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Slav Island and the Mánes Gallery (Slovansky Ostrov)

Slav Island and the Mánes Gallery (Slovansky Ostrov) (50)

In Prague it seems that there is no corner that does not have a link with art or music and, naturally, Slav Island and the Mánes Gallery are no exceptions.

Not far from Charles IV Square, Slav Island was formed in the 16th century after a big flood. It is joined to the Masaryk Avenue on the mainland by means of the Mánes Gallery. In the 19th century this spot was one of the most-frequented by the bourgeoisie, due to the situation of the Sofía Pavilion, with a capacity for 400 people. As from 1837 it was the venue for concerts and crowded balls which were attended by the most select members of Prague society.

The Sofía Pavilion was where great composers made their debuts in the city while touring, such as Berlioz or Liszt. In 1840 a music academy was founded and as from 1841 the patriotic Czech dances re-emerged here.

In 1848 the Slav Congress was held on the island, from which it gets its name. At this time the Slav people were under the domination of the Russian and Ottoman empires and the Prussian dynasties and that of the Hapsburgs. The congress did not last long but one of the speakers there was the historic anarchist thinker Mikhail Bakunin.

The island was acquired by the city of Prague in 1884 and the Sofía Pavilion was used for folkloric and sporting events. The importance it had earlier had as a concert hall was reduced on the opening of the Rudolfinum in 1885. Today it is a quiet place with a park that is ideal for some early evening peace and quiet and a stroll.

You will really enjoy the Mánes Gallery if you are a contemporary art fan, since this is where many exhibitions are held of this discipline. The organising body that runs it is the Mánes Society, founded in 1887 to give a modern boost to the art promoted by official circles.

It brought together teachers and pupils from the Academy of Fine Arts and the Prague School of Applied Arts. The Mánes Society, with its magazine titled “Free tendencies”, played a definitive role in the success of the modernist spirit within Czech art.

It also acted as a platform for great artists from the European scene. A good example is the retrospective show dedicated to Auguste Rodin in 1902, where nearly one hundred of his sculptures were exhibited. One of those that had most impact was the famous statue of “Balzac”. In 1905, an exhibition dedicated to the expressionism of Edvard Munch represented a veritable aesthetic revolution.

The original building that housed the offices of the Mánes Society was in the Kinský Gardens, on Petrin Hill. But it was demolished before the First World War and moved to its current site. 

The building before you now was built between 1923 and 1932 by the artists Otakar Novotný in functionalist style. Today it is the head offices of the Artist’s Association.

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