Filla and Fulla - parallels between the two Czech and Slovak artists

There are several ways of commemorating the 100th anniversary of the creation of Czechoslovakia; one way is comparing two visual artists, Czech Emil Filla and Slovak Ľudovít Fulla, and their inspiration, work and fate.

Emil Filla: Lovoš – Režný Újezd. 1949. Gallery of the Capital of PragueEmil Filla: Lovoš – Režný Újezd. 1949. Gallery of the Capital of Prague (Source: Courtesy of SNG)

Of the two artists whose works are currently shown in the Esterházy Palace of the Slovak National Gallery, Czech painter Emil Filla (1882 - 1953) was older than his Slovak counterpart, Ľudovít Fulla (1902 - 1980) and this can partially be seen in the timing and development of their works. The overview of their lives and works of art offer an insight into at least 50 years of the common state of two nations, Czechoslovakia (with an interruption during the war).

Their fates are intertwined as if in a kind of phase shift: splitting dramatically during World War II – when Czechoslovakia was split into two countries – and connecting symbolically again in the second half of the 1940s and 1950s, curator Katarína Bajcurová explained.

The woe of selection

“Due to the limited extent of this exhibition, I had to omit something, so I decided to skip the initial expressionist phase of Fila’s creation, as well as the last part, the end of the 1960s and 1970s, of Fulla’s work,” she said, adding that despite this “limitation”, the Filla – Fulla: The Artist’s Fate exhibition comprises 140 works by each of these two artists.

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Bajcurová specifically stressed the importance of the willingness and readiness of Czech private collectors and museums/galleries which enabled the possibility to present Fila’s output to an extent unparalleled in Slovakia.

Similarities and differences

While Fila was perceived as a staunch successor of cubism, Picasso and Braque, Vincenc Kramař, a fan, collector and connoisseur of cubism, suggested that rather than that, cubism was more of a philosophy and world view for the Czech artist which was then reflected in works of other genres.

Fulla, on the other hand, was rather a representative of avant-garde, especially in Slovak art where he was one of its pioneers.

They both held in common a strong and deep inspiration in folklore and traditional myths: Filla made folk or folk-inspired myths and poems part of his works and after World War II made a famous cycle inspired by Slovak outlaw songs, while Fulla illustrated Slovak fairy tales collected by Pavol Dobšinský, among other works.

Both of them were prolific artists creating in several genres, styles and forms, moreover, both of them were also theoreticians. Both of them worked for some time as professors at schools of applied arts. However, Filla’s works of art were found too ugly and brutal for the optimistic culture of the new communist state, and so he was prevented from exhibiting (except for a series of landscapes) and from teaching.

This probably did not help improve his poor health. During WWII he was detained and imprisoned in Dachau and later Buchenwald concentration camp where he survived six heart attacks. After the war Filla withdrew from public view to focus on creating.

Fulla, on the other hand, was luckier in the communist regime: he donated several of his works to the state and, in exchange, the state built a studio for him where his museum was later opened, featuring the donated artworks. He also strangely became friends with then-top communist official, Vasil Biľak.

The current exhibition – to run until October 21, 2018 – is a rare attempt to find comparisons and parallels, as well as specifics and differences in the artistic and personal careers of these two unmistakable individualists, the SNG writes in its bilingual leaflet accompanying the event. The leaflet also adds that even though these two artists were not strictly contemporaries, they both opened art in Czechoslovakia to new and radical paths of development. The turbulent story of Czechoslovakia, its establishment and the twists and turns of its fate were reflected both in their works and in their activities and teaching careers.

Exhibition and more

Apart from the exhibition, there will also be accompanying events (also in English after the summer break) offering a more detailed insight into the background of these two personages.

An accompanying catalogue is available in the form of a bilingual book of 235 pages, full of reproductions of the works and portraits/private photographs completing the image of the era. Some of the photos were made by outstanding art photographers of that time (František Drtikol, Jaromír Funke, Josef Sudek, Karol Kállay, Magdaléna Robinsonová).

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In its text, the catalogue maps the era of around half a century, touching on the biographies of the two personalities, their preferred art genres, their inspiration and favourite motifs, their fights and struggles – usually connected with the political and social earthquakes of the Czechoslovak state or its successor states.

The monographic double exhibition prepared in the joint cycle Made in Czechoslovakia with the Moravian Gallery in Brno thus focuses on Czech and Slovak (and Czechoslovak) art through two iconic figures of the nations’ modern art.

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