In the spring of this year, we recalled the hundredth anniversary of the death of a key figure of Central European Modernism, the painter, drawer, and teacher Jan Preisler. Soon after completing his studies at the School of Decorative Arts in Prague, Preisler started to become actively involved in the activity of the rising generation of painters and sculptors, who joined together in the artistic association Mánes. From 1896 to 1906, he was also editor of the magazine Volné směry (Free Trends) that was published by Mánes. In 1913, he was appointed professor at the School of Painting at the Prague Academy.
Of all Czech artists, Preisler was perhaps the one who drew most inspiration from the works of the Pre-Raphaelites. This influence was linked in a creative fashion in his oeuvre with that of the paintings of Edvard Munch, and he was also captivated by the work of Pierre Puvis de Chavannes and the Belgian Symbolists. Preisler’s paintings are full of inner tension, but they do not contain aggressive symbolism, which only makes their rawness of recognition more intense. Typical of Preisler’s art is his approach to the problem of a figure in a landscape. In observing the way this developed, we can also follow Preisler’s changing understanding of this symbol and its evolution from ethereal levitating figures, through Symbolist poses, to realistic portrayal.
To mark the anniversary of Preisler’s death, the National Gallery Prague is presenting two paintings which for a long time remained unknown and which have not been exhibited for more than a century. The first one is the painting Three Girls in a Forest from the year 1906, originally in the possession of the well-known collector Bohuslav Dušek. In his 1950 monograph, the expert on Preisler’s work Antonín Matějček mistakenly identified this painting with a work that is to be found in the collections of the Galleria Nazionale d’Arte Moderna e Contemporanea in Rome. In fact, however, it has been shown that the painting owned by the Roman gallery is in fact Primavera, dating from the year 1904. Because of their format and their exceptional artistic quality, the paintings Three Girls in a Forest and Primavera have a quite essential place in the context of Preisler’s oeuvre, and add significantly to our knowledge of the crowning work of this artist.