By Haley Ritzert
The exhibit Shakespeare in Prague: Imagining the Bard in Central Europe is running at the Columbus Museum of Art through May 21. The exhibit features the work of various Czech and Slovak theatre artists and designers, including materials from the Jarka Burian Collection and the Czech Theatre Collection held by The Ohio State University Libraries’ Jerome Lawrence and Robert E. Lee Theatre Research Institute.
This post is fifth in a series highlighting designers in the Burian and Czech Theatre collections whose work is featured in the Shakespeare exhibit at CMA. Previous artists include Čestmír Pechr, Ladislav Vychodil, František Tröster, and Marta Roszkopfová.
This post’s featured artist is set and costume designer Jan Sládek. Sládek was born in 1906 in the Czech village of Malý Kunčice. He studied business in nearby Ostrava and, in 1930, began to work as a designer at the National Theatre in Moravian Ostrava. From 1937 to 1944, he collaborated with various theatres in Prague, including the National Theatre. In May 1945, he founded the Realistic Theatre in Prague on Smíchova and was its administrative director after 1950. He continued to design regularly for the Realistic Theatre into the 1970s. The Czechoslovak government honored Sládek for his work in the 1950s and 1960s.
Although he belongs to the same generation as Tröster, Sládek’s work is more decorative and illustrative, and less abstract. This is evident in his 1962 set design for The Merchant of Venice, which is featured in the Shakespeare in Prague exhibit. Sládek’s Merchant of Venice forced perspective design, pictured below, evokes a Venetian canal-street with bridge-like arches above it. The sky and the water are similarly colored and lead to the same central vanishing point, creating the impression of a void in the center of the set.
Other Sládek Shakespeare designs held in the Czech Theatre Collection include costume designs for Desdemona, Cassio, Emilia, and Roderigo from Othello.
The exhibition is organized by the Columbus Museum of Art; The Ohio State University’s College of Arts and Sciences Initiative; the Arts and Theatre Institute, Prague; and the National Museum, Prague.
Jan Sládek, ed. Helena Albertová, Theatre Institute Prague, 1979.
“Shakespeare in Prague.” Columbus Museum of Art. n.d.
Haley Ritzert is a senior majoring in history and German with a minor in Slavic languages and literatures. She is currently working at the Lawrence and Lee Theatre Research Institute and in Special Collections Descriptions and Access as part of a public history internship course.