious thangkas on display originated from Lhasa and Chengde, the summer residence of the Manchurian court, which started to decay after the 1911 fall of the Empire.
Some objects from Martínek’s successful exhibition held in the Trade Fair Palace found their buyers among Czech artists and intellectuals, among them for example Emil Filla, Ludvík Kuba, Jakub Obrovský, and Karel Čapek. Part of Martínek’s collection was purchased by the Czechoslovak State in 1930s. It was, however, an isolated situation and it never repeated later.
The Collection of Asian and African Art of the National Gallery in Prague today contains about 250 Tibetan and Mongolian paintings, and the total of artefacts from this region numbers about 400 works. The most exquisite Tibetan paintings here are the thangkas from the collections built by Vojtěch Chytil and Josef Martínek.
Curator: Lenka Gyaltso
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