Míla Doleželová and her dream come true
Girl scribbling on the walls
Although her birth certificate bears the name Bohumila Doleželová, for her surroundings she was simply Míla throughout her life and under this homely form of her name she is also known in the professional and artistic community. The future painter was born on 12 November 1922 in Prostějov and her childhood was not exactly idyllic, which was reflected in her work. Míla's father, who worked as a clerk, had a considerable problem with alcohol and his home background was definitely marked by it. In fact, one of Mila's paintings is briefly entitled Drunken Father. Another, entitled Mother and Child and Sewing Machine, reflects further memories of the painter's childhood years. Her mother earned her living by sewing and mending clothes, which was not unusual in the textile town of Prostějov at that time. Living in an impoverished environment also brought Míla into regular contact with people from the margins of society, including the Roma, whom she herself called "gypsies", and in her own words she felt a kinship with them because she also considered herself an outcast.
Escape to Pilsen
After primary school, Míla went to the trade vocational school in Olomouc, graduating with honours in 1939, at the age of 17, and then went on to train as a hat-maker-modiste. However, life in her parents' household was apparently so difficult for her that she decided to leave home. Her path led her to her aunt in Plzeň, where she worked in a local chemical factory and, above all, began her systematic education in fine arts. In 1942, she became a member of the circle around the painter and artist František Václav Eisenreich, who was one of Max Švabinský's pupils. She began to learn painting, drawing and printmaking.
A complicated path to the Academy of Fine Arts
Painting was everything to her, which is why she decided to try her luck at the Academy of Fine Arts in Prague at the age of twenty-three after the end of World War II. She failed the entrance exam the first time, so she began to study at the Secondary School of Graphic Arts in Presslova Street, majoring in drawing and graphic techniques. She finally got into the academy a year later and entered the second year directly, even though she did not even have a high school diploma. One of her teachers was Professor Vladimír Pukla, whom she later recalled: "He gave us a lot of freedom. He didn't let us miss a comma, but on the other hand he didn't limit our artistic expression. He tried to instil in us how great it is to make art. And that we mustn't let ourselves go astray. Those were my happiest years." It was at this time that Míla Doleželová exhibited her paintings for the first time, at a collective exhibition in Frenštát pod Radhoštěm in 1948. In the last year of her studies, she also entered a competition for stamp designs. Three of her concepts succeeded, and then a fourth, extraordinary one for the International Student Congress, was awarded. As with many other artists, her work of this period is in the spirit of socialist realism, which she later abandoned.
A trained painter
Professor Pukl was important in Míla Doleželová's life even after she successfully completed her university studies in 1950, when the artist began working under his guidance as an assistant at the Academy of Fine Arts. By then, however, she had already had a crucial encounter with a community that so appealed to her that she gravitated towards it throughout the rest of her life. Already during her studies, in the spirit of the ideological mandate of the ruling Communist Party, which demanded that students be "more closely linked to the working class", the painter took a part-time job in eastern Slovakia, where she worked in a ceramics factory. There, too, she met "gypsies", which made a strong impression on her.
Her life then took a major turn due to health problems resulting from her childhood malnutrition, and she decided to leave the Prague Academy of Fine Arts. In 1954, however, she embarked on another journey to eastern Slovakia, accompanied by the pioneers of Romani studies Emilia Horváthová and Eva Davidová, and her lifelong interest in the Romani community, which sometimes grew into an obsession, was again strengthened. Her paintings are often dominated by motifs from the Romani environment and Romani characters, which have such an urgent effect on the viewer not only by the very subject matter of the works, but also by the bold colours that enhance the impact and urgency of the canvases.
The loss of a job with a regular income, health difficulties and artistic aspirations were a very challenging combination, compounded by the crisis in the painter's personal life. She discovered that the man she wanted to marry was pregnant with her girlfriend's child. All these existential difficulties led to Mila's breakdown and she had to be treated for depression for a long time afterwards. Thus, painting was one of the few things that provided her with comfort and relief during this time.
Meeting region Vysočina and her future husband
In the mid-1950s, specifically in July 1956, Mila's first trip to the Highlands took place. Along with her and her friend, another companion, the then twenty-four-year-old art student Jiří Mareš, whom the painter was preparing for the entrance exams to the Academy of Fine Arts in her Karlin studio, took part. Two years later, on 3 July 1958, the wedding took place and both spouses decided to keep their original surnames, perhaps because of their artistic profession. They both returned to Jihlávka several times for holidays, as they were clearly enchanted by the Highlands.
