Jirí Kolár

They Pass before Me, Those Electric Eyes Some Abstruse Angel Must Have Magnetized


Not on display

Jirí Kolár 1914–2002
Original title
Ils marchent devant moi, ces yeux plein de lumières, qu'un ange très-savant a sans doute aimantés
Photograph and lithograph on paper
Image: 265 × 444 mm
Presented by Mr and Mrs Rodney Capstick-Dale 1988

Display caption

Kolár was both a visual artist and a writer, and in these works he pays homage to nineteenth-century French poet Charles Baudelaire whose portrait recurs in all of them. Kolár (pronounced to sound like ‘collage’) developed various different ways of combining imagery; he called this technique of interlacing vertical strips of two different images ‘prollage’. In each case the reproduced painting interwoven with the poet’s portrait reminded Kolár of a particular line from Baudelaire’s collection of poems ‘The Flowers of Evil’, from which the titles are borrowed.

Gallery label, January 2016

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Catalogue entry

T05031 They Pass before me, those Electric Eyes some Abstruse Angel Must Have Magnetised 1972

Ils marchent devant moi, ces yeux pleins de lumières, qu'un ange très-savant a sans doute aimantés
Photo-lithograph on wove paper 265 × 444 (10 7/16 × 17 1/2)
Inscribed ‘JK 72’ b.r. and ‘J Kolář | 72’ on back centre
Presented by Mr and Mrs Rodney Capstick-Dale 1988
Prov: Johanna Ricard, Nuremberg 1972, who sold it to Rodney Capstick-Dale 1983 or 1984
Exh: Jiří Kolář: Hommage à Baudelaire, Museum Haus Lange, Krefeld, April–June 1973, Museum Boy-mans-van Beuningen, Rotterdam, Sept.–Nov. 1973 (56), as ‘Zwei Augen ziehen vor mir her voll Lichterwonnen, ein weisser Engel hat magnetisch sie begabt’; Jiří Kolář: Collagen Rollagen Chiasmagen Crumblagen, Museum Haus Lange, Krefeld, April–June 1973 (220); Jiří Kolář: Collages 1952–82, Albemarle Gallery, June–July 1987 (82, repr.), as ‘Baudelaire Series, Les fleurs du mal’
Lit: Jiří Kolář: Hommage à Baudelaire, Nuremberg 1973, [p.21]; Ronald Alley, ‘Jiří Kolář and the Poetry of Collage’, Jiří Kolář: Collages 1952–82, exh. cat., Albemarle Gallery, 1987, p.11

This collage combines two colour reproductions, cut into narrow, vertical sections of equal width and glued in alternate strips onto a cardboard support. Kolář has developed numerous collage techniques and this type, discussed below, is called a ‘prollage’. It belongs to a series of fifty-six collages made between 1972 and 1973 which were collectively titled Les Fleurs du mal (The Flowers of Evil), after the cycle of poems published in 1857 by the French writer Charles Baudelaire. In each collage, a photographic portrait of the poet is combined with a painting. The subject of each painting evoked lines for Kolář from one of Baudelaire's poems and these couplets were given as the title of the collage.

Kolář has made collages since the 1930s, including many works inspired by Charles Baudelaire. In conversation with the compiler on 17 April 1990 he said that he was attracted to Baudelaire as a poet of modern life who wrote about the myriad, often erotic, images and encounters within the urban environment of metropolitan Paris. He said his collages were an imaginative response to Baudelaire's life and writings, not a reconstruction of the latter's thoughts, tastes or knowledge of art. Kolář included reproductions of paintings made before Baudelaire's lifetime in the series (see following entries on T05038 and T05040), as well as paintings made after his death, thus suggesting the continuing influence of his writings on painters and poets.

T05031 combines reproductions of Picasso's painting ‘Bust of a Woman’, 1949 (repr. Christian Zervos, Pablo Picasso: Oeuvres de 1946–1953, vol.XV, Paris 1964, pl.136) and the well-known portrait of Baudelaire by Carjat of c.1861. (repr. Baudelaire, exh. cat., Petit Palais, Paris 1969, [p.153]). The Picasso is predominantly brown with yellow highlights and green shadows in the face, while the photographic reproduction of Baudelaire is printed in shades of green. The reproductions of Carjat's portrait were printed following Kolář's instructions in Nuremburg, Germany. The printing was organised by Johanna Ricard, the dealer who commissioned the series. They were photo-lithographically printed in either green, blue, black, red or yellow, sometimes with imperfect registration. At the time Kolář was living in Prague, in the former Czechoslovakia, and was unable to have the print made in his home town or supervise the printing in Nuremberg. He cut out the reproductions of paintings for all ‘The Flowers of Evil’ collages from a series of Italian art books called Maestri del colore which he had collected in Italy during the 1960s or which friends had given him. All the reproductions he chose for the series were full-face portraits and Kolář cut the image from a point between the eyes in such a way that the irises were not subsequently bisected.

