Jan Hála — With Lunch

Ján Hála was a Czech painter, drawer, illustrator and folklore documentarist who spent most of his life in Slovakia.

Inventory No.: O 204
Artist: Jan Hála
Title: With Lunch
Year: 1945
Technique: oil
Material: canvas
Dimensions: height 96,5 cm; width 120 cm
Signature: bottom left, in brush: J. Hála 45

Ján Hála was a Czech painter, drawer, illustrator and folklore documentarist who spent most of his life in Slovakia. His works are evergreens at Slovak (and Czech) auctions – alongside other representatives of Slovak modernism, like Benka and Fulla, his works receive some of the highest bids. He also illustrated a big number of early reader books and textbooks for folk schools, children magazines, board books, fairytale and folklore books. He admired the work of Mikoláš Aleš and sympathised with the Czech Social Painting Movement which is why his early creative period focuses on landscape painting and expressive social motives dedicated to miners. Later on, he drew from the Czech and Slovak folklore he experienced on his travels to rural areas. In 1923, he discovered a small village called Važec which was located under the High Tatras and he was impressed with it so much he decided to settle there. The local land, nature, people and their way of life would become his creative program. “The idea of a brother nation that suffered and fought for its freedom while sticking to its roots was Hála’s permanent source of inspiration. Ján Abelovský, the author of his monograph, sees it in a larger context when he talks about ʻSlovakphiles’ in the Czech intellectual community at the turn of the century: ‘Their mythologisation and romanticism of Slovakia as a kind of a «Slovak Tahiti» had reached its peak at the time’ (Abelovský, p. 27).” [1] Hála’s early works carry many ethnographic characteristics and they can serve as plausible records of people’s life, their costumes, customs, dances, songs and work. As an ethnographic documentarist, he also wrote report essays for Lidové noviny [Folk Newspaper]. In the early 1930s, he created his own painting style that included various elements of Impressionism, Realism, Secession and also some hints of Expressionism. His portrayals of the everyday life of the Važec folks were often set in front of the High Tatras scenery. His works include many motives of women at work, folk festivals, but also brides or mothers with children. His images are full of optimism, love and respect for the local people with a lively and radiant colour palette and elements of decorativeness. His work is very likeable and easy to understand which makes it popular with the general audience.

The oil on canvas titled With Lunch in Nitra Gallery’s collection portrays a young girl in a folk costume, walking barefoot on a blossoming baulk next to a field, with a bundle over one of her shoulders, a pair of rakes over the other and a jug in a cloth in her hand. The background is dominated by the Tatra Mountains. The theme of a girl/young woman with a rake can be found in Hála’s other works as well – he often “recycled” or returned to his favourite themes over the years. There is an oil painting from 1932 with an almost identical title, With Lunch (Zuzka Mudroňová), even though it is painted in a more expressive style with more relaxed and direct brush strokes and a more vivid colour palette. From the physiognimic similarities of the two girls we can deduce that the young woman in the Nitra Gallery’s collection is also Zuzana Mudroňová from Važec that Hála immortalised in numerous works. A similar motive can be found in a more subtle ink and aquarelle on paper titled Girl with a Rake from 1941 and an oil painting called At Harvest from 1947 or in another canvas, In the Autumn from 1943, even though in this one, the girl is carrying a hoe. Ján Abelovský’s description of the last one, which is available at the SOGA Art Auction House’s website, can be also applied to the With Lunch painting in our collection: “After 1931, Hála’s retrospective intentions move his painting away from folklore as well as some of his rather peculiar endeavours in artistic, hand drawn stylistics. His ethnographic focus as well as his broader, post-impressive stylistic interpretation loose their primary meaning. The folk costume recorded in almost perfect detail becomes the artist’s tool for expressing personal characteristics and identifying the subject’s true self. It would seem the artist’s discovery of the young girl from Važec played an important role in his movement from a simple folk costume study to mastering more difficult allegoric shapes. Hála introduces the Young Girl from Važec in 1928. He kept coming back to the same theme in the following decade, changing just small details. He had perfected it by the time he painted the Young Girl from Važec with Apple (1944). The wedding motive is a celebration of the bride – Madonna (or the Biblical Eve) made of his ideas of the lyrical, gentle and pure soul of the Slovak people. It is more metaphorical than real, more of a dream or desire than reality. It makes it a very representative image of Hála’s later works from the period of 1931 – 1948. Hála also used this ideological(and idealising) approach in some of his other works featuring similar themes. […] After 1931, Hála did not get stuck somewhere between Augusta and (let us say) Úprka, while refusing Augusta’s verism as well as Úprka’s radical approach. Hála later goes beyond Augusta, through Věšín to a Mánes-Aleš tradition of worshipping our origins, folklore, nation. The idealising pathos is even accentuated in the last, most productive part of the artist’s mature career. Hála elevates his professional (and personal) interest in the specific female type to ecstatic levels of admiration of the image of a person working in front of the monumental High Tatras backdrop. […] Jan Hála’s later period took a similar road to Benka’s, but he drew from other sources: he wanted to, and with regard to his own thought processes, he actually had to ʻre-read’ and reinterpret the symbolic model of the myth of Slovakia in the complete exposition of its traditional literary subtext.” [2]

Jan Antonín Hála was born on January 19, 1890 in Blatná (today’s part of the town of Frymburk) in the then Austria-Hungary on the territory of today’s Czech Republic. After graduating from a secondary grammar school in 1909, he started studying history at the Faculty of Arts at Charles University in Prague. Concurrently, he also attended Ferdinand Engelmüller’s private arts school. Between 1910 – 1915, he studied at the Academy of Fine Arts in Prague under prof. Vlaho Bukovac and at the Studio of Figural Painting led by Max Pirner. He lived in Važec under the High Tatras from August 1923 until he died. In 1939, after the Slovak State was established, he was forced to leave Važec along with his family as he was Czech and they moved back to Blatná. However, he was allowed to return to Slovakia in 1940. He co-founded the Tatran Art Society (1926 – 1929). In 1925, he co-founded Včielka [Bee], one of the first Slovak children magazines. In 1925, he became a member of the Slovak Artists Association and in 1928, he joined the Slovak Art Forum. In 1948, he joined the Union of Slovak Fine Artists. In 1942, he attended the Biennial in Venice. He was awarded the Golden Medal of the High Tatras Partisan Regiment for his participation at the Slovak National Uprising. He died on May 17, 1959 in Važec. In 1977, the P. M. Bohúň Gallery in Liptovský Mikuláš opened a commemorative room and permanent exposition of his work at his house in Važec. In 2005, a large part of the exhibited works (26 oil paintings, 2 lithographies, 2 coloured pen drawings) was stolen from the House of Jan Hála.

[1] KISS-SZEMÁN, Zsófia – OBUCHOVÁ, Viera – PAŠKO, Peter: Nedbalka Gallery. Slovak Modern Art. Bratislava : Calder, s. r. o., 2012, p. 125, available at: https://www.nedbalka.sk/autori/jan-hala/ (Accessed on April 22, 2020)

[2] Available at: https://www.soga.sk/aukcie-obrazy-diela-umenie-starozitnosti/aukcie/105-letna-aukcia-vytvarnych-diel-a-starozitnosti/hala-jan-v-jeseni-30310(Accessed on April 23, 2020).

Omar Mirza
April 2020