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Otto Gutfreund

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Otto Gutfreund

*  1889 Dvur Králové n. Lab./Königinhof a. d. Elbe
† 1927 Prag


Otto Gutfreund, born in 1889, is one of the few modern Czech sculptors to have attained an international reputation beyond the borders of his own country. During a crucial phase in the development of European sculpture, Gutfreund kept abreast of developments, developed a distinctive style of his own and consequently exerted an influence on the European avant-garde. Gutfreund grew up in a Jewish environment in a small town in northern Bohemia. After attending a pottery school at Bechyne from 1903 and the Prague School for the Decorative and Applied Arts from 1906 to 1909, Otto Gutfreund went to Paris to study under Émile-Antoine Bourdelle, who taught the sculpture class at the private Acadédmie de la Grande Chaumičre. Gutfreund worked in Bourdelle's studio until 1910. His direct experience of contemporary painting in Paris moulded Gutfreund's definition of his aims as a sculptor and the path his work would follow: 'Being a sculptor does not just mean being able to model. The sculptor must be a mathematician in the first instance, who builds mass in according to a deliberate plan, that means he must be an architect.' After visiting several western European cities, Otto Gutfreund returned to Prague in 1910, where he joined the group of artists known as 'Skupina výtvarných umelcu v Praze', whose first (of four) shows was mounted at the Prague parish hall in 1912. Gutfreund showed some sculptures at the first 'Deutscher Herbstsalon' in 1913 and was also represented at Herwarth Walden's Berlin gallery, Der Sturm, as well as the Goltz salon in Munich. Gutfreund, who was by then on the threshold of Cubism after his personal experience of the Paris school, developed these leanings further along with the Czech painters Emil Filla and Bohumil Kubiëta, becoming a leading exponent of Cubist sculpture with Picasso and Archipenko. After serving in the first world war, when he was interned in a camp in Provence, Otto Gutfreund eked out a living doing odd jobs in Paris from 1918. After gradually recovering his creative powers, Gutfreund returned to Prague in 1920. There he joined the artists' association 'SVU Mánes' in 1921. After experimenting briefly with Constructivism in 1919, Gutfreund returned to figuration in the 1920s. In 1926 he was appointed professor of architectural sculpture at the Prague School for the Decorative and Applied Arts. Only a year later Otto Gutfreund drowned himself in the Moldau on 2 June 1927.