Historicist Trends in Czech Art during the Second World War (summary)

Milan Pech (PDF)

The article analyses the historicism tendency that emerged in the work of Czech modernist artists during World War II. The article is based on extensive research of visual and written sources from 1939 to 1945. The analysis of this historically significant phenomenon leads to the conclusion that historicism became a creative strategy that expressed the reaction of artists close to surrealism and other trends of classical modernism to war and occupation.

The concept of the historicist tendency is supported by analogies of Czech paintings from the war years with medieval and Baroque art, the use of technology of the old masters or their imitation, and the use of biblical and mythological motifs in the iconography, giving them relevant existential content.

Some critics of historicism have attributed a lack of creativity, superficial imitation of past art and eclecticism to the art of the artists who represent this tendency. Proponents of realism accused the followers of historicism of an inability to represent reality and of cowardice in looking directly at reality. Modernists rejected historicism as a betrayal of the ideals of new art. Proponents of historicism argued that tradition must be maintained, upheld and constantly renewed and that the art of the past is a legitimate source of inspiration for new forms of creativity.

The possible sociopsychological causes of modern historicism are analysed separately. The conclusion is drawn that the relation of historicism of the mid-20th century to the past is not identical to the postmodern appropriation strategy. The historicism tendency was one of the most important trends in Czech art during the Second World War.

Keywords: modernism, avant-garde art, Nazi occupation, Protectorate of Bohemia and Moravia, psychoanalysis