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My New Friend, František Kysela

Somehow, I was fated to see and love the large tapestries of Czech artist František Kysela.  This spring I attend the annual meeting of the National Freedom of Information Coalition in New Orleans.  I visited the New Orleans Museum of Art, and viewed a wonderful exhibit, “Inventing the Modern World: Decorative Arts at the World’s Fairs, 1851-1939.”  I hadn’t expected to see weavings of one of my favorite Norwegian artists, Frida Hansen, nor monumental Czech tapestries celebrating traditional handcrafts.  The World’s Fair exhibit included two of eight tapestries designed by Frantisek Kysela and first displayed at the Exposition Internationale des Arts Decoratifs et Industrieles Modernes, held in Paris in 1925.  Frantisek Kysela was part of a post WWI group of artists and architects who sought to develop a distinctive Czech nationalist style.

Here are my two poor snapshots of tapestries depicting woodworking and glassmaking.

Last week I had the pleasure of a visit to Prague and spent an afternoon at the National Gallery of Art at Veletržní Palace, an enormous functionalist building filled with art of the 19th, 20th, and 21rst centuries.  The collection is so large that you really need to choose a selection of galleries – my recommendations are to begin with the Czech art on the fifth floor, the French collection, and the “foreign” (non-Czech collection).  Don’t miss the monumental Slav Epic paintings of Alfons Mucha; my husband and I spent more than an hour reading the brochure text to one another and examining each of the 20 paintings.

Here was a surprise – two more Kysela tapestries! They depicted printing and weaving.

The most charming detail was a sheep peering up at what was happening with his wool.

The next day I visited the Museum of Decorative Arts in Prague – a place I DID expect to find Kysela’s tapestries.  Disappointingly, there was only one.  Here is a depiction of a potter.

It’s amazing I have stumbled on five of the eight Kysela tapestries displayed at the 1925 Paris exposition.  They were all compelling because of the incredibly talented execution of the cartoons. The images are decorative yet realistic, monumental in the size of the weavings and the scale of the figures.  The subject matter,  the celebration of fine handcraft, is appealing.  Sometimes I admire medieval tapestries for their amazing detail, yet care so little about a man playing a lute, or a well-dressed lady relaxing.  (But I always love the animals.)

Before concluding with some other sources on the work of Kysela, I’ll show two details of the weaving of the potter.  Tapestry – isn’t it the finest art form?

The tapestry series is described in a post on The Textile Blog by John Hopper, “The Czechoslovak National Handicraft Tapestries of Frantisek Kysela.”

František Kysela’s varied work is described in an article,  “Rondocubism wersus National Style,” by Vendula Hnídková, reprinted in the Journal of the International Association of Research Institutes in the History of Art.  “František Kysela, a professor at the School of Decorative Art, a member of Artěl, a collaborator at the beginning of Prague Artistic Studios, and a member of the Union of Czechoslovak Work, designed the ten-crown banknote, the state coat of arms, the president’s standard, the poster for a music festival in Paris and London, and a poster publicising the Czechoslovak Republic. In 1925 a new safety curtain designed by him was installed in the National Theatre.”

A 1996 article from the Prague Post, “The World at their Fingertips,” describes the workshop in southern Bohemia where the tapestries, “The Trades,” were woven.

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