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Bílek, Františeklocked

(b Chýnov, Bohemia [now in Czech Republic], Nov 6, 1872; d Chýnov, Oct 13, 1941).
  • Petr Wittlich

Czech sculptor and printmaker. He studied at the Academy of Fine Arts in Prague (1887–8, 1890) under Maximilián Pirner, at the School of Applied Arts in Prague (1888) under Josef Mauder (1854–1920) and at the Académie Colarossi in Paris (1892) under Antoine Injalbert. From the outset of his career Bílek displayed an almost fanatical zeal in using his religious art to rouse mankind to avert a moral decline. While he was in Paris, the dramatic naturalism of his first important statues treating Christological themes was greeted with indignation by the Prague scholarship commission.

In Bílek’s over life-size woodcut of the Crucifixion (1896–9; Prague, St Vitus Cathedral), Symbolism prevailed over his initial naturalism and he was inspired by the work of William Blake and the Pre-Raphaelites. Bílek’s imagination was excited by the neo-Platonic symbolism of light, which he interpreted in an original way in both his woodcuts and prints. When he was criticized by the Catholic Moderns for exaggerated individualism, he turned to the tradition of the medieval Bohemian Hussite movement and began to foster their ideals. This is reflected in his mystically conceived statue of the heretic and leader of the movement, Jan Hus, entitled a Tree Struck by Lightning, which Burned for Ages (1901; Prague, N.G., Zbraslav Castle). He enlarged this into a 12 m high statue for the town of Kolín, east of Prague, just before World War I.

Bílek also wrote books (e.g. Cesta, ‘Pilgrimage’, 1909), in which he described projects for a grand collection of themes symbolizing the spiritual development of man, a scheme he was able to realize only in part. He designed his own studio–house in Prague in an Art Nouveau style and, while he rejected the mere aestheticism of the style, he made a significant impact on the spiritual tendencies of Czech art and became the most eminent representative of turn-of-the-century Czech Symbolist sculpture.

Bibliography

  • F. Kovárna: František Bílek (Prague, 1941)
  • František Bílek: Výbor z díla [František Bílek: selected works] (exh. cat., Prague, Mun. Gal., 1966)