The Stamp Gallery of Czech and Slovak Graphic Art

The World of
Czech and Slovak Graphic and Stamp Art

© Gerhard Batz


As a passionate collector of Czechoslovak stamps, I have always been fascinated by their high artistic level. Dealing with these stamps I came to realize that the reason for this is that nearly every one of the country's stamps has been designed by a major artist of the country. It started with the first Czechoslovak stamp, designed by the well-known Art Nouveau artist Alfons Mucha. In addition, the following stamps have also been designed by great Czech artists: the country's second and third issues (the so-called "Legionary Stamps") were by the sculptor Jakub Obrovský, and the fourth stamp - a formal portrait of the nation's founder Tomáš Garrigue Masaryk - by the graphic artist Max Švabinský.

Vaclav Hollar The latter two artists were members of the Hollar Association of Czech Artist Printmakers SČUG Hollar, (Sdružení českých umělců grafiku Hollar). In fact, most of the designers and engravers of Czechoslovak stamps, even to this day, belong to this association. SČUG Hollar received its name from the Bohemian engraver and printmaker Václav Hollar who lived from 1607-1677 (see right a Hollar portrait depicted on a Czechoslovak stamp issued on December 5, 1953, engraved by Jiří Švengsbír according a self portrait).

This may be the reason why there are so many pictures by Hollar among the stamps of Czechoslovakia (all in all, I counted 11 issues). The Hollar Association was founded in 1917 and celebrated its 80th anniversary in 1997. Current members of the association are the 150 leading print artists of Czechoslovakia. Collectors of German stamps may be interested in the little-known fact that a recent stamp issue of the Federal Republic comes from a member of SČUG Hollar: the stamp commemorating "Saint Adalbert" issued April 1997 was designed by Vladimír Suchánek, the chairman of Hollar.

The history of Czech and Slovak stamp art can not be separated from the history of the graphic art of the country. I quote from the very interesting book "Česká grafika XX. století" (Czech Graphic Art of the 20th Century, p.323): "The beginnings of modern Czech graphic art are closely associated with Vojtěch Preissig, who drew on experiences gained in other countries concerning the possibilities of free graphic art and its application in the artistic conception of books as an integrally designed whole. This was continued by František Kupka, who introduced abstract composition into graphic art. Through his work, the sculptor and wood-engraver František Bílek expressed a visionary appeal for the spiritual hope of the Czech nation, while Tavík František Šimon and Viktor Stretti applied their talent to the perfecting of printmaking techniques".

Therefore you also will find some of these graphic artists in this gallery (Stretti only in the German part).

The same traditional high level of artistic integrity of the former Czechoslovakia can still be found in the modern stamps of both the Czech Republic and Slovakia. For me it is very interesting that even during the time of the World War II German occupation (Protectorate of Bohemia and Moravia), this tradition was not interrupted. As with the designers, only the finest engravers were selected for the production of these stamps (several pages in the German part of the gallery will be dedicated to them).

Another reason for the high quality of Czechoslovak stamps is the choice of steel engraving over the more usual mass printing techniques, dictating a low number of printed copies. Every stamp - like a real work of art - is "signed" by both the designer and engraver, usually at the bottom of the stamp. The Czechoslovak Post Office often honored its stamp artists by issuing single stamps or sets commemorating its designers or engravers.

On December 18, 1918, a few weeks after the founding of Czechoslovakia, the postal organization of the new state issued its first stamp. The well-known "Hradčany" issue, designed by Alfons Mucha, depicts a view of the Prague Castle. Since then, this date has been a special day for all Czech and Slovak philatelists. At first, commemorative stamps and/or sheets were issued at 10 year intervals on this day. Since December 18, 1965, a single stamp has been issued for the "Day of Czechoslovak Stamp" (Den československé poštovní známky), a tradition that continued until the end of the Czechoslovak state in 1992. During this period, a great number of many well-known stamp artists (both designers and engravers) have beeen honored on Stamp Day. Alfons Mucha in 1978, Eduard Karel in 1981, and Jindra Schmidt in 1992 are only a few of many such examples. A complete listing and a slide show with all such issues can be reached from this page.

These issues were the starting point for my interest in Czech and Slovak stamp artists. I began to create a topical collection around these issues of the "Day of Czechoslovak Stamp", and in so doing, I learned a lot about the designers and engravers. I am exhibiting some examples from this topical collection on these pages posted on the internet, especially those pages paying tribute to specific stamp designers. I also present some Czech and Slovak graphic artists who had much influence on the development of the specific way of designing stamps in Czechoslovakia with examples of their work on a stamp.

Most of the stamps shown here are from the annual series "umění" which is a highlight of the stamp year in Czechoslovakia. But the works shown on these stamps aren't photographic reproductions, but independent and individual impressions of the work by the artists who engraved the stamp. Therefore the name of the engraver must always be mentioned and it is very interesting to compare the original work with the expression by the engraver on the stamp. Try it, if you have the opportunity to see one of the shown art works in a museum or in a book!