A Czech between France and Italy - La Gazette Drouot

Jan Zrzavy (1890-1977)
Jan Zrzavy (1890-1977)
Vue de Venise et du dôme de San Salvatore, 1937

Jan Zrzavy is one of the great figures of twentieth-century Czech painting. Although he spent most of his career in Prague - the painter with the white beard and black beret has become a fixture in the Mala Strana district near the castle - he spent several periods in France between the wars. He went there when he was 16, then for longer periods in 1924 and on several other occasions in the 1930s. It was during this period that the young artist stayed at the Paris home of economics professor Édouard Dolléans (1877-1954).

In gratitude, he gave him three canvases, which have been preserved to this day in the estate of the historian of socialism. The first, dated 1932, is a View of the Port of Camaret (45 x 56 cm). Estimated at €25,000/30,000, it evokes the very special link between Brittany and Jan Zrzavy. He was invited by Czech friends who had settled in the region, which he had dreamed of since childhood. A veritable colony of artists from his country visited regularly, including Frantisek Kupka and Toyen. Zrazvy concentrated his compositions on views of isolated ports, in this case Camaret-sur-Mer in Finistère, working on the sharp profiles of the hulls of boats in a synthetic touch, served by a clean drawing and translucent colours : a style that lends an almost metaphysical atmosphere to his works.

A great landscape painter, he left many views of his native Bohemia as well as of France and Greece, but also of Italy, as shown by this View of Venice and the Duomo of San Salvatore from 1937. The city of the Doges inspired him to create compositions with elegant architectural lines, to which he gave a certain unreality using diluted tempera. The Virgin and Child in tempera on canvas (35 x 27 cm, €10,000/15,000) - a gift from the artist to Dolléans' wife, Edulphie Adèle Marcelle Loye (1877-1957), on New Year's Day 1930 - is another of the painter's favourite themes, that of religion. A devout believer, Zrzavy left here a vibrant icon, an image of his spiritual love, but also of his attraction to the Renaissance.


LA GAZETTE DROUOT N° 29 OF JULY 21st, 2023 page 107

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