Cubist Museum Prague Guide

by Czech Republic

CUBIST MUSEUM PRAGUE

The amazing array of Prague architecture is one of the main reasons visitors flock to the Czech capital. Old Town Prague is best-known for its skyline of Gothic spires and Baroque domes, but it hides one of the most fascinating – and beautiful – Prague buildings, the House of the Black Madonna.  This is home to one of the best niche museums in Prague, the Czech Cubism Museum, also known as the Cubist Museum Prague.

WHAT IS CUBISM?

Image of a Cubist painting by Czech artist Josef Capek
An early Cubist painting by Josef Capek

Cubism is an early 20th century art movement with its roots in Paris. Cubist art is world-famous, thanks mainly to one of its earliest exponents, Pablo Picasso.  His works from this period, including Ma Jolie (1912) and Girl With Mandolin, are excellent examples of Cubist painting.

Cubism’s influence went beyond visual art. The ballet Parade, written by Jean Cocteau and scored by Erik Satie has Cubist elements, from the distinctive costumes to the inclusion of ‘non-musical’ sounds such as sirens and whistles over the top of the conventional score – this clip of Parade still looks and sounds avant-garde, over a century on.

CUBISM CHARACTERISTICS

Image of Cubist style chairs in the Cubist Museum Prague
A display of Cubist-style chairs

Cubism in art is characterized by abstract and geometrical shapes and forms. In some of Picasso’s paintings, figures are a series of shapes, like the Čapek painting above. This went on to influence other aspects of contemporary design, with shapes including triangles, hexagons and octagons and diamonds coming to the fore.

Image of a Cubist lamp post in Prague New Town
Cubism lovers gather round – a rare relic from the all-too-brief Cubist period

You can see these shapes in places as varied as the lights in the restaurant of the Black Madonna Prague to jewellery in the Cubist shop on the ground floor of the same building to the  Cubist lamp post nearby on Jungmannovo namesti.

These geometrical shapes were incorporated into building design. Facades were no longer flat as they were in Art Nouveau. They became more dynamic and three-dimensional, with half-diamond decorations above and below windows. Indeed, windows would now change shape altogether, from flat to three-dimensional, geometric bay windows in different shapes, like the Vila Kovaricova in Vysehrad.    

CUBISM IN ARCHITECTURE

Image of the Cubist House of the Black Madonna in Prague
The Cubist exterior of the House of the Black Madonna

Cubist architecture never really gained much traction beyond Prague and what is now the Czech Republic. The original burst of Prague Cubist architecture lasted just three years, from 1911 until the outbreak of World War I in 1914. This also put an end to the Prague Art Nouveau era. However the legacy of Art Nouveau Prague is richer and more widespread as it had a head start of almost twenty years.

I’ve traversed and trekked most of Prague many times over, and have come across between 10 and 20 Cubist buildings around the city. There are several Cubist villas by prominent Czech architect Josef Chochol, around the base of Vysehrad Castle, Prague which you can only see from the outside, and our article on Vysehrad Prague gives more information on this.

After the First World War, the Cubist architectural style in its original form wasn’t revisited. However, two styles were greatly influenced by it – the Czech Rondo-Cubist style and Art Deco, the latter with its straight geometric lines and angular shapes.

WHAT IS THERE TO SEE AT THE CUBIST MUSEUM PRAGUE?

Image of a sofa in the Prague Cubism Museum
Relaxation, 1911 style

The exhibition at the Prague Cubism Museum is spread over two floors (the second and third) of the House of the Black Madonna.

It’s dedicated to telling the story of Prague Cubism, and the brief flowering of this unique Prague architecture style.

Image of Cubist furniture in the Cubism Museum Prague
A Cubist cabinet, chair and bench

It’s quite a small exhibition, but I found it packed with interest. Some of the Cubist furniture on display is absolutely exquisite, with Cubist chairs, Cubist cabinets, Cubist closets, a Cubist sofa, and some Czech Cubist art, including paintings by Josef Čapek and sculpture by Otto Gutfreund.

Image of the staircase in the Cubist Museum Prague
The stunning staircase in the Prague Cubist Museum

The building itself is possibly the best example of Cubism in architecture. It was designed by architect Josef Gočar, and it was originally a department store. My personal highlight is the beautiful staircase at the back of the building, which looks best from the fourth floor, down towards the ground. It has a beautiful abstract quality, with a lightbulb shape between the handrails.

WHAT ABOUT THE CUBIST CAFÉ PRAGUE?

Image of a coffee cup at the Cubist Grand Cafe Orient, Prague
A Cubist coffee, anyone?

The Grand Café Orient claims to be the world’s only Cubist café, and I think it’s safe to say this claim stands up to scrutiny. The café is on the first floor, and there’s also the Cerna Madona Cubism Restaurant on the ground floor, which has beautiful Cubist lighting and décor.

Image of the Cubism Restaurant sign at the Cerna Madona restaurant in Prague
The Cubism Restaurant is on the ground floor of the House of the Black Madonna

I was the first customer of the day at the Grand Café Orient, and enjoyed two very good coffees and a panino. It was a bright summer morning, the sunlight flooding the interior, the food was good, nobody else was there and I had time to look around at all the details of the Cubist interior. The Cubist lampshades and coat hooks are beautiful, and the service was impeccable.

WHERE IS THE CUBISM MUSEUM PRAGUE?

Image of a Cubist mirror in the Cubism Museum Prague
The Cubist Museum is close to the Old Town and many other Prague sights

The House of the Black Madonna (Dum U Černy Matky Boži) is on the corner of Ovocny trh and Celetna, in the heart of Prague Old Town. Its website states that its address is Ovocny trh 19, Prague 1.

It’s at the opposite end of Ovocny trh form the Estates Theatre, one of the great landmarks of Prague. It’s also only a 3-4 minute walk from Prague Old Town Square along Celetna. It’s also very close to one of the best towers in Prague, the late-medieval Powder Tower (Prašna Brana) and the stunning Art Nouveau Municipal House concert venue (Obecni dum) next door.

The nearest Metro stops are Namesti Republiky and Mustek, both of which are around a 5-minute walk away, on the yellow Line B.

HOW MUCH ARE THE TICKETS?

Image of Cubist furniture in the Cubist Museum Prague
Part of the permanent exhibition in the Prague Cubist Museum

150 CZK – around $7 US – for adults. The discounted rate is 80 CZK, which includes students up to the age of 26 and over-65s.

WHEN IS THE PRAGUE CUBISM MUSEUM OPEN?

It’s open 10.00 am to 7.00 pm Tuesdays and 10.00 am to 6.00 pm Wednesdays to Sundays.

The Museum is closed on Mondays.

THE PRAGUE CUBISM MUSEUM – OUR VERDICT

Image of a Cubist lampshade at the Czech Cubism Museum Prague
A gorgeous Cubist lampshade

The Czech Cubist Museum is a great starting point for anyone new to Cubism and Cubist designs. The House of the Black Madonna Prague is a wonderful setting, and the descriptions – in Czech and English – are very detailed and informative.

Its exhibits are superb, building up a picture of Cubism in the 1911-1914 period, with enough information for anyone interested to branch out on their own and seek out more of the Cubism around the Prague streets, particularly in Nove Mesto (New Town) and areas to the south of there.

I approached it from another angle, having seen most of the Cubist architecture Prague has before finally visiting the Cubism Museum. Nonetheless, visiting the Museum helped bring many different threads together. It’s a wonderful introduction to a branch of Czech architecture and design many wouldn’t know exists. I’d go so far as to say that it’s one of the best museums in Prague – and certainly one of the best small Prague museums.

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