Prague gallery shares some of its modern treasures. Pioneering Czech artist steals the show

The Guggenheim Museum's current show, ``Modern Treasures from the National Gallery in Prague,'' includes a rare treat: a broad selection of 40 good to superb paintings by some of the finest and most important artists of the modern era. C'ezanne, Lautrec, Picasso, Braque, Munch, Klimt, and Kokoschka are brilliantly represented, and Gauguin, Seurat, Matisse, Chagall, Hofer, and Pechstein also come across very well in works never before seen in the United States.

C'ezanne's ``Portrait of Joachim Gasquet'' ranks among his greatest portrait studies; Lautrec's ``Moulin Rouge'' is one of his finest depictions of Parisian night life; Klimt's ``Virgin'' is a superb example of that exotic colorist's art; and Picasso's two Cubist oils can only be described as absolutely first-rate.

Six of Kupka's large abstractions

In some ways, however, it is Frantisek Kupka (1871-1957) who steals the show - not because his six large abstractions are the best things on view, but because they will come as a pleasant surprise to most Americans who know little about this major pioneering Czech artist, and who have only, at best, seen one or two of his smaller paintings.

Hung in the museum's rotunda gallery, and radiating a kind of lyricism too infrequently encountered in nonrepresentational art, these works testify to Kupka's remarkable gifts as formal innovator and colorist.

Extraordinary originality

Impressionism, Symbolism, and Art Nouveau may all have helped shape his style at different times, but what comes across most emphatically is the extraordinary originality and range of his creative vision.

From the relatively early and profoundly romantic ``Piano Keyboard, Lake'' of 1909 to ``Synthesis'' (1927-29), his brilliant mid-career canvas based on machine forms, we see him examining and mastering one modernist idea after another - but always imaginatively and always on his own terms. Which only goes to prove, of course, that he deserves to be better known in America than he is.

The only thing wrong with ``Modern Treasures from the National Gallery in Prague'' is the inclusion of 20 early modernist paintings by second- and third-rate Czech painters. You won't need to spend much time with these works.

At the Guggenheim Museum through Sept. 18.

Theodore F. Wolff is the Monitor's art critic.

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