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Jan Preisler (Czech Republic 1872‑1918)

”Vánek” (Breeze) – Floating young woman

To be sold at Uppsala Auktionskammare’s Important Sale Week 11 – 14 June 2024

Lot 696 Jan Preisler (Czech Republic 1872‑1918). ”Vánek” (Breeze) – Floating young woman. Oil on canvas, 43 x 62 cm.

We would like to thank Ph.D. Petr Šámal for confirming the attribution and for his kind help in cataloguing this lot.


300.000 – 400.000 SEK
€ 26.000 – 34.000


Professor Holeho.
The artist Georg Jetel (1934-2012), acquired from the above in Prague in 1952.


Topičův Salon, Second exhibition of The Mánes Association of Fine Artists, Prague, November 1898.


Petr Wittlich, Jan Preisler 1872‑1918, exhibition catalogue, 2003, p. 41.

In context

The present painting depicts a floating figure of a girl with a dreamy expression on her face and loose hair, accompanied by surging drapery. The scene takes place in uncertain natural surroundings, containing a group of irises in the left-hand corner. At the first sight, the painting refers to Symbolism and Art Nouveau style. From the artistic point of view, the work is marked by delicacy of its rendering and by a scale of gentle and muted colours.

The reverse part of the painting does not show any signs of authorship or provenance.

Concerning the authorship, it is necessary to ask primarily ourselves the question, if the painting is a work by Czech painter Jan Preisler (1872–1918). This hypothetical authorship has been accompanied with the painting since it was consigned with the auction house as well as the painting was originally a part of the same property as Jan Preisler’s painting ”Pokušení”, auctioned in Uppsala Auktionskammare in 2013.

Though, the main reason to consider Jan Preisler’s authorship is the fact, that the painting is evidently linked to another work by the painter, i.e., a three-part charcoal drawing ”Wind and Breeze” from 1896 (National Gallery, Prague) (fig.1). The assessed painting uses the same composition as the first part of the triptych (fig. 2) and only differs in details of particular shapes.

1. Jan Preisler, Wind and Breeze, 1896, National Gallery in Prague
1. Jan Preisler, Wind and Breeze, 1896, National Gallery in Prague
2. Jan Preisler, Wind and Breeze (left part), 1896, National Gallery in Prague
2. Jan Preisler, Wind and Breeze (left part), 1896, National Gallery in Prague

There is one other important reason for considering the authorship by Jan Preisler. While the drawing was presented at the annual exhibition of Krasoumná jednota (Fine Arts Association) in Prague in 1896, Preisler displayed a painting called ”Vánek” (Breeze), representing an oil version of the first part of the original charcoal triptych, at the Second Exhibition of SVU Mánes (Mánes Fine Arts Association) in 1898. Together with this painting, he also showed an oil study of a woman’s head. Most likely, Preisler decided on making the painted version of the ”Breeze” due to success of the triptych, which had encountered very positive feedback (Lenka Bydžovská, in: Petr Wittlich et al., Jan Preisler 1872–1918, 2003, p. 34) and been reproduced in the first issue of the Volné směry (1896), a periodical issued by SVU Mánes. The drawing is considered an important work for Czech modern art in general, because it is one of the first distinct artworks in Bohemia, representing Symbolism in art in a pure way.

The oil painting did not meet such positive response as the drawing had met, though, and what happened to it afterwards is unknown. It is evident, then, that the judged artwork might be hypothetically concerned this painting, and it is necessary to verify this presumption.

