Zdenek Rykr

Zdenek Rykr

Zdenek Rykr is one of the most interesting members of the 1920s generation. He attracted a lot of attention in 1921 with his cubist paintings, but then he followed a different path than others in Bohemia and remained almost completely alone. He was a great painter and a great intellect, and he had an almost clairvoyant sense of the development of modern art. What he tried in 1930-1940 only became fully comprehensible ten and twenty years later. He rehabilitated the 1930s meaning of Impressionism and was inspired by Oriental calligraphy like the Paris School after 1945; he combined assemblages with painting like Rauschenberg in the 1950s between 1934 and 1935 and anticipated the Pop Art of the 1960s with his objects assembled from discarded things; he began in 1936, ten years before Dubuffet, with "art in the raw" and in 1939 he was interested in pure visual effect in a similar way to what is happening today in the so-called "art of the raw". He lived to be only thirty-nine, however, and his work remained a torso. After a few fragmentary commemorative exhibitions, the Liberec Regional Gallery provided the first opportunity for an overview of Rykr's entire work to be exhibited. It was twenty-five years after Rykr's death: this is the fate of modern art in Bohemia.
Jindřich Chalupecký, 1965
In: Catalogue to the exhibition, Zdenek Rykr Overview of his works 1900-1940, Liberec Regional Gallery



He was born on 26 September in Chotěboř No. 488 at the railway station. The name Zdenko Josef is recorded on the baptismal certificate. His father Otakar was a clerk of the North-Western Railway, his mother Antonie was a daughter of the C.K. Provincial Court. The family lived in the building of the Chotěboř railway station.


The Rykr's family moved to Kolín.


Rykr exhibited in the window of Šindelář's bookshop a drawing Promenade on Kolín Square, which allegedly outraged fellow citizens of Kolín, whom he caricatured.


Rykr graduated from the Real Gymnasium and unsuccessfully attempted to gain admission to the Academy of Fine Arts in Prague. Until 1920 he worked as a tutor for the son of Count Prokop Lažanský in Chýše pod Krušnými horami. He created a poster for the Kolín company SFK - Kolínská obuv je nejlepší (Kolín shoes are the best) (S. Feldmann Kolín).


Designed posters for the German car company Horch Werke AG and for the Kolín kerosene refinery. He was strongly influenced by the exhibition of Bohumil Kubišta. At the Kolín Youth Club, where he worked alongside Černík, Funke, Janík and Václav Navrátil, he exhibited 60 paintings and 38 drawings, mostly landscapes, but also several versions of Oplakávání Krista (The Lamentation of Christ) and Jidášův polibek (The Kiss of Judas). Rykr passes through the expressionist period, he puts great emphasis on colour expression, gradually the influence of Cézanne and cubism, especially Bohumil Kubišta, begins to prevail in his painting. In the autumn, he began studying art history and classical archaeology at the Faculty of Arts of Charles University in Prague. As a painter he was an autodidact.


He exhibited in Prague as a guest at the Third Exhibition of the Tvrdošíjný. He was considered one of the leading personalities of his generation. The graphic magazine Veraikon devoted a special issue to him (VII/9-12).  At that time, however, Rykr had already abandoned cubism for descriptive realism. Rykr agreed to a letter from the First Czech Joint Stock Company of Oriental Confectionery and Chocolate Factories in Královské Vinohrady, formerly A. Maršner, to produce designs for advertising items and posters by the end of 1921. He travelled to Germany and was dazzled by Edvard Munch's exhibition.


He painted pictures of "colourful expressionism with a primitive flavour" (J. Rambousek), realistic watercolours from the Polabí region during the holidays and nostalgic, dusky landscapes modelled in autumn.


He passed his doctorate in classical archaeology. He exhibited at the Krasoumna Jednota in Prague. Travelled to Paris with the painter Oldřich Kerhart. From 1924 he went to Paris almost every year for one or two months.


