PRAGUE – Meda Mladkova, a Czech arts collector, patron and historian who was an impassioned promoter of Frantisek Kupka and supported artists in communist Czechoslovakia while she was in exile behind the Iron Curtain, has died. She was 102.
The Kampa Museum, a modern arts gallery that Mladkova created in the heart of Prague, announced she died on Tuesday.
“Meda, although she lived a large part of her long life abroad, was always a great patriot and loved the Czech nation,” the museum said.
“All her life she believed in the idea: ‘If culture survives, the nation will survive,’” said Jiri Pospisil, the chairman of the museum’s board.
Mladkova, born on Sept. 8, 1919 in Zakupy, Czechoslovakia, as Marie Sokolova, was studying political science in Geneva in 1948 when the communists took over then-Czechoslovakia. She refused to return and moved to Paris instead after her graduation.
She met her husband-to-be, exiled Czech banker Jan Mladek, in the French capital and studied art at the Sorbonne. There, too, she fell in love with the work of Kupka, a Czech-born pioneer of abstract art, who was then an unknown painter. They became friends.
When Kupka was dying of cancer in 1957 — still a virtually unknown artist — Mladek wanted to make him happy and told him she would arrange “a big exhibition” of his works.
After Mladkova and her husband moved to the United States in 1960, she helped organize a Kupka retrospective at New York’s Guggenheim Museum in 1975.
Born in 1871, Kupka had studied in Prague and Vienna before moving to Paris in 1896. In 1912, Kupka put on display two works, “Fugue” and “Warm Chromatics,” which are now considered to be the first two entirely abstract paintings.
To afford to buy two Kupka’s increasingly expensive oils, Mladek and her husband had to sell their house in Washington for $950,000.
Their efforts of many years have resulted in a collection of pencil studies, watercolors, color pastels and oils reflecting the development of Kupka’s art from his student days to his late abstract pieces.
In the meantime, Mladkova travelled on a regular basis to her homeland after 1967, purchasing art pieces by artists who were banned by the totalitarian communist regime.
Following the death of her husband in 1989 and the fall of communism, Mladkova decided to move her collection of Kupka’s works to Prague.
“I thought it’s the right place for them,” she told The Associated Press in a 2003 interview.
In the Czech capital, Mladkova opened the Museum Kampa, a complex of meticulously renovated historical buildings on Kampa island near Prague’s iconic Charles Bridge. It houses a valuable collection of 215 works by Kupka, who has become one the country’s most celebrated painters.
The museum also displays sculptures by Czech cubist artist Otto Gutfreund and a collection of modern Central and East European art.
In 1999, Mladkova was awarded a state decoration by then President Vaclav Havel. In 2012, she became the commander of the French Order of Merit.
She had donated her art collections to the city of Prague.
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