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Otto Gutfreund
b. 1889, Dvůr Králové nad Labem, Bohemia (Czech Republic)
d. 1927, Prague, Czechoslovakia (Czech Republic)

 

Otto Gutfreud is one of the preeminent fathers of Czech Modernism. Born in Northern Bohemia, as a young man he moved to Bechyně to study pottery, before enrolling in the Uměleckoprůmyslová škola v Praze (School of Decorative Arts, Prague) where, from 1906 to 1909, he studied figurative and ornamental modeling. In Prague, he met the French sculptor Antoine Bourdelle, who encouraged him to enroll at the Parisian art school, the Académie de la Grande Chaumière. Gutfreund studied there for a year, while working in Bourdelle's studio. In 1910, Gutfreund returned to Prague and began to make his mark. In 1911, he helped to found the Skupina vtvarnch umelcu v Praze (Group of Creative Artists in Prague), a group of artists who both studied Western European avant-garde art and promoted Czech Modern artists abroad. In 1913, Gutfreund and other Skupina artists exhibited in Berlin at the Der Sturm gallery.

 

At the outbreak of World War I, Gutfreund enlisted in the French Foreign Legion. For the first two years of the war, he fought in Alsace; however, in 1916 he was demobilized and awaited the Treaty of Versailles in a French prisoner of war camp. In 1919, Gutfreund returned to Prague and took up painting and sculpture once more. He began drawing inspiration from traditional Czech sculpture, and consequently his art became more figurative. In 1926, he became a professor at the Uměleckoprůmyslová škola v Praze, where he had studied as a young man. The same year, his work was shown in the International Exhibition of Modern Art in New York, organized by the Société Anonyme. However, his success was tragically short-lived. In the summer of 1927, while out for a leisurely swim, Gutfreund drowned in the River Vltava.