For One’s Honour, For Art’s Glory: Collections and Collectors from 1600 to 1960
The changing role of public art museums in today’s globalised virtual world once more raises questions over what these museums’ essence should be. It calls for a return to their origins, their funds of unique art works. Where did these collections come from and what is their structure? What can the remnants of what were mainly private collections, or the collectors’ legacies, tell us about the times in which they were assembled? What traces have they left on the historical memory? Can they be preserved for the future? Frequent and mostly not entirely voluntary changes of ownership in this country over the last century, coupled with long-term and systematic political pressure to obliterate all ties between artworks and their original owners, in conjunction with the interests of the contemporary art trade, have somewhat sidelined these questions. The core of most public collections, even after restitution, still represents only a fraction of the original private art collections, and many well-known and frequently exhibited and reproduced artworks have rich and often very dramatic histories that are entirely unknown, sometimes even to their curators. Nevertheless, habent sua fata... picturae.
The Masné krámy Exhibition Hall in Pilsen is a site that combines the sacred and the secular, suggesting a symbolic parallel with the multi-layered phenomenon of private collections, which have always been an odd mixture of lofty altruistic and intellectual ambitions and somewhat ignoble self-glorification. This exhibition recalls famous and less well-known art collections in this country, their owners, their scope and their subsequent fates. It is another reminder of aristocratic collectors during the Baroque, often with ties to West Bohemia (the Czernin, Lažanský, Sternberg and Lobkowicz families), as well as 19th-century city-dwelling art lovers and famous collectors of modern art such as Vincenc Kramář, Emanuel Hloupý, František Čeřovský and Václav Butta. In a dialogue between old and modern art the exhibition will highlight the pressing need to map and document the fates of specific artworks and entire collections, above all in funds that have long been managed by public institutions.
The exhibition and its catalogue will urge Czech public museums to research the origin and history of the valuable artworks in their collections and, as umbrella institutions, to open a discussion on this theme.
The exhibition was created in cooperation with the Department of Art History at the Faculty of Arts at Masaryk University and the Institute of Christian Art History of Catholic Theological Faculty at Charles University.
The exhibition is held under the auspices of the Ministry of Culture of the Czech Republic, Josef Bernard, the Governor of Pilsen Region, and Martin Baxa, the Mayor of Pilsen.