Museum of Decorative Arts in Prague, Czech Republic

Founded in 1885, the Museum of Decorative Arts in Prague (UPM) is housed in a Neo-Renaissance edifice built in 1897–1901 after the designs of architect Josef Schulz. The Museum’s rich collections include decorative and applied arts and design work ranging from Late Antiquity to the present day, with focus on European objects, particularly arts and crafts created in the Bohemian Lands. The impressive interior of the permanent exhibition “Stories of Materials” offers visitors an excursion into the history and development of decorative arts: glass and ceramics, graphic art and design, objects made in metal, wood and other materials, jewelry, clocks and watches, textiles, fashion, toys and furniture.

The museum in Prague collects and preserves for future generations examples of historical and contemporary crafts as well as applied arts and design—in both national and international contexts. The staff and directors believe in the harmony between function, quality and beauty; its claimed ambition is to inspire, educate and entertain in a unique way.

An integral part of the Museum is the largest Czech library specializing in the arts and related fields. The Library offers visitors on-site loan and copying services, database access and searching in the ART (Art and Architecture) subject gateway.

The UPM presents its holdings at branch museums at the chateau in Kamenice nad Lipou and the Textile Museum in Česká Skalice. The Museum also administers the Josef Sudek Gallery on Úvoz Street near Prague Castle.

The Museum of Decorative Arts in Prague is a place for innovative learning that facilitates the understanding of the significance of objects of decorative arts and design, in combination with architecture and other art disciplines. We aspire to contribute to the improvement of the quality of life and the preservation of creativity in an increasingly uniform environment and to create a forthcoming space for the engagement of the public and the discussion of the cultural milieu and the world that surrounds us.

In 1885, the foundation of the Museum of Decorative Arts in Prague reflected the dramatic development of Czech society at the time. Following the establishment of a similar institution in Brno in 1873, the Prague museum soon became an important cultural and educational center in the Crown Lands of Bohemia, then part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire. The unfavorable impact of the Industrial Revolution on the aesthetic appearance and, consequently, the quality of products had for a long time been the subject of justified criticisms from artists, theorists and the public.

The idea of establishing a permanent exhibition of decorative and applied arts in Prague was realised through an exhibition arranged by the Arkadia Association in 1861 at the Old Town Hall in Prague. Another source of inspiration was the founding of a similar institution—the South Kensington Museum (now Victoria and Albert Museum), which opened in London in 1852 and originally contained a collection of objects of applied and decorative arts. More important for the Czech public, however, was the Österreichisches Museum für Kunst und Industrie, which opened in Vienna in 1864.

In 1868, in cooperation with the Vienna museum, the Prague Chamber of Trade and Commerce held an exhibition on Žofín Island of objects obtained from the Exposition Universelle d’Art et d’Industrie de 1867—International Exposition (1867)—supplemented by historical arts and crafts mostly from the collection of Vojtěch Lanna, who became the Museum’s most important donor and sponsor. In a period when funds and suitable buildings were hard to find, the promise of the exhibition area in the Rudolfinum (the House of the Artists) also contributed greatly to the birth of the museum.

The decision to found the Museum was followed by many years of preparatory work and the developing of the future collections. As the Museum did not yet have premises of its own, the Czech Savings Bank (Česká spořitelna) gave it a temporary home in the new Rudolfinum building (1884), whose construction it had sponsored. In 1885 the Chamber of Trade and Commerce decided to erect a separate building for the Museum. The new premises, designed by the architect Josef Schulz (1840–1917), were built between 1897 and 1901 on a site adjacent to the Old Jewish Cemetery in Josefov, Prague’s Jewish quarter.

The new building had rooms for the individual branches: glass, ceramics, gold and silver, base metals, furniture, small sculptures, books and textiles, and it also featured interiors from the Czech exhibit at the 1900 World’s Fair in Paris. The Museum also introduced its practice of holding short-term exhibitions, something it has continued to do ever since.

Josef Schulz’s building for the Museum is a splendid work of architecture on a site that is now considered, together with the adjacent Jan Palach Square, to be one of the most successful examples of urban design in 19th-century Prague. The Museum has a longitudinal ground plan with a projecting central bay. The layout is relatively simple, bounded on one side by a broad road and on the other by the Old Jewish Cemetery. The north-east corner of the building is adorned with a tower, while on the south side, facing Palach Square, there is a picturesque garden.

The construction of the Museum between 1897 and 1901 was during the final years of the fashion for reviving and combining various historical styles. Accordingly the front and side elevations with their tall arched windows are derived from the Renaissance in Northern Italy, while the grand Baroque balcony above the main entrance is supported by voluted corbels.

