The Academy of Fine Arts in Prague is the oldest art school in the Czech Republic. It was founded on 10 September 1799 by the Society of Patriotic Friends of the Arts, whose picture gallery was the seed that grew into the National Gallery. At the end of the 19th century it was subject to root and branch reform overseen by Julius Mařák. Vojtěch Hynais and Václav Brožík joined the staff as professors and a new school of sculpture was created headed by Josef Václav Myslbek. In 1896 AVU was brought under public control and its range of subjects on offer expanded in 1910 by the Max Švabinský printmaking department and the Jan Kotěra school of architecture. After years spent in temporary premises, the Academy was by now ensconced in a new building on Letná, built between 1897 and 1903 and designed by the architect Václav Roštlapil. From 1994 to 1998 this building underwent extensive refurbishment and is now the Academy’s headquarters. The nearby school of architecture was designed by Jan Kotěra and Josef Gočár and built between 1919 and 1924. In 1892 the Academy was able to make use of the Modern Gallery, built in the Výstaviště exhibition grounds as part of the General Land Centennial Exhibition of 1891 by the architect Antonín Wiehl, and since 1945 these premises have been permanently available to the Academy. In 1926 the Academy was the first in Czechoslovakia to be awarded the status of university-level art school.
The Academy’s lecturers include many important Czech artists and theoreticians, such as Karel Postl, Antonín Mánes, Jan Preisler, Jan Štursa, František Kupka, Willi Nowak, Vratislav Nechleba, Otakar Nejedlý, Otakar Španiel, Bohumil Kafka, T. F. Šimon, Antonín Matějček, V. V. Štech, Jaroslav Fragner, Vladimír Sychra, Vincenc Makovský, Jan Lauda, Karel Pokorný, Karel Hladík, František Cubr, Karel Souček, Jiří John, Jan Smetana, and many others. Artists studied at the Academy who would go on to shape the direction of Czech art. During the course of its development, the Academy’s traditionally conservative teaching methods became the benchmark against which succeeding generations of artists would measure themselves. Progressive, forward-looking phases alternated with stages of ideological diktat and a loss of contact with the main currents of the age. In 1990 the Academy was subject to radical reform under the leadership of the newly elected rector Milan Knížák. The range of subjects on offer was expanded to include spheres such as new media, intermedia and drawing. At the same time the importance granted more traditional spheres was retained, if not reinforced, and the necessity respected of maintaining a plurality of studios representing both traditional and experimental approaches. The principles of the revived Academy were put into practice by a new teaching staff that included Karel Malich, Stanislav Kolíbal, Hugo Demartini, Ladislav Čepelák, Bedřich Dlouhý, Karel Nepraš, Jitka Svobodová, Miloš Šejn and Milan Knížák. Other changes including the creation of a monuments studio, visual communication studio and medals studio. The curriculum of the Department of Art Theory and History was reformed and research centres created focusing on art theory and restoration. Radical reforms in 1990 allowed AVU to renew its statute and operate as a prestigious educational institution open to the full range of creative procedures characteristic of contemporary art. This confirmed the traditional standing of AVU as a centre of excellence for the tuition of fine arts, architecture and restoration.
The Academic Research Centre rounds off AVU’s research activities and cooperates closely with the Department of Art Theory and History, Artyčok.tv and the AVU library.