Meda Mládková became known to the general public mainly thanks to the gift to the city of Prague of her large collection of modern art, but also because of the tenacity with which she managed to open a museum in the capital, convinced that “if the culture survives, the nation will survive”. This was recalled by the chairman of the board of directors of the Jan and Meda Mládková Foundation, Jiří Pospíšil, announcing his death.
The reactions of political figures point in the same direction, estimating the Minister of Culture Martín Baxa (ODS) that “the imprint left by Meda Mládková not only in Czech culture [était] extraordinary “. For his part, the mayor of Prague Zdeněk Hřib (Pirates) also expressed his sadness in considering that the Czech capital had lost an important honorary citizen. In fact, Meda Mládková received honorary citizenship in 2019, in recognition of her contribution to the influence of Czech fine arts and the reputation of the metropolis in the world. “But his legacy will live on in the work he created, whether it be the Kampa Museum or the priceless art collections”concluded the mayor of Prague.
Honorary Citizen of the City of Prague
In 2019 the biography Meda Mládková – My Wonderful Life (Meda Mládková – Můj úžasný život) was published. Before the microphone of Czech Radio, its author, the journalist Ondřej Kundra, summed up what characterized and guided the life of the patron and collector:
“If you take into account the time when Meda Mládková was born, a hundred years ago, you see that at that time women were not sure that they could impose themselves professionally and leave behind a deep mark. Meda Mládková was one of those who succeeded thanks to her character and her abilities, especially her perseverance, intransigence, stubbornness and awareness of the goal to be achieved. She did not complain, she did not capitulate in difficult times and she managed to collect a very beautiful collection of works of art, she supported many artists banned by the communist regime and ended up bringing all that back to the Czech Republic. »
Studies in economics, then Ecole du Louvre
Born Marie Sokolová into the family of brewmasters from Zákupy, a small town in northern Bohemia, in 1919, Meda Mládková studied economics in Switzerland, where she earned a doctorate in economics, before studying art at the Ecole du Louvre. It was during her stay in France that she founded Editions Sokolova, which she published, among other things, essays by Ferdinand Peroutka and a book on Toyen with texts by the poets André Breton, Jindřich Heisler, and Benjamin Péret.
It was this job that led her to meet her future husband, Jan Mládek, a young economist who contributed to the activities of the publishing house. Believing this high-ranking man’s contribution to be too small, the future Meda Mládková went to see him in person… and she married him a few years later. She then followed him on her business trips, because Jan Mládek worked most of her life for the International Monetary Fund, of which he was one of the first governors. From 1960, Meda Mládková lived in the United States.
Kupka and the others
It was an encounter with abstract art pioneer František Kupka, who lived much of his life in France, that prompted Meda Mládková to create a collection of works of art. In the 1950s, the Mládek couple bought more than 200 Kupka paintings. From the mid-1960s, Meda Mládková enriched the collection with works of modern Czech art during several trips to Czechoslovakia. Ondřej Kundra remembers the meeting between the painter František Kupka and Meda Mládková, a decisive meeting for both:
“Meda Mládková really made a major contribution to the fame of František Kupka, one of the first four modernist painters. She put a lot of energy into that at the time when Kupka wasn’t very well known, we didn’t talk about him much across the Atlantic. After settling in the United States in the 1960s, she brought Kupka to the attention of specialists, major museum curators, and art critics, and had his works exhibited in prestigious galleries, including the National Gallery in Washington. . Today Kupka is exhibited in this gallery along with paintings by Picasso and other famous painters. »
Czech artists in the United States
Meda Mládková has also worked for the recognition and creation of Czech and Slovak artistic production, promoting the American Ford Foundation to grant scholarships to artists and students. She has also contributed to the organization of several exhibitions of these artists in the United States.
Following her husband’s death in 1989, following his wishes, Meda Mládková donated her entire collection of artworks to the city of Prague. Returning to live in her country after the fall of the communist regime, she worked in the Civic Forum, the protest movement founded by Václav Havel during the Velvet Revolution. Meda Mládková is also the creator of the Foundation for Art in Central and Eastern Europe, and she established the Jan and Meda Mládková Foundation.
To install and display her collection, Meda Mládková chose the then dilapidated building of the Sovovy mlýny on the island of Kampa, whose renovation, deemed too bold by the inspection of historical monuments, was the subject of lengthy debates. It finally took the intervention of the then Minister of Culture, Pavel Dostál, for the Kampa Museum to finally open in the fall of 2003. Its collection includes more than 220 paintings and drawings by František Kupka, 16 sculptures by ‘Otto Gutfreund and more than 1,000 works by Czech and Slovak artists from the years 1965 to 1985, including those of the Czech poet, artist and collector Jiří Kolář, who had donated them before his death (in 2002) to the Jan and Meda Mladek Foundation.
Ondřej Kundra summarizes Meda Mládková’s contribution to Czech art:
“I think that theoretical work and art history are not areas that Meda Mládková has marked deeply. On the other hand, she has contributed enormously to the promotion of artists, to the organization of their exhibitions, she has made a great effort to make them known to the general public. This worried not only František Kupka, but especially underestimated Czech artists such as Stanislav Kolíbal, Adriena Šimotová, and many others whose works were not exhibited in galleries. The communists did not want them and Meda Mládková began to buy her works, some of which were comparable to the best foreign productions. She thus gave new energy to these artists, she encouraged them to continue with their creation, she gave meaning to their lives. »
National Order of Merit
Meda Mládková’s efforts for Czech culture have been rewarded with several prestigious awards, including the Czech Medal of Merit presented to her in 1999 by President Václav Havel. In 2012 she also received the Commander’s insignia of the National Order of Merit, a French distinction in recognition of her commitment to the promotion of contemporary art and to freedom of artistic expression in general.