Emil Filla, pioneer of Cubism, born 140 years ago

Emil Filla - 'The Painter'

Painter Emil Filla (1882–1953) is one of the most popular artists sought by Czech art collectors. The 15 most expensive Czech paintings include several of his works and their value continues to grow.

The most expensive painting by Filla is The Painter, with a sale value of CZK 17.5 million. Collectors paid only slightly less for Still Life with a Bottle of Cherry (16.25 million) and Head of a Man in a Top Hat for 16 million.

World Painter from a small Czech town

'Still Life with a Bottle of Cherry' | Photo: Art Consulting

Emil Filla was born on April 4, 1882 in the small town of Chropyně in South Moravia and grew up in Brno. From 1903 he studied at the Academy of Fine Arts in Prague. However, he left the school after three years because of the conventional teaching methods and, together with several of his classmates, decided to seek his own path.

During the first period of his artistic career he was influenced mainly by the work of the painter Edvard Munch. He also sought inspiration from Vincent van Gogh and Pierre Bonnard.

From 1907 to 1908 he exhibited his expressionist works as a member of the Osma group. Paintings from this period include The Reader by Dostoyevsky and The Chess Players.

Later, when Filla noticed the growing importance of Cubism, he was influenced by its founders Georges Braque and, of course, Pablo Picasso. At that time he painted mainly still lives.

Surviving Buchenwald

Emil Filla with his wife Hana | Photo repro: Marcela Rousinko,  'Snad nesbíráte obrazy'/Barrister & Principal

In 1912, Emil Filla married the painter Hana Krejčí, with whom he spent the rest of his life. After the founding of Czechoslovakia, he worked briefly at the Foreign Ministry, but he grew tired of the clerical work and returned to his art.

Before the start of WWII, his paintings started to reflect the growing Nazi threat. In 1939, he was arrested by the Gestapo for his anti-Nazi sentiments, along with other artists such as Josef Čapek, and was imprisoned first in the Dachau concentration camp and then in Buchenwald, where he suffered six heart attacks. Fortunately, unlike many others, he survived the horrors of Nazism.

While the theme of Buchenwald is also reflected in his paintings, most of his post-war work includes landscape paintings of the Central Bohemian Highlands. Emil Filla died in Prague on 6 October 1953.

Photo repro: Čestmír Berka,  'Emil Filla,  Krajina českého středohoří'/SNKLU