At the dawn of the 20th century Prague exploded with fervent artistic and intellectual activity and focused a new way of seeing the world—an “art nouveau” that would transform Barcelona, Paris, Vienna, and other major European capitals. During this three-hour walking seminar we’ll look at the development of Art Nouveau and other early Modern movements in Prague and seek to contextualize it within the social and political realities of the time.
Our walk will start at the Prague train station, constructed in 1901. Using its ornate facade as a backdrop, we’ll look at some of the basic ideas behind Art Nouveau as a revolutionary movement against classicism and the aesthetics that emerged. We’ll also look at how modernisation—in this case, symbolized by the advent of trains—fueled the movement.
Our stroll will take us through the heart of Prague’s New Town, Wenceslas Square. Here we will visit many wonderful examples of Art Nouveau, including the beautiful Lucerna bar (once owned by Vaclav Havel’s family) and the elegant Grand Hotel Europa—both fantastic examples of a moment of Czech optimism in the early twentieth century. In addition to an artistic analysis and breaking down of Art Nouveau’s aesthetics, we’ll look at how the movement in Prague represented the transcendence of older ethnic grievances and signaled the region’s readiness to rejoin Europe by participating in European-wide avant-gardes.
As a counterpoint to the Art Nouveau movement, we will also spend a significant amount of time exploring the architecture of Cubism and Rondocubism. Born out of the Cubist movement begun in Paris with Braque’s 1908 exhibition, this unique style spread throughout Europe. Prague remains unique as the only city that contains examples of both Cubist and Rondocubist architecture. Whether it be the House of the Black Madonna, designed by Josef Gočár, or Cubist villas, each example will provide a unique lens from which to compare and contrast the mixture of architectural styles that reflected cultural tastes and attitudes in the Czech Republic during the early 20th century.
We’ll finish up near Old Town, visiting two major monuments of Art Nouveau and the incipient Modernism movement that followed. At Municipal House, we’ll not only consider its significance architecturally but consider it as a landmark of Czech independence, for it was here that T.G. Masaryk would announced the post-WWI creation of the fledgling first Czechoslovak republic.