Collections history

The core of the collections of the Gallery of West Bohemia in Pilsen originated by uniting several older historical collections and its genesis is, in fact, connected with the first attempts to found a public museum collection. The intention of establishing a municipal museum in Pilsen was promoted as early as 1847 by a teacher, and later the director, of the Premonstratensian Grammar School in Pilsen, Josef Stanislav Zauper (1784–1850), a patriot, a friend of Johann Wolfgang Goethe, and also a teacher of Bedřich Smetana at the aforesaid school. Zauper took his interest in art from his father, Josef Zauper (1743 – sometime after 1809), who was an eminent painter and restorer in his time. The base of the funds of the intended museum was supposed to be municipal collections and collections of the grammar school. The idea was successfully carried out only in 1878, by founding The Municipal Museum for Pilsen and West Bohemia (Obecní museum pro město Plzeň a západní Čechy) through the merits of The Association of Friends of Czech Literature and Science (Spolek přátel literatury a vědy české). The museum was divided into two institutions in 1888: The Municipal Historical Museum (Městské historické museum) and The Decorative Art Museum of West Bohemia (Západočeské umělecko-průmyslové museum).

In 1910, gathering for another collection fund started in Pilsen; this was especially important for the later painting collection of the Gallery of West Bohemia in Pilsen. This was an initiative of the newly founded Association of Friends of Visual Arts in Pilsen (Spolek přátel výtvarného umění v Plzni). Its activities, apart from organizing local cultural life, were focused on purchasing works of art with the intent of founding a municipal gallery in Pilsen which had still been missing there. The elected members of the Association’s Art Commission “… which is supposed to provide the committee with suggestions and expert reports for the purpose of purchasing works of art” were Professor Augustin Němejc and the director of The Decorative Art Museum of West Bohemia, Josef Škorpil. According to the statutes of the Association, “the collection created by the Association in its entirety, as well as each particular work of art, shall become the property of the Municipality of the Royal City of Pilsen, and is donated to be permanently used for the public benefit”. The purchases were focused on “… artefacts of Czech visual art with a special concern that in the future, the collections would provide an overview of the works of the artists from Pilsen and West Bohemia“. This simple formulation of its focus also corresponded in general with the contemporary acquisition strategy of the Gallery of West Bohemia in Pilsen. Many significant works of art in the collections of the Gallery originate from the acquisitions of the Association, such as the paintings St Joseph (Svatý Josef) by Petr Brandl, Communion Under Both Kinds (Přijímání pod obojí) by Václav Brožík, and a coloured carton design of the lunette Žalov for the foyer of the National Theatre by Mikoláš Aleš. The Public Municipal Picture Gallery of the Royal City of Pilsen was established and installed on the third floor of the Town Hall of Pilsen in a newly created hall featuring a skylight at the turn of 1912–1913 (presently, the proceedings of the local authority of Pilsen take place there). The Association managed the picture gallery until the end of 1950, when it was dismissed by the decree of Communist State Security. The property of the Association, as well as gallery management, was transferred to the Municipality of Pilsen.

In 1948, all existing museums in Pilsen were merged into one institution – The Museum of West Bohemia in Pilsen. In 1953, part of its collections of artefacts was transferred to the newly founded Gallery of West Bohemia (1954). With it, the fund of the former Public Municipal Picture Gallery and the collection of paintings of the former Bank of Pilsen were also transferred. Thus, the Gallery’s original collection of artefacts originated through the gradual cumulating of art collections, or parts thereof, of institutions that had been operating in Pilsen since the last third of the 19th century.

The profile of this basic collection was created by an extensive, high-quality collection of paintings and drawings by prominent Czech authors of the 19th and 20th centuries and a smaller collection of ancient art, i.e. medieval and Baroque paintings and sculptures (e.g. the Madonna of Dýšina from the circle around the Master of the Madonna of Michle, the Panel with Assumpta, St. Wenceslas, and St Adalbert by the Master of the Altar of Vejprnice, the Votive panel of Kašpar Kašpárek by Master I. W., the Annunciation of Our Lady by Matyáš Bernard Braun, etc.).

The first director of the Gallery, Oldřich Kuba (1954–1985), wielded an outstanding sense for the quality of a work of art and great capabilities as a manager. At first, he focused on extending the collection of national art of the 19th century. Around 1960, however, his attention was attracted by Czech art from the periods before World War I and between the wars, and especially by the personality of Bohumil Kubišta. Kuba established contacts with artists and the families and friends of artists who owned the works of prominent representatives of Czech modernism. Thanks to his vigorous effort, he succeeded in purchasing from these owners both large and smaller collections of the works of the most significant representatives of Czech modernism, including Bohumil Kubišta, Emil Filla, Václav Špála, Otto Gutfreund, Jan Zrzavý, and Josef Čapek. Under Kuba’s management, the Gallery of West Bohemia in Pilsen also acquired other exceptional artefacts which rank among the key artefacts of Czech art of the 19th and 20th centuries (e.g. the triptych Spring /Jaro/ by Jan Preisler).

The second director, Jana Potužáková (1985–2007), continued in the acquisition activities of her predecessor and systematically extended the collection of art from the 19th and early 20th centuries. At the same time, she focused on replenishing the collection of post-war art. After the fall of the totalitarian regime, she succeeded in replenishing the collection of art from the 1960s, featuring, for example, Vladimír Boudník, Jiří John, Jiří Kolář, Radoslav Kratina, Kamil Linhart, Zbyněk Sekal, Adriena Šimotová, Aleš Veselý and others.

The present director of the Gallery, Roman Musil, was appointed in 2007. He based his acquisition strategy on an analysis of the institution’s collection profile. Some only partially represented yet significant creative periods and movements of the Czech 20th century art have been put into focus. A high artistic value or research attractiveness of an offered artefact has become the crucial parameter. The acquisitions, apart from Czech art, also encompass the works of foreign Central European artists. The qualitatively balanced collection of significant artists related to the region is also being systematically extended.
Presently, the collections of the Gallery of West Bohemia in Pilsen amount to some 10,000 works of art. They include collections of paintings, sculptures, and graphic arts which may be divided chronologically into several units (a collection of ancient art from the 14th–18th centuries / a collection of 19th century art / a collection of the turn of the 20th century art / Czech modernism / Czech art between the wars / Czech art of the 1940s and 1950s / Czech art of the 1960s / contemporary Czech art) and a separate collection of architecture. The profile of the architecture collection is primarily focused on regional architecture from the 19th century to present, the core focus being a regional demonstration of modernism in architecture, especially functionalism.

The collection of regional art from the 19th and 20th centuries plays an important part within the context of Czech regional, and in some cases also national, art. The core of the collection of the Gallery of West Bohemia in Pilsen is the art of the 19th and the first third of the 20th centuries. It is possible to compile comprehensive and exceptionally valuable sets of artefacts from this period, especially sets of 19th century paintings and drawings, of art from the turn of the century, and of pre-WWI and inter-war art. A gem in the latter period is the cubism collection.