Sculptor Ladislav Saloun
Prague’s Old Town Square is a location so full of historical sights that one almost doesn’t know where to look first. But at the moment, one of the landmarks, a monumental sculptural group on the north side of the square, is hidden from sight. The bronze memorial to the Czech church reformer Jan Hus is under scaffolding and covered by a tarpaulin because it is undergoing much needed renovation. The sculpture, unveiled in 1915, is the best-known work by the Czech sculptor Ladislav Saloun.
Design theorist Dagmar Doskova is the granddaughter of Ladislav Saloun. Busy with sorting the family archives, she is in everyday contact with the legacy of her maternal grandfather, of whom she has very fond memories.
Ladislav Saloun was born in Prague in 1870, just round the corner from where his most famous masterpiece would one day stand. His style was influenced by Art Nouveau, Symbolism and Impressionism. He travelled to Italy and France and got acquainted with Auguste Rodin. His works can be found around the country: a memorial to the inventor of the propeller Josef Ressel in his native Chrudim, another Jan Hus monument in Horice in East Bohemia, a monument to author Jindrich Simon Baar in the Sumava Mountains. Another of his works can be found in Trieste in Italy. Besides the monumental sculpture of Jan Hus, other well-known works by Saloun in Prague include the statues of the 16th century Prague Rabbi Yehudah Low and the Stone Knight outside the city hall just off the Old Town Square.
“The sculptor Ladislav Saloun decided to build this studio after he won the competition for the Jan Hus monument, because his studio in Wenceslas Square was too small for such a large work. He designed the building himself and had it built between 1908 and 1910. It is an Art Nouveau structure with exceptional features of Symbolist architecture which make this building quite unique and remarkable on a European level.”
“It was in very bad repair. The state was not a good caretaker. The studio was used by a sculptor favoured by the regime, so we found here a few dozen heads of the first communist president Klement Gottwald and similar artefacts. First we had to carry out emergency works – to repair the sewage system, the roof. Meanwhile, the new owner, the Academy of Fine Arts, found a sensible new purpose for the building. Now the studio will be used by students and serve its original purpose.”
“Grandpa loved people. He had many friends and loved visitors. Among the callers were poets, novelists, musicians, painters and sculptors, though there were also scientists, doctors and politicians. One of the poets was Otokar Brezina. One verse by Brezina is carved on the facade, and Brezina’s ideas are behind the ‘Greeting to the Sun’ relief on the wall. Other visitors included the violin virtuoso Jan Kubelik, his son, the conductor Rafael Kubelik, who were next-door neighbours, the writers Karel Capek and Alois Jirasek and the painter Alfons Mucha. They were all dear friends of the whole family.”
Ladislav Saloun is best known for his monuments as well as the decoration of Prague’s National Theatre, the Municipal House and the Prague City Museum, but the artist’s granddaughter, design theorist Dagmar Doskova says Saloun’s work has another dimension.
“Apart from the large monuments and decoration of buildings, perhaps the most interesting thing today are his psychological studies. Studies of distinctive, extraordinary states of the human mind, be it Contemplation, Concentration, or Dreaming. They are all studies of human heads which represent certain aspirations of the human spirit and genius.”
“Saloun was one of the sculptors who founded the concept of Czech Modernism and, of course, the following generations, be it Otto Gutfreund, or other contemporary sculptors – they all have been influenced by the beginnings of Czech Modernism, so also by Saloun.”
Saloun’s Villa, photo: author