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Gutfreund, Oto

(1889–1927), Czech sculptor. Oto Gutfreund was born in Dvůr Králové nad Labem. He attended local schools, studied ceramics at Bechyné from 1903 to 1906, and then took up applied arts at Umprum (the school of applied arts) in Prague between 1906 and 1909. While in Paris in 1909–1910, he studied at the Grande Chaumière under Émile Antoine Bourdelle, visiting Belgium, England, and Germany before returning to Prague in 1911.

In Prague, Gutfreund was a member of the avant-garde Skupina Výtvarných Umĕlců (Group of Fine Artists). His sculptural reliefs for the Hlávka Bridge (1910–1911) and his freestanding sculptures Uzkost (Anxiety; 1911–1912) and Viki (1912–1913) were important early examples of cubist works. In 1914, he returned to Paris, served in the Foreign Legion, and was subsequently interned from 1916 to 1918 on suspicion of instigating a revolt (which may be more properly understood as a resistance to continued service). He returned to Prague permanently in 1920. Gutfreund died at age 37, after a swimming accident.

Gutfreund’s numerous commissions included a patriotic frieze depicting the return of the Czecho-Slovak Legions (on the façade of the Legiobanka in Prague; 1923), decorative architectural sculpture for the Vitkovicky steelworks (1924), tympana motifs for the Klementinium library in Prague (1924), decorative elements for the Prague branch of the Italian insurance company Riunione Adriatica (1924), and portals for the House of Agricultural Development (1925).

Gutfreund’s work was exhibited under the auspices of the Czech Pavilion of Housing Culture at the Exposition Internationale des Arts Décoratifs in Paris in 1925. In 1926, he collaborated with the architect Pavel Janák and the painter František Kysela on a memorial to the composer Bedřich Smetana. Combining modernism and patriotism, the team’s entry for the competition, although never realized, consisted of 10 freestanding sculptural groups in the center of which Smetana rose above a composition on the theme of the genius of music reviving the nation. Most of Gutfreund ’s freestanding sculptures are now in the collection of the National Gallery, Prague.

The tension between international modernism and escalating nationalism following Czech independence in 1918 influenced Gutfreund to develop a national decorative style (often characterized as “rondo-cubism”). He was inspired by folk traditions and “civic realism,” and created hefty, full, and heroic forms, including workers and country folk in his sculpted figures. The fact that Gutfreund was Jewish was not a factor in his reception as a Czech sculptor, although it has been suggested that one critic’s characterization of his memorial to the Czech writer Božena Němcová (Babicka [Grandmother]; 1922) as “vulgar, ugly, foreign, un-Czech, [and] un-Slav,” may have been informed by antisemitism.

Suggested Reading

Josef Císařovský, Oto Gutfreund (Prague, 1962); Penelope Curtis, “Oto Gutfreund and the Czech National Decorative Style,” The Journal of Decorative and Propaganda Arts 4 (Spring 1987): 30–44; [Jiři Kotalik], Otto [sic] Gutfreund, 1889–1927, Rzeźba—Rysunek (Łódź, 1971), texts in Polish and French; Derek Sayer, The Coasts of Bohemia: A Czech History (Princeton, 1998).