The artist's work in the 1960s was based primarily on her ethnological research and her canvases depicted dozens of Roma who sat as models for her. Her monumental paintings of figures with huge eyes, scale-mismatched legs and hands unmistakably characterize her artistic style, as does her sense of drama or empathy. Many of the canvases are thematically dominated by human suffering and the struggle to survive in harsh conditions. By this time, Míla Doleželová is already a renowned painter who has participated in several collective exhibitions, and her paintings Gypsy Mother, Gypsy Children, Gypsy Home were successfully presented at her own exhibition at the Old Town Hall entitled "Life of Gypsy Citizens in the Capital". The response was so extraordinary that the event was followed by another exhibition with the simple title "Gypsies", which took place in the foyer of the Vinohrady Theatre in the winter of 1959-1960. The painter also won several awards, including a national honorary mention. But above all, her Karlin studio was filled with visitors interested in her work. In 1960, the magazine Kultura printed a report by two authors, translators and publicists, Lumír Čivrný and Milan Kundera, who wrote, among other things, "We are facing a passionate obsession: it manifests itself not only in a multitude of paintings, but also and above all in a fierce concentration on one basic painting task."
In addition to the Czech environment, Míla Doleželová has also earned the admiration of foreign viewers. When the Spartakiada was held in Prague in 1960, it also included an exhibition of her artworks, at which the painter presented one of her paintings of gypsy boys. This canvas impressed, for example, the Chilean poet Pablo Neruda, who later told the army magazine Obrana lidu: "So much beauty, colour and aesthetic power! Its message speaks directly to the people. This is how all art should speak." The artist received similar international recognition a few years later, in 1966, when she and her husband were already living in the Highlands in the small village of Klátovec, their joint exhibition was held at the Regional Gallery of the Highlands in Jihlava. Some memoirs claim that some of the paintings presented were bought on the spot by a Mexican art dealer, while another version emphasises the role of Míla's friend, the French journalist Yvette Le Floch, who was also supposed to have had a hand in the success of the exhibition. However the acquisition of the works ultimately went, after the buyer from Mexico, another 25 of Milla's paintings were sold to the United States. This was followed by an exhibition in Miami, USA (1967), two years later in Chicago and in 1971 in Mexico. Míla Doleželová thus became a world-class painter.
After years of financial hardship, the couple managed to buy a house in Telč thanks to the sale of paintings, where they moved in 1972. They lived just a few steps away from the picturesque Telč square, and many locals became their acquaintances, friends and models for more and more paintings. Estimates of the number of works that Míla Doležalová created during her stay in Telč vary. But they are always staggering numbers. In addition to the "gypsy" themes, there are motifs connected with Christian symbolism and spirituality, testifying to her interest in deep themes that transcend the life of the individual. Moreover, Míla is fulfilling another dream of hers, materialized in the form of a fresco in a pharmacy in Jihlava. She created several designs for murals, but only some of them were realized, others remained only on paper. The Telč phase of the couple's life is full not only of artistic work and social contacts with friends, but also of worries. Whether it was the death of Míla's mother, who took care of their household for a long time, or Jiří Mareš's struggle with alcoholism. Although he eventually managed to overcome this addiction, he contracted cancer a few years later and died in 1984 as a result of the disease. Thus passed away the man who was not only a husband and mentor to Mile, but also the first critic of her works. After this loss, the painter feels very unhappy and almost isolates herself from her surroundings. According to the memory of one of her friends, Hana Mueller, "in a house where there used to be lots of people, light and comfort, it was forever heavy, sad and dark. The lighter moments were the exception."
Symbolic return to Telč
Towards the end of her life, Míla Doleželová completely retired into seclusion and not much is known about her last years. When she died after Christmas in 1993 at the age of 71, she left behind a large body of work for which a suitable location is being sought. Supposedly, according to the painter's will, all the paintings were to go to a long-time family friend living in Switzerland, who was to turn the couple's Telč home into a permanent exhibition of their work. In addition, the National Gallery was also considered, but after the death of the then director of the institution, Jiří Kotalík, this option was abandoned. Similarly, the newly established Roma Museum in Brno is not in a position to care for such a large number of canvases. According to the will, the Dominican Order eventually became the heir to the hundreds of paintings. It is thanks to them that Míla Doleželová is symbolically returning to Telč in the year of her 100th birthday. The Czech Province of the Dominicans provided the extensive collection from the estate to the University Centre of Masaryk University located in the reconstructed premises of the former Jesuit college in the centre of Telč. Following an exhibition in the local library in 2021, preparations are underway for a large-scale permanent exhibition to showcase the author's works. As part of it, two studios for music and art workshops will be created, along with a number of accompanying programmes.
Author of the text: Ivana Chmel Denčevová