On the main facade, the spandrels on the raised ground floor feature intricate figurative sculptures that set out the Museum’s mission: to the left low reliefs by Antonín Popp depict various arts and crafts (weaving, basket-making, embroidery, lace-making, gold and silversmithing, as well as the work of jewellers, armourers, locksmiths, bell founders and pewterers); the reliefs to the right are from Bohuslav Schnirch’s workshop, and they depict glass cutting, wood carving, engraving, printing, bookbinding, stonemasonry, glassmaking, pottery and porcelain.

Schnirch also designed the sculptured coats of arms of Bohemian towns celebrated for their applied arts that we see between the windows on the first floor. The Museum’s roof is topped with three steep pyramids in the style of the French Renaissance, one at the centre and one on either side.

The Museum Of Decorative Arts
The Museum of Decorative Arts in Prague collects examples of historical and contemporary arts and crafts, applied arts and design, preserving them for future generations. We believe in the harmony of function, quality and beauty, and our ambition is to inspire and educate and in a unique and entertaining way.

The Museum is located in Josef, Prague’s old Jewish quarter. This is part of the Old Town, home to many of Prague’s most beautiful sights. The main Neo-Renaissance building dates from the 19th century, and its opulent design with richly decorated ceilings and antique furniture is ideal for showcasing the Museum’s spectacular collections.

The collection numbers approximately half a million items and includes glass, ceramics and porcelain, graphic art and photography, furniture, woodwork and metalwork, gold and jewellery, clocks and watches, textiles and fashion, and children’s toys.

The Museum has the largest Czech library specialising in the arts and related disciplines, with approximately 172 000 items that include art encyclopaedias, dictionaries of artists and comprehensive works on iconography, topography and heraldry. Besides its art books and other scholarly publications, the library also holds many other reference works and periodicals. Its resources can be used on-site, as well as by accessing the library’s database or searching in the Art and Architecture (ART) subject gateway


The House At The Black Madonna
The Museum of Decorative Arts in Prague’s permanent Czech Cubism exhibition presents it as a style that extends across fine art, applied art and architecture. The individual pieces of furniture and entire suites on display, together with furnishings and items made of ceramic, glass and metal, provide an overview of the creativity of Czech Cubism’s most important exponents. They include the architects and designers Pavel Janák, Josef Gočár, Josef Chochol, Vlastislav Hofman, Otakar Novotný and František Kysela, as well as Cubist paintings by Emil Filla, Bohumil Kubišta, Josef Čapek and Václav Špála, and sculptures by Otto Gutfreund. Contemporary and period photographs of Prague’s Cubist and Rondo-Cubist buildings and interiors document Cubism’s influence on architecture.

In the interactive zone, visitors can sit in replicas of Cubist chairs. The museum’s “An ordinary chair or a precious object for display?” worksheets invite visitors to explore these chairs from new perspectives.

To accompany the exhibition, a printed guidebook and a map of Prague’s Cubist architecture are both available at the House at the Black Madonna. They can also be downloaded from website.

Interactive information at the exhibition includes a timeline of events, profiles of prominent Cubists, contemporary caricatures and critical reviews, archival photos of exhibitions held by the Group of Fine Artists, and items made by the Prague Art Workshops and the Artěl art cooperative.

The House at the Black Madonna was Prague’s first Cubist building. Originally a department store, it was designed by Josef Gočár and built in 1911–1912. In 2010 the building became one of the Czech Republic’s cultural heritage sites. On one corner there is a copy of a Baroque statuette of the Black Madonna (hence the name) from the building that stood here earlier.

Josef Sudek Gallery
The Josef Sudek Gallery is located in the house near Hradčany in Prague where Sudek lived from 1959 until his death in 1976. Part of his photographic output was transferred to the Museum of Decorative Arts between 1978 and 1988, and since 1989 the Museum has also managed the photographer’s apartment, opening the gallery here in 1995. Sudek also had a studio at Na Újezdu 28 in Prague, which he continued to use even after moving to Hradčany, and his sister and assistant Božena Sudková lived there.

Sudek’s apartment was a popular meeting place for artists such as the painter Jan Zrzavý, the poet Jaroslav Seifert, the architect Otto Rothmayer and many others. Sudek gradually filled his apartment with pictures, frames, wineglasses, boxes and photographic equipment, and it was here that he produced his series Aerial Reminiscences, Easter Reminiscences, Labyrinths and Glass Labyrinths. From this apartment Sudek used to set off on walks through Prague’s parks and gardens and the suburbs he loved so much.

Kamenice Nad Lipou Chateau
The town of Kamenice nad Lipou lies in the northwestern region of the Bohemian-Moravian Highlands, some 20 kilometers north of Jindřichův Hradec, in Pelhřimov District.

