The Critic as Patron and Mediator: Max Brod, Modern Art, and Jewish Identity in Early Twentieth-Century Prague

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Early in his career the critic Max Brod (1884–1968) distinguished himself as a patron of modern art and a mediator among competing ethnic and religious groups. Beginning in 1907, Brod became one of the foremost supporters of Jewish artists in Prague, and an advocate for their alliance with non-Jewish contemporaries, both German and Czech. He promoted them in his critical writing and editorial work, collected their art, and introduced them to other sponsors of modernism. Through his patronage work, he shaped how the identities of these artists were presented to the public, positioned their art in contexts that endorsed acculturation and integration, and minimized perceptions of artistic and national difference. Yet Brod's outlook on Jewish artistic identity changed over time. During the First World War, as Brod became active in the Zionist movement, he began to consider that Jewish identity might productively be marked and expressed in modern art, although he remained reluctant to designate specific artistic forms and subjects as distinctly Jewish.


A Journal of Jewish Art and Visual Culture




Max Brod, “Frühling in Prag,” Die Gegenwart, May 18, 1907, 317.


Brod, “Frühling in Prag,” 317.


Max Brod, “Max Oppenheimer,” Erdgeist, October 1908, 700.


Brod, “Max Oppenheimer,” 699.


Brod, “Frühling in Prag,” 317.


Max Brod, Der Prager Kreis (Stuttgart: W. Kohlhammer, 1966), 51.


František Harlas, “Rozhledy v umění výtvarném,” Osvěta 37, no. 6 (1907): 563.


František Harlas, “Zdravá soutěž: Výstava německých výtvarníků z Čech v Rudolfíně,” Rozhledy 18, no. 5 (1908): 113. Harlas wrote the article under a pseudonym, and the original passage in Czech reads as follows: “Vyvíjí se tu nové raçové umění židovské, nemyslíte? V literatuře už jsou doma, v hudbě také, teď jen výtvarnictví, k němuž mají nejméně vloh—ale inteligenci nahražují, čeho se jim nedostává na intuici, na vzletu, na smyslu pro tvarovou a hlavně barevnou krásu západních národů.”


See Arnošt Procházka, “Výstavní poznámky,” Moderní revue, May 1907, 390, and Harlas’s report on the Eight a year later in Osvěta 38, no. 9 (1908): 855–56, which make use of comparable references to “foreign” attributes. Note also the prevalence of similar rhetoric in Germany in reviews of work by Liebermann and the Berlin Secession. On this subject, see Chana Schütz, “Max Liebermann as a ‘Jewish’ Painter: The Artist’s Reception in His Time,” in Berlin Metropolis: Jews and the New Culture, 1890–1918, ed. Emily Bilski (New York: Jewish Museum, 2000), 146–62. See also Peter Paret, The Berlin Secession: Modernism and its Enemies in Imperial Germany (Cambridge: Belknap Press, 1980), 43–45.


Brod, “Frühling in Prag,” 317.


Max Brod, “Julius Meier-Graefe,” Die Gegenwart, August 10, 1907, 94; “Die Bücher des Jahres,” Die Gegenwart, December 14, 1907, 375; “Julius Meier-Graefe: Auguste Renoir,” März 6, no. 1 (1912): 115–17. On Meier-Graefe’s reception in Prague, see Elizabeth Clegg, “L’agent provocateur: Julius Meier-Graefe et l’expressionisme tchèque,” in Pravdová and Havránek, eds., Prague, 96–99.


See Tobias Natter, ed., Die Galerie Miethke: Eine Kunsthandling im Zentrum der Moderne (Vienna: Jüdisches Museum, 2003), 214–16, and the announcement in Bohemia, June 22, 1910.


Brod, Der Prager Kreis, 56. The present location of these paintings is unknown. The painting of girls in the snow was last exhibited at a retrospective of Nowak’s work in Prague, Souborná výstava malíře Willi Nowaka (Prague: Mánes, 1936), where it was identified as the property of Brod. A more complete account of Brod’s collecting habits awaits the opening of his archive in Israel, where he transported his papers and some of his estate when he and his wife left Prague on the eve of the Holocaust and the German occupation in 1939. Brod also collected drawings and sketches by Kafka, several of which have been published. On the latter subject see Jacqueline Sudaka-Bénazéraf, Le regard de Franz Kafka: Dessins d’un écrivain (Paris: Maisonneuve & Larose, 2001), and Neils Bokhove, Einmal ein großer Zeichner: Franz Kafka als bildender Künstler (Prague: Vitalis, 2006).


Nowak, Vzpomínky, 65.


Brod, “Frühling in Prag,” 317.


Max Brod, “Literarische und unliterarische Malerei,” Die Gegenwart, April 4, 1908, 222. In the article, Brod contrasts the “painterly” and “unliterary” pictures of his artist friends with the work of some of the older artists in the same exhibition, which he characterizes as “literary.” He resorts to a similar characterization in “Max Oppenheimer,” 696, approvingly terming Oppenheimer an “unliterary” painter. The terminology accords closely with that used by Brod a year earlier in “Frühling in Prag.” See also above, n. 28.


Max Brod, “Der jüdische Dichter deutscher Zunge,” in Vom Judentum: Ein Sammelbuch (Leipzig: Kurt Wolff, 1913), 261–63, quoted in Spector, Prague Territories, 81.


Buber, “Address on Jewish Art,” 51.


Olin, The Nation Without Art, 103–4.


