Art Nouveau and Cubist Architecture – Prague after 1900

Art Nouveau and Cubist Architecture – Prague after 1900

Art 3In France, it was called Art Nouveau and Style Moderne, and once this modern manner dominated the 1900 World Exhibition in Paris, it came to be known as Style 1900; it was also referred to as Style Métro (after Paris metro designer Hector Guimard) as well as Style Mucha (after the great Czech graphic artist whose posters are considered Art Nouveau par excellence). In Munich and Berlin it was called Jugendstil, and in Austria-Hungary it was known as the Sezession.  The Belgians proudly called it Mouvement or Ligne Belge (Belgian Line).  Art Nouveau was a truly universal turn-of-the-century phenomenon and it was eagerly, even ecstatically adopted in Prague.  In fact, Art Nouveau architecture influenced the city-scape of Prague as significantly as did the Gothic and the Baroque before it.  At the end of the 19th and the beginning of the 20th centuries Prague was experiencing a whirlwind of national revival activity and ultimately this movement was embodied in the form of Art Nouveau.  From the Main Train Station to the monumental Municipal House, to the entire district of Josefov (the former Jewish Ghetto), Art Nouveau constructions represent some of the most significant sights of this city.

Most of us—when we think of the Art Nouveau buildings and fine art of the early 20th century—automatically picture intricate floral forms in ironwork and those dreamy, mythic Art Nouveau women with flowing hair. On Insight walks in Prague, we emphasize that these commonly recognized features of Art Nouveau aesthetics cannot be fully understood without taking into account the new culture of cosmopolitan entertainment, enthusiastic consumption, new opportunities for travel and leisure, and an array of modern technological conveniences that arose at the turn-of-century. While every major Czech artist of the period contributed to the flamboyant Art Nouveau designs of Prague’s Municipal House; equally important, the building was also one of the first in the city to be equipped with central heating and ventilation, a drinking and utility water-supply system, electrical as well as hydraulic elevators, a steam-powered laundry and an intercom network.

Art 2Put simply, Art Nouveau isn’t only a radical new design aesthetic. It represents a pre-war social elite with new standards for modern comforts and luxury, a clubby upper-class who drank absinthe and the first mixed-cocktails, booked voyages on ocean liners, sent telegrams, and read fashion magazines. It isn’t an accident that most Art Nouveau buildings are hotels, elegant bars and restaurants, and train stations. These were the watering holes of the first globe-trotters, those enjoying the fruits of nineteenth-century industrialization in the short-lived first decade of the 20th century just before global war swallowed up their world.

During this walk, you’ll learn to recognize the features of Art Nouveau, from the gingko bilabo leaves on facades which reveal the style’s oriental influences to the elaborate light fixtures that mark Art Nouveau interiors to the curvy, campy typography on building signs that echo contemporary magazine and poster graphics. You’ll visit the beautiful Lucerna bar (once owned by Vaclav Havel’s family) and the elegant Grand Hotel Europa—examples of a moment of Czech optimism at the turn-of-century, signaling the region’s transcendence of older ethnic grievances and its readiness to join Europe by participating in European-wide avant-gardes.

Art 1As an important parallel, throughout the walk, we visit examples of Prague’s Cubist and Rondocubist architecture, including The House of the Black Madonna (created by Josef Gočár in 1910 as an urbane department store) and the Legion’s Bank. In many respects, Prague’s Cubist architecture (a building style unknown outside of the Czech Republic) surpassed even Art Nouveau as a statement of the city’s newfound sense of modern sophistication and resurgent national identity.