Kolář took several months to complete ‘The Flowers of Evil’ series, which he made in his flat in Prague under daylight conditions, working with few interruptions in order to maintain a high level of concentration and accuracy. He made one collage at a time because of the danger of mixing up or losing the cut strips of paper and he started them from the left, gluing five or six strips at a time. Once moistened by glue, the rough card on which he mounted the paper expanded by about six or seven millimetres over a length of about thirty centimetres. He cut the paper precisely with a razor blade. Over a period of several years he experimented with different widths, usually between 6 mm and 1 cm, before finding that strips of about 8 mm were optimal. Most of his collages, including T05031 and T05038-T05040, consist of strips cut to this width. Kolář explained that gluing became markedly more difficult if the strips of paper were less than 6 mm, because of what he described as the ‘chaotic dilation’ of the moistened paper.

Kolář has developed a large range of specialist collage techniques. He has published several glossaries which describe the techniques and document their various definitions as they were invented or modified. T05031 was defined as a ‘rollage’ in Jiří Kolář: Hommage à Baudelaire, 1973, [pp.45–6]. Kolář redesignated works from this series shortly afterwards, and several were classified as ‘prollages’ in his New York retrospective (Jiří Kolář, exh. cat., Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York 1975, nos.257, 259, 262, repr. p.118). In conversation, Kolář confirmed that T05031 and T05038-T05040 were prollages.

The term ‘prollage’ derives from the Czech ‘prolinat’, meaning ‘interpenetration’. The source for the term ‘rollages’ is ‘rolety’, the retractable corrugated metal shutters on shop fronts in Prague. As techniques, rollages and prollages are closely related, but the former are made with single or multiple reproductions of one image, while the latter combine two or more discrete images. Differing definitions of the two types of collage in the published glossaries on Kolář's collage techniques are discussed below.

When acquired by the Tate Gallery, T05031 was titled ‘Le Beau Navire’ (‘The Fine Ship’), after another poem in Baudelaire's cycle. The present title, and those of T05038-T05040, however, is based on information given in Jiří Kolář: Hommage à Baudelaire, 1973, [pp.45–6] and uses the translation into English by Richard Howard (Charles Baudelaire, Les Fleurs du mal, Brighton 1982) of lines from ‘Le Flambeau vivant’ (‘The Living Torch’). The compiler has been unable to establish with the artist the reasons for this change. However, in a letter to the compiler dated 6 October 1992, Richard wrote that information given in Jiří Kolář: Hommage à Baudelaire, 1973, published by her gallery and subsequently used as an exhibition catalogue in Krefeld and Rotterdam, was carefully prepared in collaboration with Kolář and the Czech artist Stanislav Kolibal, who designed the publication. She suggested that Kolář may have retrospectively confused which poems he had linked with particular collages in his conversation with the compiler two decades later in 1990. She added that the artist had moved to Paris in 1980, leaving his home and studio, and was unlikely to possess documentation about the series.

Kolář first made work related to Baudelaire in the early 1960s. ‘Homage to Baudelaire’, 1963, is a series of twenty-three ‘abstract poems’, inspired by the nonsensical Dada poems of Kurt Schwitters. Each is subtitled ‘Score for a Poem to be Read Aloud’ and consists of a geometric configuration made up of individual letters of Baudelaire's name. In conversation Kolář made an analogy with the fugue by J.S. Bach based on the musical notes in German notation, ‘B-A-C-H’, that correspond to the letters of his name. Three of Kolář's abstract poems are reproduced in Jiří Kolář: Monografie mit einem Lexikon der Techniken, 1979, p.64, pls. 119–21.

Baudelaire was the source of inspiration for a large number of works in 1972–3, including T05031 and T05038-T05040, which are listed in Hommage à Baudelaire: Jiří Kolář, 1973, [pp.45–6]. Between 1985 and 1987 Kolář made a further group of twelve collages inspired by Baudelaire called ‘The Triumph of Baudelaire Cycle’ (‘Cycle le triomphe de Baudelaire’). These works, all with similar dimensions, were made using large postcards depicting the Arc de Triomphe in Paris. Kolář excised the arch between the ground and the cornice and inserted pictures of nudes. Two of these ‘magrittages’ are illustrated in Jiří Kolář: Question de collage 1979–1989, exh. cat., Galerie Municipale, Vitry-sur-Seine 1989, p.26.

