"Mountain Lake", 1951 | 22"x32" Oil painting on board

When Vytlacil came out to Colorado, his brushstroke and color became freer, and the landscapes possessed energy. However, he did not completely go abstract here and remained in a modernist space. Here you see the mountain peaks defined by the gestural strokes of black paint. The mountain lake in the lower left is a free form of bright blue paint. The sun is beaming down on the left side of the mountains and scattered throughout the paintings are little white specks suggesting the first snow fall.

Colorado II, 1957 | 40"x60" Oil painting on canvas

Vytlacil’s new found freedom in paintings is depicted here in his grand painting of the Colorado mountains. This painting possesses spontaneity unsuspected from his earlier work. The striking colors of bright oranges, yellows and reds of the setting sun set against the cold blues and greens of the mountain landscape are visually exciting. You can see his brushstrokes are loose and free, especially in how he left some of the paint to drip down the canvas. 


An influential teacher who played an active role in the development of the New York School, Vaclav Vytlacil (“Vyt,” “Bill”) was born to Czech immigrant parents who relocated to Chicago where he grew up. As a young man he studied at the Art Institute of Chicago and was awarded a scholarship to the Art Students League in New York where he studied from 1913 to 1916 with Danish-born painter, John C. Johansen, previously on the Art Institute faculty.

In 1916 Vytlacil accepted a five-year teaching position at the Minneapolis School of Art that enabled him to go to Europe to study the Old Masters and Cézanne. After traveling to Prague, Dresden and Berlin, he enrolled in 1921 at the Royal Academy of Fine Arts in Munich where American artists Ernest Thurn and Worth Ryder were fellow students. Having been introduced by them to Hans Hofmann, Vytlacil left the Academy to study at his school in Munich. He worked with the famous abstractionist throughout the mid-1920s, first as a student and then as a teaching assistant, organizing his 1924 summer class on the Isle of Capri. His association with Hofmann had a great impact on his career.

In 1928 Vytlacil returned to the United States with his new bride, Florence Foster, whom he had married in Florence, Italy. That summer, at Worth Ryder’s invitation, he lectured on The Modern Painting and Sculpture of Europe at the University of California at Berkeley. He thereafter taught for a year at the Art Students League in New York where he encountered opposition from fellow faculty members Kenneth Hayes Miller, Reginald Marsh and Boardman Robinson when demonstrating the abstract principles underlying the art of Cézanne and the Cubists. Disappointed, Vytlacil returned to Europe in 1929 and based himself in Paris where he painted, surrounded by the influence of Picasso, Matisse and Dufy. In 1932 he was included in the Artistes Américains de Paris exhibition along with Paul Burlin, Alexander Calder, John Graham, Carl Holty, Frank Mechau and Jean Xceron, among others. Vytlacil paved the way for his mentor, Hans Hofmann, who came to teach at Berkeley during the summers of 1930 and 1931, and at the Art Students League in 1932.

In the 1935 Vytlacil returned to the United States and to the Art Students League where he became one of its most influential instructors for the next forty-seven years. Among the students he taught during his long and successful career at the League were Louise Bourgeois, Robert Rauschenberg, Cy Twombly, James Rosenquist and Tony Smith. In addition to the League during these years, Vytlacil also taught at the Florence Cane School, Dalton School, College of Arts and Crafts in Oakland, California, at Black Mountain College in North Carolina, Minneapolis School of Art, Columbia University, and Queens College where he was chairman of the art department. Among his students, Cy Twombly, James Rosenquist, Robert Rauschenberg, Tony Smith, and Louise Bourgeois enjoyed distinguished careers as influential artists.

In 1936 Oxford University Press published Egg Tempera Painting, Tempera under Painting: A Manual of Technique co-authored with his student, Robert Davidson Turnbull. That same year he became a founding member of the American Abstract Artists and in the late1930s his work changed in response to the group’s non-objective emphasis. However, by beginning of the following decade he began disassociating himself from the group, feeling that its emphasis on abstraction was too confining, decorative and antithetical to his personality. He said, “If you push geometry far enough, to its ultimate purity, the danger is that you wind up with decoration.”  In the 1940s and 1950s his brushwork and color became freer and his subject matter broader, but he remained committed to modernist space. 

