Svabinsky, Max (1873-1962) - Act and the Butterfly
Charcoal and watercolor; 23 x 16 cm.
A native of Kroměříž in Moravia, Maxmilian (Theodor Jan) Švabinský has been for decades one of the best known Czech artists. He was a distinguished member of the generation that laid the foundations of modern Czech art and the quality of his work helped put Czech art on the European map. “The humble labourer, Maxmilian Švabinský, Czech painter and engraver”, as he described himself on the portrait of Mánes, believed in continuity, a continuing tradition, and he consciously sought to foster it in his work. His extensive oeuvre has stood the test of time.
In the space of sixty years, Švabinský created outstanding portraits, series of graphics, posters, bank notes, stamps and many decorative designs. He was convinced that the greatest teacher and inspiration was nature, which he celebrated in his drawings throughout his life. He outlived all the leading personalities of his generation by as much as fifty years. Even though his work had followed its own line of development from the first decade of the 20th century, independent of contemporary trends, his consciously chosen path mostly aroused respect, due largely to the fact that no one could doubt his enormous talent, and probably also that he impressed people by with steadfast way he heeded nothing but his talent.
Among the less happy aspects of Švabinský’s fate is that the greatest works of his mature years have remained anonymous (the cathedral) or inaccessible (the Liberation Monument). As a consequence, the only thing that many people know of his work is the large composition Harvest , perceived without any awareness of how it came to be created, and the portrait of the official communist idol, Julius Fučík. This has distorted the image of his oeuvre, and his best period – 1900-1922 – has been neglected. Future generations must be allowed to know the enormous, distinguished oeuvre of this great Czech artist at first hand. Maybe the history of Czech art – including the recent past – will manage to dispense with the clichés and start to reveal to us the enormous wealth represented by the different paths dictated by artists’ own particular talents.