Both in terms of professional contribution and personal approach, few Czech art historians have had as great an influence as Petr Wittlich. His influence has been not only on art historians and theorists but also on artists. With his articles and books about important artists and topics in the modern art of Bohemia and the rest of Europe he has inspired painters and
print-makers to search for their own artistic paths and discover apparently forgotten themes and questions. Though Wittlich has written mainly about the art of the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, his thinking remains utterly contemporary, relevant to our times.
His first book, published in 1959, is devoted to the drawings of the sculptor Jan Štursa. Sculpture has been a life-long topic of Wittlich’s, and in this connection one would mention at least České sochařství ve XX. století (Czech Sculpture of the Twentieth Century, 1978), and in particular his monumental Sochařství české secese (2000; Sculpture of the Czech
Art Nouveau, 2001). In 1974, his Art Nouveau Drawings was published, in which, for the first time, appears his diagram representing Bohemian Art Nouveau as a triangle within a circle,
where Symbolism, Naturalism, and ornamentalism are the vertices of the triangle. He developed this idea in his key work, Česká secese (Czech Art Nouveau, 1982), and then in Umění
a život — Doba secese (Art and Life: The Art Nouveau Period, 1986) and Prague Fin de siècle (in French, 1992, and in English, 2007). Another important contribution to our knowledge of
late nineteenth and early twentieth-century art is the book and exhibition Důvěrný prostor/ Nová dálka (Intimate Space/New Distance, 1997). As he had done with the work of Jan Štursa,
Wittlich also continuously turned his attention to the work of Jan Preisler. The culmination of this interest is the 2003 exhibition and book on the subject. We could also mention his
publications about the works of Alphonse Mucha, Ladislav Šaloun, and many others. Of non- Czech artists, Wittlich has paid the most attention to the work of Edvard Munch, publishing
a book on the topic in 1985. His writings about August Rodin, Medardo Rosso, Alfred Kubin, and Odilon Redon also continue to provide inspiration.
Just as important as his publishing is Wittlich’s teaching, not only for its extensiveness — for more than fifty years hundreds of students have attended his lectures and been on his
excursions —, but also for its intensity — Wittlich had not only students but also pupils who to this day proudly declare that he was their teacher. In 1990 he was made Docent of Art History
and two years later Professor at Charles University, Prague. It is only natural that it was Wittlich who was in charge of the Department, later the Institute of Art History, from 1991 to
2000, that is, when this institution was being newly constituted and transformed.
The idea of compiling an album of prints to mark Wittlich’s eightieth birthday occurred to me while visiting the studio of the painter Josef Bolf. Bolf’s lone figures of boys and girls
as if from the works of Jan Preisler seem to have wandered into the labyrinths of the pre-fab concrete housing estates. I then approached other contemporary artists with the simple task
of choosing one artist from the many whom Wittlich has written about and then responding in some way to that artist’s work. The idea was of course not to make a mechanical copy, but to use the earlier work as an inspiration or almost a rite of initiation. The range of artists I addressed was wide, from painters to sculptors, photographers, and conceptual artists. The result is a set of works that is heterogeneous yet shows not only the connections between contemporary art and earlier models but also the relevance of Wittlich’s ideas for art today.
Otto M. Urban
Prague, May 2012
Hommage à Wittlich
Organizing institutions — Museum of Decorative Arts in Prague,
Paper Manufacture Velké Losiny Ltd., Biblios, Companionship of Bibliophiles
Exhibition concept — Otto M. Urban
Graphic design — Robert V. Novák
6 July—31 August 2012
Hand-made Paper Museum Velké Losiny
4 September—14 October 2012
Gallery of Fine Arts in Ostrava
More info about prof. Petr Wittlich http://wittlich80.udu.ff.cuni.cz/?language=en