Poet, artist and translator Bohuslav Reynek born 130 years ago

Bohuslav Reynek, 'Veronika IV', 1954

This outstanding Czech artist, associated with his native Vysočina and France, did not receive full recognition until after the fall of Communism. Until then, he worked in relative obscurity, with his poems being published mainly abroad and via samizdat - a form of dissident activity under Communism in which individuals reproduced censored publications and distributed them by hand.

The Flight of the Swallows | Photo: Pistorius

Versatile artist Bohuslav Reynek was born on May 31, 1892 in Petrkov, a small village in the Bohemian-Moravian Highlands, where he also died, on September 28, 1971.

He made his literary debut in 1921 with a collection of poems titled Thirst. In this and other poetry collections from the 1920s, the influence of expressionism on Reynek is evident, while Christian spirituality plays an important role in some of his other poetic works. His final collection, The Flight of the Swallows, which was not published until 1989 due to its publication being banned by the Communist regime, is considered to be his magnum opus.

Photo repro: Bohuslav Reynek,  'Autumn butterflies'/Romarin

Reynek also translated a considerable number of texts from French and German into Czech, including works by authors such as Victor Hugo, Paul Verlaine, and Adalbert Stifter.

Bohuslav Reynek:  Pieta at the well | Photo: Galerie hlavního města Prahy

From the 1920s, Reynek also contributed to the fields of drawing and printmaking. He used many different techniques, including drypoint, etching, monotyping, and cliché verre, which gradually superseded his earlier charcoal and pastel works. Landscape motifs gradually gave way to biblical themes, often set in the environment of Petrkov, which remained a lifelong inspiration for him. In addition to hundreds of other works, Reynek created the graphic cycles Snow, Christmas, Job, and Don Quixote.

After his first pre-war exhibitions in Grenoble and Pardubice, Reynek's works were shown regularly in France from the 1950s, while in Czechoslovakia, for political reasons no exhibitions of his work took place after the war until 1964, and the Czech public were really only able to discover his artwork after the Velvet Revolution.

Bohuslav Reynek | Photo: Czech Television

Last year, one of his prints was sold at auction for CZK 564 000, which was a new sales record for a work by Reynek.

Between Petrkov and Grenoble

In the 1920s and 30s, Reynek lived in Grenoble, France, where his wife, poet and translator Suzanne Renaud (1889-1964), came from. The couple had two sons together, translator Jiří and photographer Daniel.

Suzanne Renaud and Bohuslav Reynek with their children Jiří and Daniel in the garden in Petrkov | Photo repro: Suzanne Renaud/petrkov 13/Paseka

From 1936, the family lived in Petrkov, but their ties to France continued to deepen, even after the communist coup, despite the persecution to which they were subjected. Suzanne Renaud was prevented from traveling to her homeland, the family farm in Petrkov was nationalized, Bohuslav and his younger son Jiří had to work as pig farmers, and the older son Daniel as a driver. The family lived in material poverty, supported by donations from Czech and French friends.

Nevertheless, the Reynek farm in Petrkov became an inspiring meeting place for many young, free-spirited artists, especially during and after the 1960s.

In 2021, the Reynek family estate was bought by the state and handed over to the National Literature Memorial, which now runs a Czech-French cultural centre in Petrkov.

 House in Petrkov | Photo: ČT24