My Favourite Museums: What To See And How To Get There

1) National Gallery: Veletržní palác

Prague has superb museums.

Max Švabinský's most famous picture:

Max Švabinský’s most famous picture: “Coalescing Souls”, 1896. Photo: GK

People go to museums, very often to fine art museums, see 250 pictures or more and leave without any particular impression.

Don’t do that. If you want to enjoy, and in particular learn from, a museum or a gallery, concentrate on one or two specific departments, and try to get some information about what there is to see beforehand. In addition to that, Prague’s museums offer a lot of information – not necessarily online, but on the spot. Most of the rooms or departments, e.g. at the National Gallery or at the National Technical Museum, have introductions on posters and frequently directly at the exhibited objects, almost everywhere also in English.

Let’s take the largest venue of the National Gallery / Národní galerie as an example. The National Gallery has six places all over the city. The largest one is the Veletržní palác, the Trade Fair Palace, a former trade fair building in Prague 6. It is enormous, and it would be a waste of time to see all of it.

My favourite departments are the 4th and 3rd floors, and even there not the entire space, but the departments for Czech art of the late 19th and early 20th centuries.

The 4th floor is late 19th century, the age of Bohemia’s growing emancipation from the predominance of the Habsburg rule in Vienna, capital of the Holy Roman Empire, then the Austrian, and finally the Austro-Hungarian Empire. This is one of the most interesting stages of Czech history. In the 19th century the Czech language started to flourish again after a long dominance of German. The Czechs wanted to have their own artistic and cultural life and their own relevant institutions like museums, academies and universities, which caused an enormous boom in all disciplines and, in addition to that, a kind of competition with the prevalent German culture.

This led to the fact that around 1900 Prague had risen from a sleepy, second hand provincial capital into an artistic and scientific hotspot, comparable to Vienna, Berlin, Munich or Paris. Prague had now its own art academies, its museums, its concert halls and theatres and, above all, the people to fill them with life: František Bílek, Jan Preisler, Max Švabinský, Alfons Mucha, Bohumil Kubišta, Emil Filla, Antonín Procházka, František Kupka and Otto Gutfreund, to quote just a few of the names we find beside the pictures on the 3rd floor.

Thus, Prague had its first international art exhibition in 1905 which led, among other developments, to the international discovery of Edvard Munch, which is hardly mentioned in international literature. In 1922 Pablo Picasso came to Prague to exhibit after his first success in Munich and started to conquer the world of art. The Picasso collection at the Veletržní palác is the result of the discovery of this painter by one of Europe’s first art historians, the collector (and brother of the later first Prime Minister of independent Czechoslovakia, Karel) Vincenc Kramář. He believed in this nonconformist unknown painter, bought lots of today priceless early Picassos and donated them to the National Gallery after WWII. See also fine examples of his Rodin and Braque collections and of the French Impressionists.

Many of their works you can see on these two floors, accompanied by well done explanatory texts, in spacious environments and only a few people around you. Enjoy!

How to get there from ARCO Guesthouse:

You need a CZK 32 ticket. Get on tram 22 at the Krymská stop, direction downtown (Tram sign: Bíla hora), and travel 8 stops till Národní divadlo / National Theatre, right in front of Café Slavia, get off, walk in the direction of the river and turn right to get to the stop of tram 17, to the platform on your side of the street, direction Výstaviště Holešovice or Vozovna Kobylisy. Travel for 5 stops till Veletržní palác where you stand right in front of it.

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My Favourite Museums: What To See And How To Get There, Parts 1 and 2 (.pdf.) To be continued.