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Lot #182  –  91st Auction Day by KODL Gallery  (5/26/2024)
Not sold

Jan Zrzavý

Still Life with Two Vases

tempera on canvas
signed upper right
27 × 35 cm
Estimate: 3,000,000 CZK - 6,000,000 CZK
Starting price:
2,900,000 CZKEUR

In the second half of the twenties, after a period in which he devoted himself exclusively to landscape paintings and figurative works, Zrzavý executed several still lifes not influenced by Cubism nor Fauvism, the vast majority of which ended up in private collections. Therefore, this is one of the least explored areas of his work. The then thirty-eight-year-old successful artist was shattered by a crisis at the beginning of 1928 when he felt exhausted. Seeking recovery, he went on a several-week visit to Tuscany, which he could afford thanks to the financial support of the publisher and his close friend, Otakar Štorch-Marien. This journey eventually became crucial in his work. The omnipresent inspiration of the Renaissance masters restarted his desire to paint and transformed into more than twenty paintings of various genres, including still lifes.

Zrzavý subsequently exhibited part of these works at his second solo exhibition in the Aventine Mansard in the autumn of the same year; among them three still lifes: the presented Still Life with Two Vases, Still Life with Three Apples and Still Life with a Box (Exhibition of New Paintings by Jan Zrzavý, Aventine Mansard, Prague, 22 October – 1 December 1928, cat. No. 9, sale price 3 600 CSK). The painting was also reproduced in the first issue of the revue Musaion, a magazine published by Štorch-Marien (Musaion, vol. 1929–1930, no. 1, p. 5), under the same title. Subsequently, its new owners lent this work to two group exhibitions (One Hundred Years of Czech Art 1830–1930, the 153rd exhibition of SVU Mánes, November – December 1930; Jubilee Exhibition of Umělecká beseda, Municipal House, Prague, 28 April – 25 July 1933, cat. No. 260). It was also presented at Jan Zrzavý’s comprehensive exhibition Works from 1905–1940 (March–April 1940, Umělecká beseda, Municipal House, cat. No. 80), where, however, it was exhibited under the changed title Still Life with Vase and Apples.

As stated in the expertise of PhDr. Karel Srp: “[...] The monograph on Jan Zrzavý (The Work of Jan Zrzavý, Prague 1941) brought confusion about the title when the painting under the changed title Still Life with a Vase and Apples was published on the same page as Still Life with Three Apples (figs. LXXVII and LXXVII) and in the catalogue list, it had yet another different title Still Life with Vases and Apples. Subsequently, at the artist’s large retrospective exhibition in 1963, it was presented under a completely changed title Still Life with a Napkin and Apples (Mánes, Prague, January – March 1963, cat. No. 11; Brno House of Arts, April 1963, cat. No. 83). It was also published in the catalogues of these widely visited exhibitions. Miroslav Lamač adopted the changed title and in his monograph on Jan Zrzavý reproduced this painting entitled Still Life with a Napkin (Odeon 1980, fig. 100). I recommend keeping the artist’s original title Still Life with Two Vases to avoid further confusion. [...]”

Despite the slight confusion regarding the title, Still Life with Two Vases presents Zrzavý’s two starting points: neo-primitivism, adopted from Italian painting, and metaphysical painting, depicting the essence of the portrayed things. The beholders thus see on the canvas objects stripped of all details captured in their basic shapes. The objects also do not cast shadows and, except for the drapery, are not plastic – this gives the scene a surreal character and refers to Zrzavý’s favourite motif of floating boats. In the painting, the artist chose the previously rarely used variant of his signature Zerzavý with an inserted vowel “e”, which he used for works intended for sale abroad. Even so, its first owner was a Czechoslovak citizen, diplomat and essayist, JUDr. Josef Palivec. On the reverse is a stamp from the Umělecká beseda exhibition in the Municipal House in Prague.

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