Wassily Kandinsky, “Eugen von Kahler,” in Das jüdische Prag, 41. The translation is cited from the English version of The Blaue Reiter Almanac(New York: Viking Press, 1975), 125.


Max Brod, Paganism, Christianity, Judaism: A Confession of Faith (Birmingham: University of Alabama Press, 1970), 94; Max Brod, Heidentum, Christentum, Judentum: Ein Bekenntnisbuch (Munich: Kurt Wolff, 1921).


Brod, Paganism, Christianity, Judaism, 94–95. I have made slight modifications to the English so that it better accords with the original German. The original passage reads: “Typ des jüdischen Künstlers: nicht nur sein Instinkt, auch die unerträgliche Reizung des Anti-Instinkts, des Selbstbetrachtens, der Gewissensskrupel usf. treibt ihn ins Wunder. Er kann gewissermaßen nur unter hundert Atmosphären Druck atmen. Idyll, Gemütlichkeit, Behagen kennt er kaum. Aber nicht Nervosität, Hysterie sind deshalb sein Teil. Unerschöpfliches Gefühl in ewig sich erneuernder Bewegung lebt er oder, wie Franz Kafka, das kristallene Lächeln, inmitten von Grauen lieblich. Nichtjüdische Künstler, die mit einer starken Gabe von Verstandesgenie zu ringen haben, zeigen denselben Typ” (Max Brod, Heidentum, Christentum, 213–14). Brod’s colleague, Felix Weltsch, takes these ideas in a somewhat different direction in the book that he and Brod wrote together, Zionismus als Weltanschauung (Ostrava: R. Färber, 1925), 91–92. In a section that Weltsch authored for the latter volume, titled “Jüdische Kunst,” he argues that Jewish artists can be considered “expressionists,” and he broadly characterizes Jewish art as “emotional, bold, and intense,” even “eccentric” and “fantastical.”


Auguste Rodin, Die Kathedralen Frankreichs (Leipzig: Kurt Wolff, 1917). Rodin had extensive contacts in Prague that endured until his death in 1917. For further reading, see my article “Rodin and the Prague Exhibition of 1902: Promoting Modernism and Advancing Reputations,” Cantor Arts Center Journal 3 (2002–3): 185–97.


David Rechter, “Autonomy and its Discontents: The Austrian Jewish Congress Movement, 1917–1918,” in Literary Strategies: Jewish Texts and Contexts, ed. Ezra Mendelsohn (New York: Oxford University Press, 1996), 166. See also Marsha Rozenblit, Reconstructing a National Identity: The Jews of Habsburg Austria during World War I (New York: Oxford University Press, 2001), 113–18.


Rechter, “Autonomy and its Discontents,” 167.


Rozenblit, Reconstructing a National Identity, 143–44. See also Kieval, “Negotiating Czechoslovakia: The Challenge of Jewish Citizenship in a Multiethnic Nation State,” in Insiders and Outsiders: Dilemmas of Eastern European Jewry, eds. Richard I. Cohen and Jonathan Frankel (Oxford: Littman Library of Jewish Civilization, 2010), 109–11, as well as Brod, Streitbares Leben, 142–44 and 367–69.


Neil Caplan, Palestine Jewry and the Arab Question, 1917–1925 (New York: Frank Cass, 1978), 115. See also Paul Mendes-Flohr, A Land of Two Peoples: Martin Buber on Jews and Arabs (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2005), 47–57.


Brod, Streitbares Leben, 512–15.


  • Willi Nowak, Max Brod, ca. 1911–12. Lithograph, 37.5 × 29.5 cm. Jewish Museum, Prague. Photograph © Jewish Museum, Prague
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  • Willi Nowak, Garden, ca. 1905–6. Oil on board, 52 × 66 cm. National Gallery, Prague. Photograph © National Gallery, Prague.
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  • Max Horb, Square in Munich, 1907. Oil on canvas, 58 × 73 cm. National Gallery, Prague. Photograph © National Gallery, Prague.
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  • Max Oppenheimer, Tables in the Sun, 1907. Present whereabouts unknown. Reproduction in Erdgeist (1908). Courtesy of the National Literary Monument, Prague.
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  • Max Oppenheimer, Stefan Zweig, 1908. Present whereabouts unknown. Reproduction in Erdgeist. Courtesy of the National Literary Monument, Prague.
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  • Willi Nowak, Max Brod, ca. 1910–11. Oil on board, 40 × 31.5 cm. Jewish Museum, Prague. Photograph © Jewish Museum, Prague.
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  • Cover of Das judische Prag, 1917. Courtesy of the I. Edward Kiev Collection, Gelman Library, The George Washington University.
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  • Ephraim Moses Lilien, Interior of the Old-New Synagogue, Prague. Reproduction in Das judische Prag. Courtesy of the I. Edward Kiev Collection, Gelman Library, The George Washington University.
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  • Friedrich Feigl, The Emmaus Monastery at Podskali. Present whereabouts unknown. Reproduction in Das judische Prag. Courtesy of the I. Edward Kiev Collection, Gelman Library, The George Washington University.
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  • Friedrich Feigl, Mill Tower on the Rieger Embankment. Present whereabouts unknown. Reproduction in Das judische Prag. Courtesy of the I. Edward Kiev Collection, Gelman Library, The George Washington University.
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  • Friedrich Feigl, Hore Israel, 1921. Woodcut, 31 × 26 cm. From the album Kunstlergabe zum XII. Zionisten-Kongress, 1921. Courtesy of the Leo Baeck Institute, New York.
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