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Monday, December 12, 2016

Antonin Chittussi

Rocks, 1865, Antonin Chittussi, an apt visual characterization
of every art instructor's worst nightmare. Not dumb as a
pile or rocks, but every bit as stubborn.
I suppose every school teacher has had disgruntled students. A case could be made, perhaps, that art teachers have more than their share. I know I'd support such a position. Of course, maybe it depends on the personality and rapport the teacher shares with his or her students. Usually the "troublemakers" are poor students rebelling against being forced by state requirements to study art at some point in their academic careers; but it also sometimes happens that such malcontents are actually pretty good artists, who simply don't take instruction well. Those, you help what you can when you can then let the devil do his utmost. Such students don't usually make great artists, yet sometimes they do turn out surprisingly well. The Czech painter, Antonin Chittussi, was just one such art student.

The class troublemaker, and by the looks of that moustache,
something of a tonsorial rebel as well.
Though exhibiting outstanding talent as an artist, by the time Antonin Chittussi was twenty-one, he had dropped out of two art schools and been expelled from a third. All three episodes were the direct result of conflicts with his instructors as to how and what they taught. Antonin Chittussi was born in 1847 in the small town of Ronov nad Doubravou, located in almost the exact geographical center of what is now the Czech Republic. Today, the town's Chittussi Square is named for him. Chittussi's father came from a family of Italian merchants. The family left Ferrara (Italy) and moved to Bohemia during the Napoleonic Wars. After settling in Ronov, he married an innkeeper and later served as mayor. At first, Antonin was expected to follow in the family business. However, he displayed such an aptitude for art, he came to be noticed by his grammar school teachers. As a result, he was sent to nearby Kutná Hora where he studied drawing with Frantisek Bohumír Zvěřina.

Lovatinsky Pond, Antonin Chittussi
At the age of eighteen, Chittussi went to Prague, intending to study engineering. But, instead, he enrolled at the Academy of Fine Arts. However, he was dissatisfied with the courses being offered so he transferred to the Munich Academy instead. There he grew tired of their Academic approach as well. But then he was called to Vienna for military service, at which time he was able to obtain a deferral by briefly enrolling at the Vienna Academy of Fine Arts. Later, he returned to his original school, the Academy in Prague to study history painting. In 1876, he participated in a protest by Czech students against Alfred Woltmann, a Professor of art history at the University of Prague, who was accused of German chauvinism. His students forced him to flee the lecture hall. Clashes between Czech and German students ensued. After a police investigation and five days in jail, Chittussi and another student, who were identified as the ringleaders, at which time they were expelled from the Academy.

From Jihlava, St. James, 1885, Antonin Chittussi
Until the end of the Russo-Turkish War in 1878, Chittussi supported himself by providing illustrations for Česká včela (The Czech Bee) and other magazines. As an army reservist, Chittussi had been called up and sent to the front. The death and destruction he witnessed there had a profound effect on him. Later, he was able to make a series of small drawings and watercolors, which he exhibited upon his return (none of which I could find). With these and the help of friends, Chittussi succeeded in financing a trip to Paris.

Autumn in Fontainebleau, Antonin Chittussi
Chittussi arrived in Paris shortly before the "Fourth Impressionist Exhibition", but was not ready to accept what he saw. Eventually, though, he concluded that most of his earlier work had "been in vain." In 1880, he rented a small studio and began to work on absorbing the new Impressionist style. The following year, he exhibited at the Salon. Although successful, by 1884 Chittussi was ready to return home where he held an auction of his previous works at the Hôtel Drouot. He soon discovered an area in Southern Bohemia that inspired him to paint. Shortly after, he settled near Člunek along the southern border of the Czech Republic. However, in 1887, he began developing health problems, which were believed to be related to the time he spent outdoors, painting during inclement weather. He gradually grew weaker and was diagnosed with tuberculosis. In an effort to stop the disease's progress, he went to the Tatra Mountains along the northern border of Slovakia and southern Poland. But by that time, it was too late. In 1891, Antonin Chittussi died in Prague on his way home from treatment.
View of the Tatra Mountains, 1890, Antonin Chittussi
In 1997, the Czech Republic issued a postage
stamp bearing one of Chittussi's paintings.

I had to laugh when I saw this modest little
Chittussi landscape with its frame within
a frame within a frame within a frame.


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