In 1580–1583, the original 13th-century castle was converted into a Renaissance mansion graced by a courtyard with arcades and a garden. The Baroque entrance tower was built in 1744. The chateau acquired its present Late Neo-classical appearance in the early 19th century. It is surrounded by an English landscape garden featuring a linden tree estimated to be 700–800 years old. The Geymüller family was the Kamenice chateau’s last pre-World War II owner. In 1998, this historical landmark came under the management of the Museum of Decorative Arts in Prague (UPM).

Following extensive restoration work carried out between 1999 and 2004, a collection of furniture was installed in its interiors, which is open to the broad public. UPM also holds long-term exhibitions (toys, wrought ironwork, etc.) in other spaces of the chateau, intended both for children and adults. During the summer months, a café with a terrace offers refreshments and a pleasant ambiance. There is a visitors’ information centre in the chateau and exhibition installations administered by the town’s Municipal Museum in its south wing.

After many years of efforts, the Museum of Decorative Arts in Prague has obtained suitable areas to deposit its valuable collections, gathered over the more than 130 years of the Museum’s existence. At the same time, modern specialised workplaces which take care of the collections and ensure their administration are also situated in these areas. In addition to this, these new areas include facilities where minor events for the public, e.g. lectures and educational events, can be held. In addition, a small café including garden will be established upon these premises where occasional events for children can be organised.

The central depository of the Museum is designed as a low-energy building with a unique circular ground plan, where its monolithic structure forms two underground floors and three above-ground floors. The depository itself, with its own mode of operation, is situated on an inscribed square-shaped ground plan. The total floor area of the premises amounts to 5,770 square metres.

The museum manages collections of glass, porcelain and ceramics, applied graphics and photographs, textiles, fashion and design, furniture, clocks, as well as a collection of precious and base metals, precious materials, jewelry, toys and many written and pictorial documentation. Currently, the museum has half a million collection items from antiquity to the present.

Earlier branches
In the years 1954 – 1992 the museum managed several thematic exhibitions at the castles Doudleby nad Orlicí, Lemberk, Hrubý Rohozec and the Museum of Porcelain in Klášterec nad Ohří, which has been installed to this day. The exposition in the building of the chateau brewery in Brandýs nad Labem remained unrealized.

Current branch
Since 1995, UPM operates the Josef Sudek Gallery in Úvoz near Prague Castle, focusing on photography. Since 1998 he has also managed the chateau in Kamenice nad Lipou. The exposition of wrought iron works and toys was opened here in 2004, the study depository of furniture of the 19th and 20th centuries in 2007.

Josef Sudek Gallery in Úvoz in Prague 1, Malá Strana
Castle Kamenice nad Lipou with study depository of furniture of the 20th century, permanent exhibition of toys and permanent exhibition of blacksmith and locksmith work
Chateau Klasterec nad Ohri with exposition of art porcelain

Permanent Exhibition
New permanent exhibition is going to be open at the end of 2020

Other Exhibitions
In Prague

The Josef Sudek Gallery, 24 Úvoz, Prague 1
A small gallery that holds photographic displays of works by the world-reputed photographer Josef Sudek and others.

The House of the Black Madonna, 19 Ovocný trh, Prague 1
Apart from its fine arts collection, the National Gallery’s Museum of Czech Cubism also contains Cubist furniture, glass and ceramics from UPM’s holdings.

In Chateaux and Elsewhere

Kamenice nad Lipou Chateau, 1 Náměstí Čsl, Armády

Displays of wrought-iron objects, children’s toys, the study collection of 19th- and 20th-century furniture from the museum’s holdings. The “Museum of the Senses”—an installation of the Municipal Museum in Kamenice, and short-term exhibitions.

Chateau Klášterec nad Ohří, Chomutovská 1, 431 51 Klášterec nad Ohří
An exhibition of Bohemian porcelain, with examples of Chinese and Japanese wares and porcelain produced in Europe.

Chateau Nové Hrady Chateau, 1 Nové Hrady (near Litomyšl)
The exhibition examines the art of furniture-making throughout the ages: from the Baroque to the Art Nouveau.

The largest Czech library specializing in the arts and related fields is an integral part of the museum. It holds 172,000 volumes, including authoritative art encyclopedias, dictionaries of artists, comprehensive works on iconography, topography and heraldry. Apart from art books and other scholarly publications, the library contains numerous reference manuals and periodicals. It provides on-premises use of resources, database access and research in the Art and Architecture (ART) subject gateway.

The exhibition halls of the museum and the library are fully accessible to wheelchair users.