Cherchez la femme

Glass works by Stanislav Libenský (1921 – 2002) and Jaroslava Brychtová (1924) are well-known throughout the professional glass-making world. Their sculptures, works in architecture as well as monumental exhibits at world exhibitions, created between 1955 and 2003, represent an original and valuable contribution to the development of modern art. From the outside perspective, it is also confirmed by an impressive list of various prestigious awards, which this author’s couple deservedly won for their joint work. The first of many major awards was Grand Prix at EXPO ´58 awarded by an international jury at the World Exhibition in Brussels in 1958 for the relief panneau of colored melted glass. In spirit of European social conventions there was first stated the name of Stanislav Libenský and then Jaroslava Brychtová on the official award certificate. And this name sequence, later also adopted in the American and Japanese environment, has remained convention with which both artists continued to appear on domestic and international art scene. For the uninformed, such convention can give the impression that the sequence indicates the proportion of the importance of both mentioned in relation to the creation of a certain artwork. However, the more informed are well aware that it was the preparing of the joint participation in the Brussels exhibition what started mutual creative interconnection and understanding in art between Stanislav Libenský, a painter and Jaroslava Brychtová, a sculptor in such a close degree that since it cannot be clearly determined in their particular works where an author’s contribution begins or ends and the share of each of them.

Yet there is no doubt that Stanislav Libenský was more popular in media after all. He had charisma and extraordinary empathy, managed to conclusively express his artistic opinion, was a renowned teacher at the Academy of Arts, Architecture and Design in Prague and occasionally abroad. Jaroslava Brychtová stood voluntarily somewhat in the shadow of her husband’s and co-artist’s fame for years. Her role, however, was no less significant and in some aspects, it signified and determined by its importance their common direction. First it was the initiative of Jaroslava Brychtová, which brought Stanislav Libenský to the technique of melted glass. Before their joint working meeting, Stanislav Libenský had paid his creative attention to painted glass, stained glass and beverage sets. As a director and teacher at the glassmaking school in Železný Brod he also prepared designs for school workshops. One of his drawings, originally intended for school glass-cutting room, was chosen by Jaroslava Brychtová to create it in melted glass. And this object with additional title Head – Bowl became their experimental joint artwork in this technique. On that occasion both realized what unsuspected possibilities were offered to them when cooperating in the field of melted glass. Shortly afterwards an excellent sculpture Head I (1958/59) was created opening a specific creative issue focused on the use of internal light space. It is a fundamental issue, different variations of which had accompanied this author’s couple for nearly fifty years of their art career. But frankly, it is also an issue in which Jaroslava Brychtová was engaged while working on her individual pieces in 1957, which demonstrates her vase of green glass.

Stanislav Libenský brought into a common work with Jaroslava Brychtová generosity, emphasis on well-defined composition and emphasis on the use of creative possibilities of colored glass. All this, however, – from a creative intent, from the first sketch and drawing – went through mutual consultations and opponencies. Equally, a sculptural model by Jaroslava Brychtová was checked before the final execution by strict mutual correction. This system of intensive cooperation proved to be beneficial for both when preparing the participation in the Brussels exhibition in 1958 and they followed it throughout their creative life. Thanks to this cooperation they created hundreds of fantastic glass sculptures as well as works in architecture, which made the „brand“ Libenský – Brychtová famous at home and abroad. Technical and implementation problems in many of these works, however, were increasingly and for many years in charge of Jaroslava Brychtová, who was also supposed to deal with most of the organizational arrangements associated with the presentation of these sculptures at exhibitions in the domestic environment and abroad. Stanislav Libenský led the glass-making studio at the Academy of Arts, Architecture and Design in Prague between 1963 and 1987 and the pedagogical work took up a lot of his time. On the one hand, it was at the expense of their joint work, but on the other hand, it clearly benefited to the school and students. Former students of Stanislav Libenský reminisce with love and respect about their professor. Also Jaroslava Brychtová had a share, in her own way, in the educational success of Stanislav Libenský. Her openness and understanding were a guarantee of friendly and almost family background – whether in an apartment in Prague or Železný Brod – where students could come at any time and were sure they would find the open door. Indeed, many of them go to see Jaroslava Brychtová till today, although, unfortunately, they have not been able to meet their former teacher for many years.

In the second half of the nineties, doctors diagnosed Stanislav Libenský with symptoms of a serious and incurable disease. At that time, it was a difficult test of mutual human and artistic relationships for him and Jaroslava Brychtová. And like many times before, also that time, Stanislav Libenský found his support in Jaroslava Brychtová. From the remarkable joint effort in the final creative period, extraordinary artworks come, which are among the best ever created in the field of author’s work with melted glass. These are monumental sculptures astonishing not only with its weight and artistic qualities, but especially with their spiritual transcendence. This creative stage was already signified by some excellent author’s sculptures (Diagonal, Space and more) from the turn of eighties and nineties and especially stained glass for medieval sacral architecture. Stanislav Libenský and Jaroslava Brychtová created, with extraordinary sense of atmosphere and specificity of a historic area, exquisite stained glass windows in St. Vitus Cathedral in Prague, in St. Anna’s Chapel of former St. George’s Convent at the Prague Castle and in the castle Gothic chapel in Hrošovský Týn.

The last joint contract in this field – stained glass for the castle chapel at Špilberk Castle in Brno – had to be completed by Jaroslava Brychtová herself. Even though Stanislav Libenský prepared detailed painted proposals of all eight windows, it was conclusion of his artistic and life path. Until the last moment he bravely resisted the serious disease by an intense creative activity. He left forever his unfinished work unexpectedly and suddenly. From day to day. But he surely left with the knowledge and confidence that the unfinished work would be, in its entirety and according to their original joint creative ideas, completed by his wife. And she accomplished the entrusted work with full creative responsibility. And not only in this regard. Jaroslava Brychtová initiated the announcement of Stanislav Libenský Award. Her idea was put into practice by the Prague Gallery of Czech Glass, which has organized a competitive exhibition of graduate works of students from the glassmaking fields from Czech and foreign universities since 2009. Thus, Stanislav Libenský name lives on and represents a challenge and inspiration for the upcoming generation of glassmaking artists. Also in this regard, Jaroslava Brychtová has voluntarily withdrawn into seclusion and strictly rejected the idea that the competition could bear the name Stanislav Libenský and Jaroslava Brychtová Award. Equally, she has rejected an offer to an individual presentation of her own works. Therefore, the current exhibition at the St. Anna’s Chapel of former St. George’s Convent at the Prague Castle includes an intimate selection of joint works by Stanislav Libenský and Jaroslava Brychtová. It vividly recalls the remarkable creative unity of both author’s personalities. Despite all modesty of Jaroslava Brychtová there is no doubt that without her personal contribution, the life-work of Stanislav Libenský would have gone a completely different direction and the art world would not have had a unique phenomenon of author’s sculpture of melted glass. There is a range of evidence for this statement, but one general argument to think of can speak for all others and it is, in this respect, apt and deservedly courteous: cherchez la femme.

Oldřich Palata