3. Jan Preisler, Kiss, 1895, National Gallery in Prague
3. Jan Preisler, Kiss, 1895, National Gallery in Prague

It is important to mention the subject of the drawing ”Wind and Breeze”, too. The division of it in three parts, while the name consists of two parts, is somehow confusing in terms of interpretation. There exists several period ways of reading of the drawing, identifying the ”Wind and Breeze” with various figures within the particular scenes. Czech art historian Antonín Matějček considered the overall scene to be an expression of the birth and following growth of the power of wind in Jan Preisler monograph (1950). It begins with the breeze, expressed by a female figure; two male figures convey the growing movement of the wind and a female, having carried away by the wind whirl, represents its climax (Antonín Matějček, Jan Preisler, 1950, p. 37). It is just this interpretation and the reading from left to right, which is supported by the existence of the painting ”Breeze” from 1898, fitting the left part of the drawing cycle. Thus, the creation of the painting contributes to the interpretation of the whole triptych. It cannot be excluded that Preisler thought about transforming the whole triptych in oil painting. There is no evidence to indicate it, though. Making only one painting, having reproduced the first part of the cycle, was most likely just a single try and was not further developed, maybe for a lack of favorable feedback or for other actual work tasks or interests.

Let’s ask the question: why is the assessed painting unsigned? In fact, this is not an extraordinary circumstance, because it is a well-known fact, that Jan Preisler did not sign quite many of his paintings, including the finished ones, i.e., concerning not only sketches. Furthermore, we need to consider, that the mentioned charcoal triptych is not signed itself, too.

Judging the painting from the formal point of view, we should consider it in the framework of the early Preisler’s oeuvre of the 1890s, because it is rather different from his oeuvre of the first and second decades of the 20th century. There was a rapid progress of his painting expression, that happened at the beginning of the 20th century, which compared to his previous oeuvre shows much more of a broken brushwork, simplification of volumes into large colour spaces and more expressive colour palettes. Oil paintings by Jan Preisler characterize muted, rather cold colour. The brushwork is broken, but compared to the later oeuvre it is more subtle in general and does not avoid subtly drawn details.

4. Jan Preisler, charcoal version of the Kiss, 1895, unknown location
4. Jan Preisler, charcoal version of the Kiss, 1895, unknown location

There are several features of the auctions painting, obviously corresponding with Jan Preisler’s known early works (fig. 3-6). First, it concerns the overall tonality, which is muted and rather cold, using some very similar tones in particular. Another distinctive feature are blurred outlines  of shapes, especially of bodies, tending to merge with the surrounding – the scenes are shrouded in kind of a subtle sfumato mist, creating a unifying atmosphere. We can also find great similarities in rendering draperies. A distinctly light, floaty dresses with “broken” folds, marked by subtle lines of a light colour on their tops, can be seen on the present lot. The rendering of draperies is particularly similar to the painting ”Spring Evening” (National Gallery, Prague) (fig. 6). We can find those similarities on other paintings, too.

Comparing the left part of the triptych ”Wind and Breeze” with the judged painting, it is obvious that the composition and shapes of objects are identical on both works basically, though they differ in detail. Similar differences can be found when comparing two other paintings, also bearing the same subject and composition – the painting ”Kiss” (National Gallery, Prague, inv. no. O 3272) (fig. 3) and its charcoal version, which is believed to have been made first (Bydžovská, 2003, p. 25) (fig. 4). It is just those subtle differences between the painted and drawn version of pictures, still maintaining the logic of their construction, that evidence the work of a creative artist. It is to be assumed, that when attempting to create a forgery (or a non-author copy), the transforming of a drawing into a painting would be much more mechanical. Furthermore, distinctive features of Jan Preisler’s brushwork are present on the painting anyway. It is not impossible that the main features of the composition were transferred directly from the drawing to the painting (which is something Preisler provably practiced in his later oeuvre (Hana Bilavčíková, in: Jan Preisler 1872–1918. Nově objevené obrazy – Newly Discovered Paintings, p. 59–61), because the painting and the drawing are approximately of the same size (40 x 53 cm). Such an option would have to be examined by a precise comparison between the drawing and painting outlines.

5. Jan Preisler, From Series about Adventurous Knight (study), 1897–1898, National Gallery in Prague
5. Jan Preisler, From Series about Adventurous Knight (study), 1897–1898, National Gallery in Prague
6. Jan Preisler, Spring Evening, 1898, National Gallery in Prague
6. Jan Preisler, Spring Evening, 1898, National Gallery in Prague

Unfortunately, it is not possible to prove the appearance of the painting ”Breeze”, exhibited in 1898, by a period photograph. Such photograph does not exist or is unknown. The Volné Směry magazine published reproductions of multiple exhibited works, not including the ”Breeze”, though. This fact is not surprising at all, because Preisler’s original composition, i.e., the drawing ”Wind and Breeze”, promoted the magazine enough already by reproducing not only the whole cycle, but also the left part of it separately. There are two photographs known depicting the exhibition hall of the Topič House, in which the Second Exhibition of SVU Mánes took place. Unfortunately, they do not seem to have been showing that part of the exhibition, in which the ”Breeze” was presented (fig. 7-8).