Vadim ErentVadim Erent Born in St. Petersburg, Vadim immigrated to the USA at 13. He did graduate work in Slavic Studies at the University of Chicago, then spent a decade travelling through the United States as an interpreter for the US State Department. He has lived in Prague since 2003. An art critic and literary historian, he contributes articles to Literaria Pragensia Books, the affiliated press of the Philosophy Faculty of Charles University. Vadim’s photography has been featured in Vlak Magazine, Grasp Magazine, The Humanities Review and Streetnotes. He is editing a book of essays on Serbian filmmaker Dusan Makavejev, to be published by Literaria Pragensia Books in Fall 2015. After years of giving tours of Prague to friends and family, he founded Insight Cities to offer in-depth experiences to a wider group of visitors. Vadim is married to Insight Cities co-founder Bonita Rhoads. They are the parents of a little Pražačka, Lucy, born in Prague in 2008.
Bonita RhoadsBonita Rhoads Bonita Rhoads earned her PhD in Comparative Literature from Yale University in 2009. She was a lecturer at Charles University in Prague and an assistant professor at Masaryk University in Brno (the Czech Republic’s second city) for a decade before leaving university teaching to run her scholar-led guided walks company, Insight Cities. A native of New York City, Bonita moved to Prague in 2003 along with her husband, Vadim, co-founder of Insight Cities. She publishes on topics in nineteenth-century British and American literature. Her delight in her remarkable adopted city led her to become a dedicated student of Prague’s cultural and political history.
Kateřina PrůšováKateřina Průšová After studying Medieval Architecture at the Università per Stranieri, Perugia, Italy and Art History at the Université Paul Valéry, Montpellier III, France, Kateřina Průšová received her PhD from the Institute of Art History in the Philosophical Faculty of Charles University, Prague. A lecturer in Art History at both Charles and Anglo-American Universities, she is also an official guide of the Prague Jewish Museum, a docent for the National Gallery on the collection of old masters at the Sternberg Palace, for the St. Agnes Monastery, and for the newly opened exhibition of Alfons Mucha’s The Slav Epic at the Veletržní palace. In 2010 and 2011, she was a guest lecturer on Medieval Art at the University of New Orleans.
Jan richterJan Richter Since 2007, Jan has been a producer and journalist for the leading news radio station in the Czech Republic, Radio Prague (the Czech equivalent of the USA's NPR). In addition to hosting a regular 30 minute show on current national affairs, he also provides analysis and reporting for the English language service of the station on topics ranging from contemporary Czech culture and business to Czech history. Jan took his MA in History from Masaryk University in Brno. Fluent in Spanish (as well as English), Jan spent two years teaching in Latin America, then became the first translator of Che Guevara's Motorcycle Diaries into Czech. Jan's fascination with the turmoil of the twentieth century also led him to spend six years (2001-2007) as a historian and curator for the Regional Museum in the Moravian town of Mikulov, where he prepared exhibitions on Czech Jewish history, World War II history and post World War II development. Outside his busy work schedule, Jan always appreciates a good night out with taroky, a rapidly disappearing Moravian card game. For visitors interested in the war years, the communist and post-communist periods in Prague, Jan is your guide.
Hana KubatováHana Kubatová Hana Kubatová recieved her PhD in Modern History at the Charles University in Prague and her MA in Nationalism Studies from the Central European University in Budapest. While writing her dissertation (book version to be published Fall 2012), she was a research fellow at the Heinrich Heine University in Germany, the Slovak Academy of Sciences, Tel Aviv University in Israel and the Center for Advanced Holocaust Studies, at the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington, D.C. Hana is the recipient of various awards, including the Charles H. Revson Foundation Fellowship from the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, the Marie Curie Fellowship for Early Stage Training from the European Commission, the Felix Posen Fellowship from the Vidal Sassoon International Center for the Study of Antisemitism, the Israel Government Scholarship, and the Gisela Fleischmann Scholarship from the Milan Simecka Foundation. She is an assistant professor at the Faculty of Social Sciences, Charles University in Prague and a lecturer at Anglo-American University. Hana teaches and publishes on modern Jewish history, as well on the social history of WWII and European nationalism.
Alex WentAlex Went Alex Went attended Cambridge University, where he took his MA in English Literature. Since first visiting Prague in 1991, he has developed a close association with the city, and has adapted a number of Czech works in translation for the stage, including Bohumil Hrabal's Too Loud a Solitude and The Diary of Petr Ginz, a moving account of the life of a Jewish boy in 1940s Prague. As well as being an accomplished writer and poet, Alex is the curator of The Prague Vitruvius, an online guide to the history of the city's architecture.
Hana NIchtburgerováHana Nichtburgerová Hana Nichtburgerová handles public relations for the European Shoah Legacy Institute, a public benefit corporation which cooperates with governments, non-governmental organizations and experts to foster the restitution of Jewish cultural assets stolen by the Nazis and to promote Holocaust education, research and remembrance. As an undergraduate, she spent an exchange year at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst taking courses in Jewish Studies and Philosophy. She obtained her MA in Jewish History, Jewish Literature and Philosophy from the College of Jewish Studies at the University of Heidelberg in Germany. In Israel, she studied Hebrew in Haifa while also participating in the Ramat Rachel Archeological Project. Hana is fluent in English and German and conversational in Hebrew.
Max BahnsonMax Bahnson Max Bahnson was born in Buenos Aires, Argentina. Having fallen in love with the beauty and the magic of Prague, and not just its beer, he moved to the city for good in 2002. Max is a writer and a blogger on the topic of Czech beer and is considered to be one of the leading authorities on the subject. He authors a regular column in The Prague Post under the pen name Pivní Filosof, The Beer Philosopher, and is a regular contributor to specialized magazines in Spain, the US and the Czech Republic.
GeorgeGeorge Thompson A citizen of the United States, George has lived in cities around the world. He has degrees in physics, the Japanese language and in architecture. George has a passion for uncovering the details in all that surrounds him which has led him to discover hidden and overlooked sites in the Golden City. His tours are bent toward exploring the beauty of the buildings and gardens of Prague that express the ideas and culture throughout the city’s long history. He loves photography and will point out photographic shots along the way. George's work experience in small-town preservation and the urban fabric of community development lend insight into Prague's history.