Thursday, 28 January 2016



The first Czech painting I ever saw in the Czech Republic was The Absinthe Drinker by Viktor Oliva. I had just arrived in a bitterly cold Prague and my friend took me to Cafe Slavia to warm up. The Cafe, which sits opposite the National Theatre on the bank of the Vltava, had always been a meeting place for artists, writers and intellectuals and it was still. As my friend debated the future of the post-Communist Czechoslovakia with her friends, my eyes were drawn to a large painting on the wall opposite. A man sits at a table, head in hands, conversing with the green fairy of absinthe.

Viktor Oliva was a Czech art nouveau painter and illustrator who discovered the green spirit when he lived in the Bohemian quarter of Paris. He died in Prague twenty seven years after painting the work and is buried in Olsany Cemetery.

I came across absinthe again this year. I was walking around Jindrichuv Hradec and came upon a distillery of liqueurs. In the shop window was this bottle of their own brand of absinthe. Jindrichuv Hradec is known for its liqueurs. Another local company, Fruko Schulz, is one of the largest producers of liqueurs and spirits in the Czech Republic. But Hills, the distillery I discovered on my walk, is more of a family affair and invites you in for a tour to learn about distilling and indeed a tasting. As I was driving, I took this photo and hurried on before being tempted in.

As a footnote to this post, I was in the Krumlov Tesco supermarket before Christmas and bought my son a pack of absinthe chocolate. There was also a bar of cannabis chocolate, but I didn't think I would get that through customs!

Friday, 22 January 2016

Czech Ex Libris

Signed by Mirko Hanak

For my Christmas present to my husband I made a small album of Czech bookplates. I have in the past bought exlibris and other graphics for our artist son, but a few months ago my husband and I were talking about the possibility of creating an exlibris collection. We have run out of wall space for pictures and prints in our home and so a collection of small prints which can be kept in an album appeals. Many antikvariat shops will have a box or an album on a shelf somewhere in which you can find a few or many exlibris treasures. It is a way of collecting original prints, often signed, by well-known Czech artists for as little as a £ each. I know of no other way to develop such an art collection.

Signed exlibris by Plevka

I picked up a collection of 32 bookplates on a Czech auction website and another on ebay. I emailed a gallery about a collection I missed and met with its lovely art director for a coffee in Prague and came away with nearly one hundred bookplates to add to the collection. Now everywhere I go I am on the look-out for antikvariats and pop in to ask for exlibris. Yesterday my husband and I were in Plzen (where the beer comes from) and spent a happy hour sifting through two shoeboxes.

Exlibris by Michael Florian

I have included three of my favourites in this post, but I promise to post with more in future. Watch this space as our collection grows

Monday, 18 January 2016

Back in time for winter

I returned from an English Christmas in time for a Czech Epiphany, from a country suffering from prolonged rain and horrendous floods (although not fortunately in my home town) in time for snow (I hoped). The Czech news had been full of how the temperatures in December been record-breakingly mild, seldom dipping below freezing the whole month. However the weather obligingly broke the day before I arrived, so the plane flew in over snow-covered fields.

In South Bohemia however the mild weather soon melted the scattering of white on the hills. A week or so ago all that changed overnight. I looked out of the window to see this:

It has been snowing ever since. Inside the house the stove is lit and all is warm: the perfect way to enjoy a Czech winter.

Friday, 1 January 2016

The Obecni Dum - Prague's Munipical House

 Prague's Obecni Dum (Municipal House) is often overlooked by visitors planning their stay. I have to confess that the same was true of me and my family, even though we visited Prague regularly. I suspect that the reason for this is that the building is not advertised as well as it might be. Anyway this time last year my husband and I rectified the omission.

And it was a serious omission. This building is amazing. Architecturally it is a jewel of the Art Nouveau, historically it is an amazing statement of the rise of Czech nationalism (the Declaration of Independence was signed here) and its decoration is by some of the best Czech artists of the early twentieth century.

You have to take a guided tour of the interiors to really get a real feel for the building. It is well worth the money, you get to see the amazing Mayor's Hall decorated by Alfons Mucha, the Riegr Room with frescoes by Max Svabinsky, the Palacky Hall with paintings by Preisler, and many other rooms and works by other artists of the day. Our guide was excellent who told us the story the building in such a way that it became a story of the Czech nation too.

After the tour we went upstairs to visit an exhibition of European and Czech Art Nouveau 1900, which finished our visit off perfectly. The exhibition, which is drawn from the collections of the Museum of Decorative Arts (the museum is currently being refurbished), features furniture, ceramics, costumes, posters and graphics and is on until the end of July 2016.

Prior to taking our tour we enjoyed a coffee and cake in the building's amazing Art Nouveau Francouzska Restaurant. The cake was lovely and not too expensive and the decorations surrounding us were divine. My husband disappeared for a while to photograph the decor, leaving me to smile at the waiter. Phil was in seventh heaven - the whole building is covered with architectural details of the highest quality from the staircase to the cloakrooms. We got a voucher for a reduced price drink in the American Bar in the buildings basement, with our tickets. But we were still so replete with cakes that we only wandered in to look at the decoration. As with every part of the building the bar is amazing - black ceramic tiles influenced by the American style of the 1910s contrasting with coloured drawings of folk scenes (originally these were by Czech artist Mikolas Ales).

If you really can't afford the 290 Korun for the tour, the restaurants and bars are open to the public without a ticket. Another way of seeing some of the building is to attend one of the many concerts which take place in the stunning Smetana hall.


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