Prague meets Paris: the Reception and Representation of the "Eiffelka"

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Published by Johns Hopkins University Press in Modernism/Modernity volume 14 issue 2, 2007. Bryant users may access this article here.


John Hopkins University Press

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Both members of the Czech avant-garde movement Devetsil, Styrský and Toyen served as cross-cultural ambassadors enticing their fellow Czechs to venture west to Paris, the center of knowledge and art, the focus of contemporary culture, the cradle of modern architecture, as the advertisements in the Revue Devetsil or ReD, boasted [Figure 1].2 The citation itself is a remarkable illustration of the degree of Francophilia present in the Czechoslovak First Republic (1918-1938), for the authors assume that their Czech readers are entirely familiar with names such as Henri Rousseau, Jean Cocteau, Robert Delaunay and, above all, Guillaume Apollinaire.3 And they would have been correct, because the Czech avant-garde journals of the 1920s-Pásmo (1924), Disk (1923-1924), Zivot II (1922), ReD (1927-1931)-were replete with articles devoted to the European avant-garde, with a particular focus on the Parisian cultural scene, and included reviews of exhibits, debates, polemics and manifestos, sometimes in the original French.4 For shifting constellations of painters (Josef Síma, Toyen), photographers (Jaroslav Rössler, Styrský), poets (Jaroslav Seifert, Vítezslav Nezval) and writers (Karel Capek, Karel Teige) eager to participate in the international avant-garde and to assert their position on the world stage, Paris was considered the model of the modern metropolis. [...] the Petrínská Rozhleda, conspicuously situated on Petrín hill, was completed in 1891.13 Measuring 60 meters tall, one fifth the height of the original, it has been described as the "pocket-sized counterpart of the celebrated Paris Eiffel Tower" [kapesní protejsek slavné parízské Eiffelovy veze].14 At the same time, however, as one of the posters for Prague's 1891 Jubilee Exhibition boasts, the Petrín tower is 380 meters above sea level; by this measure, it would be slightly taller than its predecessor.15 Pedestrians strolling along the right bank of the Vltava could look across the river and see the tower rise from the top of Petrín hill, and imagine themselves metaphorically linked to that distant capital in the west.