In an interview from the early 1970s, Kolář described his interest in Baudelaire:

I regard Baudelaire as the first modern poet. Why was he so hated in his own times? At that time the so-called ‘gallant’ literature flourished - one of the greatest literary evils of the time. Society could not forgive Baudelaire that he was capable of articulating this ‘pornography’ through something as perfect and holy as verse. Before Baudelaire the theme of grand human passion was regarded as rather impertinent and artistically insubstantial. Precisely because he dedicated his genius to this theme, those people who knew just how magnificent were the verses in which he described these passions, were outraged. Their hate was all the larger, the more they became aware that Baudelaire also did everything that he wrote about. Many were envious of him for this. Many things have been said about Baudelaire. I would like, however, to emphasise what appears to me important. Baudelaire knew that intoxication could be different for each of us. He shows this in the often quoted poems from the ‘Wine’ cycle. The intoxication of the lovers is different from that of the murderer. And the wine of the poet tastes other than the wine of the poor. In spite of this, wine remains wine. Baudelaire was a dandy with a profound, inner autobiography. If he, through his work, was able to create an aesthetic of dandyism - with which he could be identified in his lifestyle - it was because it reflected his inner being. His aristocratic exterior supported the grandeur of his work. He desired that they be in harmony and absolutely pure. These characteristics and the fact that Baudelaire chose Poe as his precursor cause me to describe him as the first orbital poet. He was the first to indicate that his contemporary, even if he lives on the other side of the planet, feels and lives through the same sensations and events as himself. He differentiates himself from the Romantics by being the first poet without heroes and for being the first to disregard the epics when writing poetry.

(‘From an Interview with Jiří Kolář 1972–3’,
Jiří Kolář: Hommage à Baudelaire, exh. cat.,
Museum Haus Lange, Krefeld 1973, [p.20])

There are several glossaries that give definitions of Kolář's collage techniques. However, the characteristics of individual types appear to have evolved and changed. The glossaries thus identify different numbers of specialist techniques and contradictory relationships between them. In ‘Entries from Jiří Kolář's Glossary’ in Arturo Schwarz (ed.), Jiří Kolář: L'Arte come forma della libertà. L'Art comme forme de la liberté. Art as the Form of Freedom, exh. cat., Galleria Schwarz, Milan 1972, pp.84–108, Vladimir Burda drew a distinction between rollages and prollages. In his view, the rollage was based on the permutation of one image and ‘on the exploitation of one reality’ (ibid., p.104). (Kolář first made rollages in 1959 using between two and sixteen identical reproductions cut into strips or squares of similar dimensions. The effect of combining multiple copies of the same image in a rollage gives a sense of movement and elongation.) Burda defined the prollage as a combination of two or more discrete reproductions. He suggested that ‘the combination of two or more different reproductions introduces into the flat surface of the prollage a third apparent dimension, joining conflicting realities in the poetic unity of the “prollaged”’ (ibid., p.100).

Jiří Padrta noted that Kolář used the terms rollage and prollage almost synonymously and he cited a kinship like that ‘of sisters’ between the two techniques (‘Jiří Kolář: Dichter eines neuen Bewusstseins’, in Jiří Kolář: Monografie mit einem Lexikon der Techniken, Zirndorf 1979, p.131). A glossary by Barbara Neidel and Heinz Ziegler of one hundred types of collage is inset in this book. Neidel and Ziegler blurred Burda's distinction between rollages and prollages by defining the rollage as a work that used reproductions by ‘one or more’ artists (‘Lexikon der Techniken’, in ibid., [p.4] of inset between pp.230–1). They suggested that the rollage was a development of the another collage type, the ‘confrontage’, which consists of two apparently contrasting images that share a similar content. Neidel's and Ziegler's definition of the prollage was also fundamentally different from that given by Burda. They suggested (ibid.) that the prollage consisted of one image with sections cut out, forming a stencil, superimposed upon another image which was visible through the excised areas.

In notes on forty-nine collage techniques listed in Jiří Kolář, Milan 1986, Kolář described prollages as works that extended visual possibilities through unlikely juxtaposition, such as found in the Surrealist paintings of René Magritte in which stencils or silhouettes are laid over and mask other images. He described rollages in the following manner: ‘When I first combined two reproductions to make one, I couldn't believe my eyes. My mind seemed to explode at the multiple variations that appeared beneath my hands. From that time on I became penetrable, and so did the whole world. A non-illusory space could be produced and analogy could be pointed out with a finger’ (ibid., p.170). The compiler has followed the definitions given by the artist in conversation and which concur with the first glossary published by Burda.

Where documented, the exhibition history for T05031 and T05038-T05040 has been cited in the pre-prose section of each entry. In a letter to the compiler postmarked 17 September 1992, Ricard listed further exhibitions which included selections from Kolář's ‘Homage to Baudelaire’ works and which may have included some or all of the Tate Gallery works. These exhibitions were held at: the Galerie Ricard, Nuremberg in 1974; the Galerie Werner Kunze, Berlin in 1975; Jaja Fine Art, Munich in 1976; Gallery 44, Kaarst in 1978; ‘Nachbilder’, a travelling exhibition that started at the Kunsthalle, Recklinghausen before travelling on to the Gutenberg Museum, Mainz, the Kunstverein, Wolfsburg and the Kunstverein, Hanover, in 1979; the Musée de Grenoble in 1980; and Galerie Stolz, Cologne in 1981.

The artist has approved this entry.

Published in:
Tate Gallery: Illustrated Catalogue of Acquisitions 1986-88, London 1996

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