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Lot #124 

František Muzika (1900–1974)

Elsinore II

mixed media (oil, tempera) on canvas
signed lower left
46 × 65 cm
slightly damaged
Estimate: 3,000,000 CZK - 5,000,000 CZK
Starting price: 2,000,000 CZK
Hammer price:
2,300,000 CZK

One of Muzika’s first Elsinores rendered in oil painting presents its author as a brilliant painter and a master of mysterious, luminescent colours that, upon further observation, reveal minute nooks and crannies to the beholder. František Muzika first gradually adopted Picasso’s neoclassicism. Afterwards, he connected his aesthetic views with the artists from the Devětsil generation [an association of Czech avant-garde artists], which started inclining towards imaginative painting. At the end of his work, he moved in yet another direction, towards distinctive artistic poetics that developed smoothly in a free connection with the world art informel development, which he approached with his peculiar form and contents. In the post-war period, from which the presented painting came, Muzika fully immersed himself in his organic universe of natural microstructures and fantastic architecture. His inner world was filled with interconnected meanings, which resulted in each of his later paintings carrying a unique expression. The Elsinore cycle, which rounded off Muzika’s artistic endeavours, has an exceptional status within his work.

He first dealt with this subject matter in 1936, when working on the stage design for the performance of Hamlet at the National Theatre Brno, and here we first encounter the motifs that form the basis of the later mysticism of his Elsinores. However, the actual origin of the form essence of these paintings began to take shape with the Citadel cycle in the 1940s, and he created the first definitive works in the first half of the 1960s. The magical cycle combines unified spiritual content and symbolism, to which the form of the works is subordinated. Executed in delicate brushwork, the intricately elaborated outer mass on the monumental silhouette takes the form of organic tissue covering the entire surface of the stone block, which is supposed to be a remnant of the mythical ruin from Shakespeare’s tragedy of Hamlet. The inaccessible fortress, located on the very threshold of nothingness, evoking the entrance gate to the realm of non-being, was once a fortress of the spirit, a place of perfect psychic concentration. Now, it is a system of blind staircases leading from nowhere to nowhere, symbolising a parable about the temporality and inevitable finitude of human destiny. The fantastic architecture is consistently laid out in the composition and rises from a low horizon covered in moss green with a fine linear structure. The atmosphere is enhanced by the misty pink colour in the background, on which both the rougher structure of the oil paint, as well as the azure painting and miniature details, stand out. Elsinore II is undoubtedly one of Muzika’s top works. A comparable Elsinore XII is today in the collection of the National Gallery Prague, and other representatives of this cycle are held in private collections throughout Europe.

The high value of this painting is enhanced by its reproduction in the artist’s monograph by F. Šmejkal (Prague, 1966, image no. 165) and its presentation at Muzika’s solo exhibitions. It was exhibited, for example, in the Fronta Gallery (New paintings by František Muzika, Prague, 1 December 1963 – 1 January 1964), the Baukunst gallery (František Muzika, Ölbilder, Zeichnungen, Druckgraphik der Jahre 1930 bis 1972, Cologne, 28 September – 18 November 1972, cat. No. 34; reproduced in black and white in the catalogue) and the National Gallery Prague (František Muzika, Paintings, Drawings, Stage Designs, Book Graphics, Wallenstein Riding School, Prague, September– October 1981, cat. No. 123). On the reverse is Muzika’s inscription to the first owner of the painting, an editor and translator, who could choose the work from the then-ongoing exhibition in the Fronta Gallery. The artist gave her Elsinore II as a thank-you for her help during the preparation of the second edition of his book Krásné písmo ve vývoji latinky (F. Muzika, Prague, 1963), focused on the evolution of the Latin script. Since then, the painting has been kept in her family. The artist’s inventory number 826 is on the reverse. Original framing. Assessed during consultations by PhDr. R. Michalová, Ph.D., and prof. J. Zemina. The expertise of PhDr. K. Srp is attached.