From 1951 to 1953 abstractionist Emerson Woelffer invited him to teach summer courses at the Colorado Springs Fine Arts Center.  As at the Art Students League, Vytlacil encouraged students to believe in their own vision while expressing their own ideas. The spatial challenges of painting, which he expIored in his work, received a new impetus in Colorado.  It inspired him to do a number of Colorado scenes in different media, such as Mountain Spaces (oil on canvas, 1951), The Woods in Summer (oil on board, 1951), Colorado Cowboy (oil, 1951), Mountain Lake No. 2 (oil pastel and tempera, 1952) and Eleven Mile Canyon (watercolor and oil pastel, 1953). These images were part of his solo exhibition, Rocky Mountains, held at the Feigl Gallery in New York in March-April 1952. Five years later he painted Colorado II, representing a continuation of his earlier interest in western subject matter. In these and other compositions energy replaced form, giving his subjects a spontaneity not seen in his earlier work.

Later in the 1950s he taught at the Art Institute of Chicago and Boston, spending six months with his wife in Oaxaca, Mexico, in 1960 where he first worked in acrylics. Throughout his career he maintained an interest in abstraction, continuing his advocacy of modern painting. He also was a member of the Federation of Modern Painters and Sculptors and the Audubon Artists.

In 1995, eleven years after his death, Vytlacil’s legacy to the Art Students League was greatly enhanced by the generous donation to the League of his former home in Sparkill, New York, by his sister, Elizabeth Vytlacil Sullivan, and his daughter, Anne Vytlacil Williams. The estate, which he purchased in 1940, was given for the establishment of the League’s Vytlacil School of Plein Air Painting. The studio, which he converted from an old barn, houses his own personal collection of works from all stages of his career.                                                                                       

Solo Exhibitions: Howard Putzel Gallery, Los Angeles (1929); Manfried Schwartz Gallery, New York (1930); San Francisco Museum of Art (1938); Feigl Gallery, New York (1946, 1947, 1952, 1954); Phillips Memorial Gallery, Washington, DC (1951); Colorado Springs Fine Arts Center (1951); Rochester Memorial Art Gallery, New York (1952); Feigl Gallery, New York (1952); Carnegie Museum of Art, Pittsburgh (1960); Montclair Art Museum, New Jersey (1975 – retrospective exhibition); Martin Diamond Fine Arts, New York (1982).

Group Exhibitions: “Ninth Annual-American Oil Paintings and Sculpture,” (Honorable Mention), Art Institute of Chicago (1913); “Eighteenth Annual-Artists of Chicago and Vicinity,” Art Institute of Chicago (1914); “First Annual Exhibition,” Society of Independent Artists, New York (1917); “Thirteenth Annual-American Oil Paintings and Sculpture,” Art Institute of Chicago (1917-18);  Women’s Club, San Francisco (1929); “Artistes Américains de Paris,” Galerie Renaissance, Paris (1932); Whitney Museum of American Art, New York (1938-1962); “Carnegie International,” Carnegie Museum of Art, Pittsburgh (1942, 1944-45); “Artists for Victory,” Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York (1944); “75 Artists Associated with the Art Students League,” Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York (1951); “The Classical Motive,” Museum of Modern Art, New York, (1953-55, traveled to 20 cities in the United States and Canada); “Peintres Américains Contemporains,” Musée Cantini, Marseilles, and Musée Galerie, Paris (1956-57); “153rd Annual,” Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts, Philadelphia (1958); ”Three Dimensional Construction,” Whitney Museum of American Art, New York (1963); “”Hans Hofmann and His Students,” Museum of Modern Art, New York (1963-64, traveling exhibition); American Federation of the Arts, New York (1972); Snite Museum of Art, University of Notre Dame, Indiana (1975); “100th Anniversary Exhibition of the Art Students League,” Kennedy Galleries, New York (1975).

Museum Collections: Metropolitan Museum of Art, Whitney Museum of American Art, New York; Emily Lowe Gallery-Hofstra University, Hempstead, New York; Neuberger Museum of Art, Purchase, New York; Rochester Museum of Art, New York; New Jersey State Museum, Trenton; Montclair Art Museum, New Jersey, Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts, Philadelphia; Smithsonian American Art Museum, Phillips Collection, and Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden, all in Washington, DC; Boca Raton Museum of Art, Florida; Cleveland Museum of Art; Detroit Institute of Arts; Milwaukee Art Museum; Chicago Municipal Collection; Snite Museum of Art, Notre Dame University, Indiana; Sheldon Memorial Art Gallery, Lincoln, Nebraska; University of Wyoming Art Museum, Laramie; Colorado Springs Fine Arts Center; Kirkland Museum of Fine & Decorative Art, Denver; Dessau Museum, Germany.