We can’t start other than in front of the U Černé Matky Boží house on the corner of Celetná Street and Ovocný trh. “It is the first Cubist building that was erected in Prague, it was completed in 1912,” tells Marie Jelínková Ťupová from the Museum of Applied Arts, our guide today. We usually know Cubism mainly in the visual arts, for example in the painter Pablo Picasso.
“Such cubists disturbed the perspective in their paintings. They composed the work from different angles, “we learn. An example is Picasso’s Head of a Woman, which he seemed to disassemble and then put together. “In the Czech lands, however, Cubism has also been used in architecture and applied arts,” our entourage continues. It was in our country that Cubist architecture was created, to be the creators themselves, they were not originally called this attribute.
They were inspired by the crystal
“In 1911, these artists separated from the Mánes association. Among them were painters such as Emil Filla or Josef Čapek, the writer Karel Čapek or František Langer, as well as the architects Josef Gočár, Pavel Janák and Vlastislav Hofman, “we find out.
“They were inspired by the French Cubists, but we ourselves wanted to bring a new art to our style, because they wanted to bring a new spirit. As is usually the case, someone else, in this case the art of Vincenc Kramář, called them Cubists, ”the guide smiles.
In the fine arts, the Czech Cubists were brave, disassembling and painting the painting according to their designs. “It simply came to our notice then. You won’t see that the windows or doors are in a different place than where you expect them, “the guide reassures us. So what did they draw from? “Architects were amazed at how they build nature, how caves, volcanoes or snowdrifts are created. Pavel Janák described it as a force that acts on inanimate matter, calling crystallization the most beautiful example, “he says.
We take a close look at the house U Černé Matky Boží by Josef Gočár. “You can see for yourself whether the house succeeded like a crystal or not,” the guide adds, securing us a lattice for the portal, columns or sky, all chamfered like the crystals mentioned.
House Of The Black Mother Of God
Photo: Jan Handrejch, Právo
Inside is a permanent exhibition of Czech Cubism, for example, we looked at the edition of Grandmother Božena Němcová from 1923, which was illustrated in the Cubist style – presented by Václav Špála is the title grandmother composed of prisms. “Cubism has also established itself in our applied arts,” our entourage continues. There is a famous box of Pavel Janák in the crystal and a cubist chair to be seen, including one copy that you can sit on – you will experience cubism literally on your own.
“The local Orient Café was restored in 2002 according to Gočár’s original designs. I highly recommend her visit, inside you can have a cubist wreath that is not round, but has edges, “the guide attracts us.
The lamp is the target of pranks
From Ovocný trh we head to Na Příkopě Street and then we come to the lower part of Wenceslas Square. Here we see the Crown Palace of the architect Antonín Pfeifer, completed in 1912.
“It was built in the late Art Nouveau style, but inside there was a Cubist-style cinema from Ladislav Machona,” we listen to the Crown. Unfortunately, the cinema was closed down in the 1950s. On the contrary, what we still find on the nearby Jungmann Square is unique in the world – the only Cubist lamp in the world by architect Emil Králíček.
Cubist lamp by architect Emil Králíček
Photo: Jan Handrejch, Právo
In 1912, he designed the facade of Adam’s Pharmacy, the building that faces Wenceslas Square, and then the space behind this building, which is located here, on Jungmann Square. This lamp is a part of it. “Notice how beautiful Cubist shapes are. The bench, the column and the lamp itself, everything is beveled, “the guide shows us. However, the public was not always enthusiastic about the original Cubist works.
“Nearby, as today, was the U Pinkasů pub. Evil tongues claimed that the lamp was in fact an advertising column, and in cubist shapes they saw kegs of beer, “we learn with a funny story.
“The main episode of Cubism was not long, it lasted from 1911, when the artists separated from the Mánes group, until the beginning of the First World War in 1914,” the guide continues. The architects then went in different directions, one of them was the so-called rondocubism, which, on the contrary, resembles crystals used round shapes, so it was also called the arched style.
“He was also nicknamed the national style because the buildings expressed the newly formed Czechoslovak Republic – they often use red and white and referred to folklore,” says the guide. We have a representative of this style on Jungmann Square in front of us, the Adria Palace was built by architects Josef Zasche and Pavel Janák. “Although the building was created for an Italian insurance company, the national style is still evident here,” we learn.
Adria Palace in Jungmannova street
Photo: Jan Handrejch, Právo
The famous architect Le Corbusier, one of the founders of functionalism, was critical of this building. He lectured in the nearby Mozart building and did not spare the arch-style palace – calling it a “massive Assyrian building”. “Czech architects eventually abandoned this style and often turned to functionalism, ie clean buildings without ornaments,” we find out.
However, we go back in time and continue to Lazarská Street, where we love the Diamond House from 1913 by the already mentioned Emil Králíček. As the name suggests, it is built in the Cubist style and its shapes refer to the gemstone.
The surroundings of the house are Baroque, but Králíček managed to cope with this – for example, he added a square chapel to the statue of Jan Nepomucký from 1717. The unique house remembers great personalities – it belonged to the writers Adolf Hoffmeister, and in 1927 the Russian poet Vladimir Mayakovsky also stayed here.
We continue by tram under Vyšehrad, where other cubist gems await us. “There used to be a fortification of Prague, which, however, lost its meaning at the beginning of the twentieth century. The city therefore bought it from the Austrian army and had it demolished, “the guide continues. Instead of fortifications, residential buildings were built here, some, such as the corner one in Neklanova Street, in the Cubist style.
The windows were difficult to wash
“This apartment building from 1914 was designed by architect Josef Chochol. Notice the openwork shapes – build such a construction was expensive, its shapes require a lot of handwork, ”describes our escort. It also draws our attention to sloping windows. “It was difficult to wash, but of course it was not the concern of the owners, they paid,” smiles our escort.
In the same street we also see Kovařovic’s villa from 1913, the pearl of Cubism, again by Josef Chochola. Just take a few steps and on Rašín embankment we have three Cubist houses in front of us, from the same year and from the same architect. We notice doors of cubist shapes. “They are also openwork, but we will see that the wood does not do well and crack,” shows the guide.
“When Cubist furniture was made, it often had to be reinforced with metal elements. It was therefore heavy and expensive to manufacture. Cubism was not entirely practical in this, “smiles the guide. Fortunately, we can enjoy Cubist pearls as spectators, leaving practical worries to their owners.