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Lot #57  –  91st Auction Day by KODL Gallery  (5/26/2024)

Theodor Pištěk
(✱ 1932)

Variation No. 1

oil on canvas
signed on the reverse
200 × 249 cm
Estimate: 7,000,000 CZK - 15,000,000 CZK
Starting price: 6,000,000 CZK
Hammer price:
8,000,000 CZKEUR

Theodor Pištěk, whose artistic expression is mainly associated with photorealistic figurative subject matters, in the presented work embarked on a long-term path of geometric abstraction, which, however (as is typical of the author), is firmly anchored in a rational foundation. The monumental canvas Variation No. 1 represents a turning point in the artist’s work, culminating in his famous, purely geometric Conversations with Hawking, and provides a fascinating insight into the thinking of one of the most sought-after artists today.

The beginnings of Pištěk’s turn to non-figurative vehicles of expression in connection with space can be traced back to the early eighties when his attention was drawn to the Last Supper fresco by Leonardo da Vinci in the refectory of the Dominican monastery in Milan. The masterful composition and the complex expression of the relationships between the individual characters led Pištěk to reflect on what can be extracted from it without depriving the final depiction of its intense meaning. He thus created three variants of an empty interior, in which only a table bathed in a stream of soft light and a window opening a view of a flat, empty landscape were preserved. The strict symmetry and reduction of space to basic geometric shapes contrasted ingeniously with the inner tension and emotional content of the traditional Christian theme. In Pištěk’s work of the 1990s, the geometric shapes became the dominant bearers of intricate action and movement. Combined with an ambiguous interior illuminated by soft light from an indeterminate source, he imbued his paintings with a mysterious atmosphere. After all, even in the famous Party at Plečnik’s from 1992–1993, the author, through geometric elements flowing in the air, invited us to look around the corner of the room as if we were watching the remnants of a story that had already happened from the position of a non-participating spectator.

Pištěk gradually began simplifying the captured spaces and choosing individual geometric elements with greater discretion. In the Variations series, executed between 1995 and 1997, in which the presented painting is the first of seven, he placed the scene in a vacuum. We can make out a fragment of a cross vault supported by austere pilasters, but beyond them lies a black void – so where does the light come from? Where are the geometric elements leading us now, and what do they represent? We can look for the answer in the other six paintings of the series, in which the artist depicted the strange interior from different angles. A sense of mystery pervaded his work from the beginning, but in Variation No. 1, he gave it real freedom.

The painting has been published several times, e.g. in the artist’s monograph (J. Šetlík ed.: Theodor Pištěk, Pecka Gallery, Prague 2007, p. 265). It was presented in 2022 at Villa Pellé (Pištěk & Pištěk: Two Worlds, Prague, 18. 10. 2022 – 20. 1. 2023), in 2019 at Brno House of Arts (Angelus, Brno, 24. 9. 2019 – 12. 1. 2020) and in 2012 at the National Gallery Prague (Ecce homo, 26. 9. 2012 – 6. 1. 2013). It was also published in the catalogues of the aforementioned exhibitions. The painting has never been restored, and its current authentic condition complies with Pištěk’s opinion. The work comes directly from the artist’s studio.

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