September 11, 2023

Vik in Prague

         While I was pulling together a collection of block prints of Prague for the previous post, I found a whole bunch by Karel Vik (Czech, 1883-1964).  In fact, he published a book of 40 views of Prague in colored woodcuts, and I spent quite a while searching the internet for as many of those wood block prints as I could find.  If you want to know a little more about Vik and his woodcuts more generally, you can read this post in which I introduced him back in 2017.  Today I’m concentrating on Prague.  I can’t find when the book was first published - I’m guessing 1930 - but since many of the prints are dated in the blocks it’s evident that Vik was working on these pieces around 1925-1927.
        Today’s first view shows Křižovnické Square, presumably from up in the tower on the Old Town end of the Charles Bridge.  I attended a concert in the church shown here.  In the background you can see the turrets of the churches and Town Hall around Old Town Square.  You’ll note pedestrians in this picture, and a cart with a pair of horses, but no cars, nor the 
tram lines, which were fully running by 1921.  Perhaps Vik used artistic license to leave them out?
        I’ve paired two scenes of Old Town Square, both crowded with people (and a few motor vehicles visible in the first).  The first shows Old Town Hall, a conglomeration of the whole row of buildings on the left, and the Týn Church on the far side of the square.  The second shows the Astronomical Clock full face, which you can see on the side of the tower in the first view.  It looks like even in 1926, the square filled up in front of the clock at the hour, with people wanting to watch the little show of circling saints and bell-ringing Death, and the grand finale, a crowing gold rooster (although those details aren’t visible in this woodcut).
        We turn next to the Charles Bridge, a medieval bridge which was later adorned with an army of massive baroque sculptures of saints.  The first picture today is almost the same view as the one by Lukavský in the previous post, but with a very different style.  The third here looks in the opposite direction, back toward Old Town.  As for the other, it’s the only one in black and white, the only one with a more detailed wood engraving style, and I think the only one that doesn’t come from the book.  It dates to several years earlier.
        Vik’s view of Prague Castle is not wildly different from many others, though it’s from a vantage point that includes fewer other landmarks in the foreground.  It also uses only neutral colors, so that it looks more like a sepia photograph than a full-color block print.
        The scene in the Wallenstein Garden also uses three blocks, but the autumnal colors are a little brighter.  You can compare this with another view of the Wallenstein Garden loggia, in the previous post.  Rohling was working at the same time as Vik, so it’s interesting to see the similarities between his style and Vik’s (especially in some of Vik’s other pieces).  In Vik’s image of Wallenstein Garden you can see the aviary to the left, with its gloopy-looking “grotto” wall.  When we visited, the aviary was inhabited by enormous owls, but I haven’t been able to find any explanation of why, or whether there have been owls in the aviary since it was built around 1630.  I’m sorry I can’t see a glimpse of an owl in this wood block print!
        Next is one of the later pieces in the series, a view looking up Mostecká street in the Malá Strana section of Prague, past the St Nicholas church.  And finally, we head back across the river to the end of Wenceslas Square in Nové Město, where the statue of St Wenceslas stands before the National Museum.  This piece definitely has the most interesting use of black and color, with the museum in the background composed only of two pale colors, while the black makes the foreground pop.
        In all of these pieces Vik seems to be using a very muted palette.  It’s possible his colors have faded and yellowed a bit, but they can never have been very intensely bright.  I wonder what prompted those choices, and whether he was actually influenced by photography.  In any case, while I might wish the colors had a bit wider spectrum, I do like these prints very much.  I enjoy the combination of the carving and composition, with the subjects, combined with the snapshot of a historical moment.


[Pictures: Křižovnické Náměstí, wood block print by Vik, 1926 (Image from Aukro);

Praha, wood block print by Vik, c. 1926 (Image from Aukro);

Orloj (Astronomical Clock), wood block print by Vik, 1927 (Image from Aukro);

Karlúv Most, coloured woodcut by Vik, 1926 (Image from Aukro);

Charles Bridge, wood block print by Vik, 1923 (Image from Mutual Art);

Pohled s Karlova Mostu na Staré Město, wood block print by Vik, 1926 (Image from Aukro);

Pražský Hrad, wood block print by Vik, 1927 (Image from Aukro);

Valdštýnská Zahrada, wood block print by Vik, 1925 (Image from Aukro);

Chrám Sv. Mikulášena Maléstraně, wood block print by Vik, 1927 (Image from Aukro);

Národní Museum a Pomník Sv. Václava, wood block print by Vik, 1926 (Image from Aukro).]

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