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by captain oddsocks
December 17, 2006
From journal Lovely Little Litomyšl
, West Virginia
January 7, 2005
Walk down his street!
We turned off Smetana Square onto ulice Josefa Vachala--even without the sign, most walkers would notice the sgraffiti on the side of the Paseka building and detour to see it!
About "Paseka," the name of one of Vachal’s characters, which he repeated for the name of his own publishing house--it’s a name one sees frequently around Litomysl. And it was the same Paseka Publishing he started that saved his museum, Portmoneum, from oblivion when they acquired it in 1991 and restored his phantasmagoric wall and ceiling murals and painted furniture. Before we walked on to the museum, we took a closer look at the sgraffiti copies of his engravings and illustrations on the side of the publishers’ building.
One member of our group thought his etchings were "in the tradition of William Blake." I was reminded of Aubrey Beardsley until I found Blake’s "Satan Inflicting Boils on Job." Aha, I see a similarity now between Blake’s work and Vachal’s "The Devil’s Garden." We learned a little about one of his novels, Bloody Novel (1924), from a member of the group--it probably started a horror trend! He also wrote Murder Story.
Demons and devils
We weren’t allowed to take photos inside Portmoneum, but you can see what the inside looks like here. The exterior is not distinguished--Josef Portman was a retired clerk.
The museum is made up of three rooms completely covered with images of Vachal’s nightmares, which troubled him his entire life. In one room, his WWI demons come alive--he thought he’d get rid of them by painting them. I could discern on one wall the influence of the German Romantics, and I learned that Vachal was also impressed by Nietzsche and by Freemasons. Most paintings have captions, and rather simplistic ones at that: "Lies and ignorance walk together" and "Devil made a woman."
The work displayed in Portmoneum has been called "carnivalesque" and "a mardi gras for everyday." More sedate are the photos of Vachal taken throughout his life and showcased as a little life history. No matter how Vachal is categorized, the Czech Republic points to him as an example of Czech Modernism. Others in my group bought some posters ($4) before we left. I didn’t think any of them matched my decor! Even without a souvenir, I’m not likely to forget Josef Vachal!
From journal Litomysl: Roots of a Czech National Art