Vincenc Kramář

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Vincenc Kramář (1877, Vysoké nad Jizerou–1960, Prague) was a Czech theoretician and collector of Cubism.

He was a leading collector of Georges Braque and Pablo Picasso and was one of the earliest art historians to intensively study Cubism. Through his collection and his published writing, he played a central role in promoting Cubism in Prague and shaped its reception among Czech artists and audiences.

Kramář trained in art history both at Prague University and in Vienna at the Institute for Austrian Historical Research, where he studied with Alois Riegl and Franz Wickhoff and earned his doctorate in 1902. He came into contact with Cubism in early 1910 at an exhibition hosted by the Spolek výtvarných umělců Mánes (Mánes Association of Artists) in Prague. In the fall of the same year he set off for Paris and made his first purchases of works by Picasso. Between 1910 and 1914 he returned regularly to Paris, over time accumulating a remarkable collection of works by Braque, Picasso, and their Parisian contemporaries, as well as by Czech artists who aligned with Cubism. He was one of Picasso’s most important prewar collectors.

Kramář purchased from Parisian dealers including Daniel-Henry Kahnweiler, Clovis Sagot, and Ambroise Vollard, and he also acquired works from the galleries of Alfred Flechtheim and Heinrich Thannhauser in Germany. He was close to Kahnweiler, knew Picasso personally, and visited the artist’s studio on several occasions. He was the first collector to purchase a bronze cast of Picasso’s Cubist sculpture Head of a Woman (Fernande) (1909; Národní galerie) in May 1911. Kramář also took particular interest in Picasso’s paintings from the spring and summer of 1912, notable for their fragmented lettering and brightly colored Ripolin pigment. At the Picasso retrospective held at Thannhauser’s Moderne Galerie in Munich in 1913, Kramář purchased Violin, Glass, Pipe and Anchor: Souvenir of Le Havre (1912; Národní galerie), and then subsequently commissioned the design of an innovative new Cubist frame for the painting from Czech architect and designer Pavel Janák, a former student of the Viennese architect Otto Wagner.

Kramář was a prolific writer on Cubism, and his publications were informed by his close observations of individual works of art, which he recorded in his personal journals. In 1913 he began to write articles on Braque and Picasso for the Czech magazine Umělecký měsíčník, and in 1921 he published the book Kubismus, the first detailed study of Cubism by an art historian and scholar. Written in Czech and only recently translated into French in 2002, the book traces the development of Braque’s and Picasso’s art from their earliest works to their later Cubist collages and constructions. It features reproductions of Picasso’s paintings Gertrude Stein (1905–6; The Metropolitan Museum of Art) and The Oil Mill (1909; The Metropolitan Museum of Art).

Kramář was known for making his collection available to interested visitors in his Prague apartment, and he often lent works to exhibitions. This included a historic showing of Cubist works in Prague at an exhibition of the Skupina výtvarných umělců (Group of Fine Artists) held at the Obecní dům (Municipal House) in the spring of 1913, featuring Braque, Juan Gris, and Picasso. Kramář also helped bring a large exhibition of Picasso’s art from the gallery of Paul Rosenberg to Prague in the fall of 1922. After the formation of Czechoslovakia in 1918, Kramář became director of the Obrazárna Společnosti vlasteneckých přátel umění (Picture Gallery of the Society of Patriotic Friends of the Arts), where he initiated the acquisition of numerous Cubist works. The Picture Gallery was later absorbed into Prague’s Národní galerie (National Gallery), to which Kramář eventually bequeathed much of his collection, and where part of it is now displayed. (Source)

  • Kubismus, Brno: Moravsko-slezská revue, 1921, 87 pp. (Czech)
    • Le Cubisme, eds. Hélène Klein and Erika Abrams, with Jana Claverie, trans. Erika Abrams, intro. Yve-Alain Bois and Vojtech Lahoda, Paris: Ecole nationale supérieure des beaux-arts, 2002, xxxiii+123 pp. (French)
  • Vojtěch Lahoda, Olga Uhrová (eds.), Vincenc Kramář: From Old Masters to Picasso, Prague: Národní galerie, 2000. Catalogue. (Czech)
  • Jana Claverie, et al., Vincenc Kramář: Un théoricien et collectionneur du cubisme à Prague, Paris: Réunion des Musées Nationaux, 2002. Catalogue. (French)
  • Pavel Štěpánek, Picasso en Praga, Madrid: Consejo Superior de Investigaciones Científicas, 2005. (Spanish)
  • Milena Bartlová, "‚Není možno se vzdát svobody myšlení‘. Vincenc Kramář a marxismus 1945-1960", Umění 66:4, 2018, pp 246–263. (Czech)