A Valentine’s Museum Love Letter Week: The National Gallery in Prague, Czech Republic

By Maria Martin, February 14, 2024 (written on February 5)

Dearest National Gallery in Prague,

I have been a loyal visitor for the past decade. Today as I write this, you are turning 228 years old. Founded by a Society of Patriotic Friends of the Arts responding to a decline of public taste, you have since provided public access to art for the people in Prague.

You have multiple locations in historical buildings across the city, which alone holds so much history. My two favorite locations must be the Sternberg Palace which dates to the 17th century and the Trade Fair Palace, a prime example of Czech Functionalist architecture. Both buildings juxtapose one another but showcase an exquisite timeline of Czech architectural history. Your current museum director Alicja Knast who has held this position since 2021, is so inspiring, being a woman head of one of the largest museums in Central Europe.

From the exhibition Amidst Smoke Rings: Portrait of a Modern Artist, September 2022-January 2023. Photo: M. Martin.

Your exhibitions are thoroughly thought out and distinct. One of my all-time favorite exhibitions I went to was Amidst Smoke Rings: Portrait of a Modern Artist. Curated by Petra Kolářová, Collection of Prints and Drawings, the exhibition focused on the depiction of artists as smokers and its relevance to Central European culture. The design of the exhibition left me speechless, though simple, the entire space was a muted light gray, and the walls were adorned with translucent curtains resembling smoke. It was captivating and it didn’t take away from the art, it only enhanced it. I have always admired your extensive collection of Old Masters from Bohemia ranging from Bartolomeus Spranger to Petr Brandl. I was lucky enough to visit the Petr Brandl: The Story of a Bohemian exhibition last month, curated by Andrea Steckerová, Collection of Old Masters. I was able to learn more about Baroque artists from Bohemia which I believe aren’t celebrated enough.

From the exhibition Amidst Smoke Rings: Portrait of a Modern Artist, September 2022-January 2023. Photo: M. Martin.

You always prioritized making creative spaces accessible for the youth, be it an interactive workspace or turning your café into a bar at night. I remember going to my first art performance exhibition at the café called Masquerade, paying homage to the queer community in Eastern Europe. I was able to surround myself with other young creatives and the entire event was run by students from the Academy of Fine Arts in Prague (AVU). I thank you for keeping the Czech culture alive and supporting the future Czech artists that will follow. It is why I study art history and the reason I have grown fond of museums.


Maria Martin