He travelled to Corsica and toured Spain. He sent reports of his travels to Práva lidu with drawings of Chapters from his travels.


Painted female figures in negligee in the spirit of sensual realism (paintings called Jiřina), published reproductions in the magazine Home and World. He painted motifs from Kolín (sugar factory, factory) in the spirit of raw realism.


Painted the culminating image of the "hygienic" painting Staircase (National Gallery in Prague). He collaborated with the humorous monthly magazine Trn.


Jindřich Chalupecký characterised Rykr's work (1964). At the end of the year, he returns again to sensuous "neo-Fauvist" painting. Orion wins a number of awards for its products at the World Exhibition in Barcelona. The grand prix was awarded to Kofila chocolate with Rykr's wrapping. It travels to Germany.


From the strictly constructed paintings of the late 1920s, he moves to rapidly line-drawn paintings, which follow the neo-Fauvist tendency of the time and often resemble oriental calligraphy. In the course of this period, the structure of the painting becomes more complex, the painting becomes denser and more substantial, while at the same time the painting is stripped of any residual illusiveness. Rykr's thematic base remains Prague and the Czech countryside. Rykr married the writer Milada Součková. He created one of the most successful posters Rhythmic Gymnastics Courses of the Jacques Dalcroze School in Prague.


Exhibition in Topič's salon. Neo-Fauvism culminates, in some cases not far from the contemporary expression of Josef Čapek.


Rykr and Součková visit Mallorca. He exhibited in Topič's salon and with the Association of Artists in Prague.


Rykr became editor of Orion's magazine Chocolate World. He painted the most abstract pictures.


He traveled with his wife to Holland and Belgium, and also stayed in Paris. At his own expense, he organized the exhibition Pryč (Gone) in the Danube Palace in Voršilská Street. He painted symbolic and mysterious paintings Pryč!, Amor and Psyché, as well as the surrealist-influenced V docela nových domech (In Quite New Houses).


The couple visited Greece. Cooperation with the Baťa brand began, which led to the establishment of an art gallery in Zlín. At the World Exhibition in Brussels, Rykr designed the Orion exhibition in the Czechoslovak Pavilion. A number of the company's chocolates with Rykr's wrappings won Gold Prizes there.


He stopped making assemblages and returned fully to painting. He exhibited in the Topič Salon. Creates promotional posters for the development of tourism in Czechoslovakia for the Ministry of Trade.


He concludes his retrospective exhibition at the Krasoumna Jednota in Prague with a set of symbolic pictorial compositions inspired mainly by the Czech countryside. In June he was in Paris for the installation of the Orion company and the tourism section of the Czechoslovak pavilion at the World Exhibition. He became a member of the Salon of the Supernumeraries (Les Surindépendants) and exhibited in Paris in the autumn. He painted images of rural myth and his first paintings with historicizing environments (Interior, City).


Exhibition at Galerie l'Equipe in Paris with Maurice Estève, Fedor Loevenstein, Alfred Pellan and Geza Szobel. Visits London, Vienna and Budapest. He resigns from Orion and subsequently signs a permanent contract from 1 January 1939. He responded to the national catastrophe with a large body of symbolic paintings and drawings with elegiac and religious themes.


He turned away from the thematically and symbolically demanding work of 1936-1939 in the linocuts with which he accompanied his wife Milada Součková's poetic composition Mluvící pásmo (The Talking Band), to compositions made of coloured surfaces, aiming for a pure optical effect. He became a member of the board of directors of the company PIRAS a.s. (Promotional, Inserting, Advertising and Publishing Joint Stock Company), later becoming a director. He created the series of Elegies and paintings Bathroom (Žena v koupelněWoman in the Bathroom).


He created the last drawing from the series Bathroom.On 15 January at quarter to twelve, Zdenek Rykr committed suicide on the railway line under Barrandov in Prague. The funeral took place on 20 January in the Strašnice crematorium. The urn with the ashes was placed in the Vinohrady cemetery, section. XLIII, grave no. 252.

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