7. View of the Second Exhibition of SVU Mánes, 1898 (reproduced in Zlatá Praha, 1898)
7. View of the Second Exhibition of SVU Mánes, 1898 (reproduced in Zlatá Praha, 1898)
8. View of the Second Exhibition of SVU Mánes, 1898 (reproduced in Volné směry, 1898)
8. View of the Second Exhibition of SVU Mánes, 1898 (reproduced in Volné směry, 1898)

While there are no period photographs of the painting ”Breeze”, it is necessary to examine notes and comments in the period press. Let’s quote all of those, which the author of this report knows, containing observations on the form:

“The Breeze by Jan Preisler exhibited nearby is closer to such soft ideal harmony. Here we are facing an allegorical figure, too, rendered in a lovely, outstanding accord of movements, floating across a flowery landscape like a breeze [the author refers to a painting by Arnošt Hofbauer]. The study of a young lady’s head is made in an exquisite, “Hynais-like” way”. (Jan Koula, ”Výstava spolku Manes v Topičově salonu I”, Národní listy 38, 1898, n. 313, 13. 11, p. 13).

“The original triptych by Jan Preisler, Breeze and Wind, with the soft floating figures of young bodies, is dearer to me, than the exhibited Breeze, the part of that three-part picture. Its original softness and airiness were hardly improved by the speech of the oil painting, though Preisler’s brush is capable of conveying and expressing the gentle and subtle tones and the soft playfulness of colours, as he showed on the study female head”. (Karel Boromejský Mádl, ”Výtvarné umění”, Zlatá Praha 16, 1898–1899, n. 4, 2. 12. 1898, p. 45).

“Jan Preisler repeats his previous delicious works in the “Breeze”, in the “study” he depicted a cute female head”. (Václav Hladík, ”Druhá výstava spolku Manes”, Lumír 27, 1898–1999, n. 8, 1. 12. 1898, p. 96).

“In addition of the named ones, we need to introduce the others, who participated on the exhibition: […] Jan Preisler, with and interesting study, painted tastefully after nature and with an airy suggestion on a personification of a breeze […]”. (Renáta Tyršová, ”Rozhledy v umění výtvarném”, Osvěta 28, 1898, n. 12, p. 1134).

“Also, Preisler Jan reveals an excellent schooling by his study, and through his Breeze he reveals himself. The Breeze, equaling to one of the drawings, exhibited in Rudolfinum in 1898, is rendered in colors of a violet shine, symbolizing quite casually a morning light. To this this painting, depicting an allegory of a breeze by a horizontally floating figure in surging draperies, is put a lot of individual opinion and original creation, in the rendering of drapes there is a lot of delicate lines and folds”. (Karel Matěj Čapěk–Chod, ”Výstava spolku Manes III”, Světozor 33, 1898–1999, n. 4, 2. 12. 1898, p. 46).

I assume that all those notes are in line with the nature of the assessed painting. The last of them, written by a novelist and art critic Karel Matěj Čapěk–Chod, is particularly important, because it mentions the overall tonality and light values of the judged painting.

The period notes also reveal the fact that the painting “Breeze” was sold during the 1898 exhibition. Getting into private hands, soon after its creation, might be the reason why the painting did not appear in public later and no reproduction of it is known.

For the reasons set out above, I consider the auction’s painting to be a work by Jan Preisler from 1898, called ”Vánek” (Breeze). Considering the authorship, date of creation and a connection with the famous drawing ”Wind and Breeze” it is also a very important artwork in terms of the beginning of Czech modern art.

Petr Šámal, Ph.D.
In Prague, 15. 5. 2024

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