Milada Maresova and the Absence of Women in Czech Art History: The Least Well-Known Area of Czech Modern Art History Regards the Artwork and Lives of Czech Female Artists

Article excerpt

MODERNISM AND THE WRITING OF ART HISTORY

Since 1989, the domestic history of art has been concerned with various problems which were previously inconvenient to academic discussions of socialist art history, or which were interpreted mainly through eyes tainted by vulgar cultural policies. In the last twenty years, Czech modern art has come under more scrutiny than almost ever before. Due to both publications and exhibitions, Czech modernist art is now a well-known phenomenon amidst the world's art community. Even so, some areas remain overlooked. Czech modern art of the late nineteenth and early twentieth century continues to be associated with those artists who aligned themselves with mainstream schools of Western art, i.e., French. Furthermore, interwar Czech art is still primarily identified with the avant-garde experiment.

Amongst Czech art historians, however, there are those who consistently question these generalizations, and call attention to artwork that does not fit into this simplified paradigm. One such historian is Hana Rousova. In the 1980s, Rousova regularly focused on art that was overlooked due to links to so-called "traditionalism," or less well-known forms of abstract art. She also emphasized the artistic accomplishments of the nation's minorities--in particular, German and Jewish artists, who are oft en forgotten in the ethnically "clean" portrayal of Czech art history.

But the least well-known area of Czech modern art history regards the artwork and lives of Czech female artists, despite that fact they played an irreplaceable role in the development of Czech modern art, and that their names are not completely unknown. While there are some exceptions like Zdenka Braunerova, Toyen, and perhaps even Linky Prochazkova and Hana Wichterlova, there is a dearth of information about female Czech modern artists and their artwork. The literature and even lectures on Czech art history still predominantly focus on male artists. In the West, in comparison, discussions about female artists have been going on for thirty years. Given the numbers and achievements of our current female Czech artists, knowledge of their predecessors' achievements is important to know in order to understand their own influences and developments.

[ILLUSTRATION OMITTED]

Ten years ago when I began my dissertation, I started researching gender issues in Czech modern art; I analyzed whether the traditional concepts of "womanhood" and "manhood" had created a gendered vision of contemporary art, and what effect these gender stereotypes have had on art education and art critique. I also investigated how gender prejudices determined whether something was perceived as modern and progressive (something worthy of interest), and or disqualified as not brave enough, backward, and conservative. I eventually came to the conclusion that the present anonymity which surrounds Czech female artists has not been derived from an absence of skill, but from the prejudices against their gender and the canonization of art history.

THE FIRST GENERATION OF ACADEMICALLY EDUCATED FEMALE ARTISTS

Of my discoveries, one female artist stood out in particular--Milada Maresova (1901-1987): a painter, sketch artist, illustrator, and occasional set designer. Who was Milada Maresova and why is she yet unknown? How did she gain recognition during the First Republic? At this time, while leftist ideas about individual liberation and gender equality did exist, another less-liberal attitude was held as well--as expressed in the words of nineteenth century poet Vaclav Nebesky, the attitude went as such: "a women is not born an artist, like a man is, because she herself is born a work of art, in both its form and content" and that she is "conservative out of her fear that life might lose its balance."

Maresova belonged to the first generation of women who benefited from the First Republic's liberal educational reforms. …