Over Prague’s ridiculously long history a number of prominent artists have graced her cobblestoned streets. In this list I would like to look at some of the most prominent Prague artists throughout history in music, literature, and visual arts. As I outlined in my previous post Prague still has a very vibrant arts community and scene which rose out of a rather stagnant era of communism, which saw any art that didn’t either support the regime, or advance the proletariate cause as something to be seen as dubious. For this reason the era from after World War II to the Velvet Revolution are pretty bleak in terms of art production.
Mozart: Everyone knows Mozart as he is probably the perfect example of a child prodigy. Mozart lived in Prague as he worked on his most famous opera Don Giovanni. The reasons for this were that simply Vienna’s reception to Mozart’s music had begun to drop, and those who lived in Prague were ecstatic at the chance to listen to Mozart’s work and see his operas. He famously once stated that “My Praguers understand me,”
Bedřich Smetana: Smetana is seen as the father of Czech Music, and is tied closely to the desire for Czech Republic to become an independent state. He wrote his first nationalistic music during the Prague uprising of 1848, and then had to flee the country to Sweden due to the rule of The Habsburg Empire from Vienna, Austria. A more liberal political climate in 1860 allowed Smetana to return to what was then Bohemia where he settled and continued to make music until the end of his days.
Alfons Mucha: Largely regarded as the most important visual artists of the art nouveau movement spent nearly all of his life in Prague where he had both a tumultuous relationship both with the city, but also with Czech identity. After years of work on his commercial projects (which he didn’t enjoy doing all that much) he turned to history painting. His huge (and I mean huuuuuge) paintings depicted centuries of strife and war in Czech Republic, however by the time he finished them the art world had moved on from history painting as modernism was beginning to take over so what he saw as his most important works went largely ignored upon their completion. Ironically today he is most well known for his commercial work which he didn’t see as that important.
Jaroslav Hašek: Considered to be one of the most important writers of the 20th century both lived in, and wrote about Prague in many of his works. As an anarchist and practical joker his movements were closely monitored by the police and he was often imprisoned for his practical jokes he would play on authority figures. His book The Good Soldier Svejk was seen as a modern day Candid and portrayed the stupidity of those in power.
Franz Kafka: Franz Kafka is seen as the father of surrealist writing and inspired an entire generation of writers. He was born and lived in Prague most of his life. He worked at an insurance agency close to the Mustek metro station which many believe could have been the atmosphere which inspired his character of Gregor Samson who wakes up to find that he has turned into an insect. He has a very common tombstone located in The New Jewish Cemetery in Žižkov where those who love his work often stack rocks up on top of the grave.
Jiří Menzel: Menzel was one of the main proponents of the czech film noir cinema and director of the film “Closely Watched Trains” which is oten regarded as one of the most important movies of the 20th century. He won an academy award for it, however in 1969 he was deemed as being anti-revolutionary and his works were banned by the Communists. Most notably his work Larks on a String wasn’t even allowed to be aired anywhere controlled by the Communists. It was later released in 1990 to critical acclaim. His work often dealt with the reality and horror of modern day life (under communist rule) and had close parallels to Hrasek as well as Bohumil Hrabal (whom he used many of his works as inspiration for his films)
Tycho Brahe: An astronomer who spent the end of his life in Prague. He was invited to Bohemia by Rudolf II to become the grand imperial astonomer for the monarchy. After his death his colleague Johannes Keppler used many of his previous findings to develop the Three laws of planetary motion.