Art collector and patron Meda Mládková dies aged 102

Meda Mládková

Art collector, patron and founder of the Museum Kampa in Prague, Meda Mládková, died on Tuesday at the age of 102. Mrs. Mládková spent more than half of her life in the United States, where she and her husband established a collection of modern Czech art, which she donated to her home country after the Velvet Revolution in 1989.

Meda Mládková, was born as Marie Sokolová in the small north-Bohemian town of Zákupy in 1919. She originally trained as a dancer, but after the Second World War she went into exile, first to Geneva, where she studied economy, and then to Paris, where she studied art history at the Sorbonne and the L’école du Louvre.

It was in Paris that she met her future husband, Jan Mládek, who was in charge of the temporary administration of Czechoslovakia’s central bank after WWII.

Meda Mládková with František Kupka's painting | Photo: Milena Štráfeldová,  Radio Prague International

It was also in Paris that she met the famous Czech painter František Kupka, whose work significantly influenced her view of art. She began to collect Kupka’s works and gradually managed to assemble the largest private collection of his works in the world.

Disillusioned by the post-War development in Czechoslovakia, Mládková and her husband moved to the United States in the 1960s, but she remained in touch with her home country and her Czechoslovak friends.

She first returned to Communist Czechoslovakia in 1967 and was impressed by the local art scene. She quickly established a web of contacts with artists and members of the wider cultural scene who supplied her with their work.

In 1999, she established a foundation that acquired Sovovy Mlýny, a historic building a few hundred meters from Charles Bridge in Prague, and transformed the building into a thriving art museum, called Museum Kampa.

Museum Kampa | Photo: Radio Prague International

One of Meda Mládková’s biggest accomplishments was unquestionably helping the Czech public to re-discover František Kupka, but journalist Ondřej Kundra, who authored her extensive biography, says her support of artists behind the Iron Curtain was equally important:

“What is even more important for me is what Meda Mládková did for all those non-conformist artists who suffered during the Communist regime. There were many of them, they were very talented, but they couldn’t have official exhibitions.

"Mrs Mládková bought their sculptures and paintings, and she also gave them energy and supported them in carrying on with their art work. So I would say she helped a whole generation of artists in this way.”

Meda Mládková | Photo: Jindřich Nosek,  Wikimedia Commons,  CC BY-SA 3.0

Mr Kundra also points out that at the time Meda Mládková was born, it was extremely difficult for women to pursue their careers, and by succeeding, she definitely set an example for other women.

“I remember Meda Mládková as one of the very few Czech women who made a career in the United States, along with Madeleine Albright, who actually lived just a few blocks from the Mládeks’ house.

“I will also remember Meda Mládková as a woman who never stopped working. When she returned to Czechoslovakia after the Velvet Revolution, she was already quite old.

“She could have retired and enjoy her free time, but she continued in her work and in the end she succeeded in opening her great museum, where she lived until the end of her life.”