Jan Saudek

Czech Republic 1935



Jan Saudek
Jan Saudek
Czech Republic
October 22, 2014
Music, Gestalt, .

Photographer Jan Saudek, known for his hand-tinted photographs often portraying nude or semi-nude (mostly female) figures, and infamous for his promiscuous lifestyle, is one of Czech Republic’s most highly acclaimed artists. He created the dreamy world his subjects inhabit by painting over staged black-and-white photos, frequently re-using identical images and motifs for the backdrop, such as a cloudy sky, a view of Prague’s Charles Bridge or his famous flaky wall. Looking to capture the beauty and reality of life, Saudek’s art shows scenes of love, lust, interpersonal bond, family, youth, old age and the in-between. His private life of easy virtue, something he was notorious for, has served as inspiration for the artist, alongside his lovers who he considered his muses. In his words: “I have no ways of portraying the lives of others. I portray my own.”[1]

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Jan Saudek – Image no. 800, Dancers in Paradise (1985), image via The Baruch Foundation

Early Years

Jan Saudek was born in 1935 in Prague, Czech Republic. As children of Jewish parents, he and his brothers were sent to concentration camp during the Nazi occupation, as was their father, Gustav Saudek. Six of his siblings perished in the Theresienstadt concentration camp, while Jan and his twin brother Karel survived, having being held at Mischlinge, a special concentration camp for twins. Their father also survived. The violence in his early years made a deep impression on Saudek, as he looked upon the dead and dying around him “long and close, the way a child does”. He recalls at the age of nine seeing a German boy-soldier strung up from a lamppost by his ankles. “Even a child like me can see he’s from the Wehrmacht, and not an SS man. They pour petrol over him and set light to him… It’s the innocent who pay for every war.”[2]

One of his early works

Jan Saudek - English title Dawn No. 1 (1959), image via saudekDOTcom
Jan Saudek – Dawn No. 1 (1959), image via saudek.com

Photography Telling Stories

After the war, Jan was influenced by a cartoon section from an American newspaper used as packaging for a gift sent from the United States. The comic strip tales of Captain Marvel stirred his imagination, and that of his twin brother Karel, who would go on to become the best known Czech graphic novelists. Being exposed to photographs made by Margaret Bourke-White, Gisele Freund and Eugene Smith, Jan Saudek started to form a view of photography as a medium best used to tell stories, capable of great narrative potential. Much later, as an adult, he would remark: “If a photograph does not tell a story it’s not a photograph.” Additionally, he observes: “Perhaps it’s the story of all of our thoughts, those that become public and challenge conventional wisdom and those that remain confined by shame.” [3]He received his first camera in 1949, a KODAK Baby Brownie. In 1951, as he writes: “I compose my first photo, which I later colour in. Without the slightest hesitation our family doctor, to whom my mother very diffidently shows the photo, pronounces it hopelessly bad, complete and utter kitsch, and what’s more old-fashioned. I believe every word and immediately stop taking pictures. (Years later I come across the photo again: it’s beautiful, in the way that to be young is beautiful! I wouldn’t know how to do it like that now! I’ve lost the photo again – but at least I saw it just once more – and that’s enough. Just once, just once…)”[4]

His promiscuity took its toll on his love life

Jan Saudek - Goodbye Jan (1991), image via pinterest
Jan Saudek – Goodbye Jan! (1991), image via pinterest

Rising in Spite of Controversy

Eventually, he went back to photography, and attended a school for industrial photography in Prague in 1950-53. In 1959, his young wife gifted him a professional, more advanced camera – the Flexaret 6×6. After returning from military service, he was inspired in 1963 by the catalogue for Edwards Stechen’s The Family of Man exhibition, which motivated him to pursue a career in the arts, as a serious photographer. In 1969, he visited the United States, where curator Hugh Edwards encouraged him to persist in his artistic wishes. Returning to his hometown and country, Saudek was unfortunately forced to work from hiding in a cellar, out of the eye of the secret police. His themes of personal erotic freedom and implicitly political symbols of corruption and innocence weren’t being taken lightly by the government. In the late 1970’s he was gaining popularity as the leading Czech photographer; he started coloring his photographs with paint in 1977. In 1983, he had a book published in the English-speaking world, and in the same year, finally, the Czech Communist authorities permitted him to work as an artist. In 1987, his archives were raided and his negatives apprehended by the police. They were later returned.
Jan has had more than 400 solo exhibitions in museums and galleries across the world and is one of the most renowned Czech artists.

Jan Saudek lives and works in Prague, Czech Republic.


  1. Saudek, J., Fricke, C. (1998), Jan Saudek, Taschen, Köln
  2. Anonymous (2011), Jan Saudek and Sara Saudkova, Cultural Development Consulting [November 1, 2016]
  3. Ibid.
  4. Anonymous (2007), Jan Saudek CV, Jan Saudek official website [November 1, 2016]

Featured image: Portrait of the artist, photo credits of the artist

YearExhibition TitleGallery/MuseumSolo/Group
2012UntitledInt. Photofestival Spillimbergo & Udine,ItálieSolo
2012Untitled Center of Art, Tarnow, PolskoSolo
2012UntitledInt. Photofestival Spillimbergo & Udine (I)Group
2012Untitled Center of Art, Tarnow (PL)Group
2011UntitledKomorní galerie U Schellů,Solo
2011UntitledVisio Art Gallery, Plzeň Č.Budějovice, ČRSolo
2011UntitledMondo Bizzarro Gallery, Řím, ItálieSolo
2011UntitledPhototheatron, Atheny, ŘeckoSolo
2011UntitledGalerie Esther Woerdehoff (group exhibition),Solo
2011UntitledBallarat Int. Photo Biennale, Melbourne, AustrálieSolo
2011UntitledKomorní galerie U Schellů, Č.Budějovice (CZ)Group
2011UntitledVisio Art Gallery, Plzeň (CZ)Group
2011UntitledMondo Bizzarro Gallery, Rome (I)Group
2011UntitledPhototheatron, Athens, (GR)Group
2011UntitledGalerie Esther Woerdehoff Paris (F)Group
2011UntitledBallarat Int. Photo Biennale, Melbourne (AUS)Group
2010UntitledGallery Fotografija, Ljubljana, SlovinskoSolo
2010UntitledFotofestival Nordic Light, Kristiansund, NorskoSolo
2010UntitledKunsthandel gallery, Graz, RakouskoSolo
2010UntitledNordic Light (int. festival of photography), Kristiansund (NORWAY)Solo
2010UntitledGalerija Fotografia, Ljubljana (SLOVENIA)Solo
2010UntitledGallery Fotografija, Ljubljana (SLO)Group
2010UntitledKunsthandel gallery, Graz (A)Group
2010UntitledNordic Light (int. festival of photography),Group
2010UntitledMnichovské státní muzeum, Mnichov (D) Group
2009UntitledGalerie VELVET KELLY, Solo
2009UntitledMonopoli-Castello Carlo V. (ITALY)Solo
2009Untitled Münchner Stadt Museum - History of nude in photography (Museum collection)Group
2008UntitledGalerie VELVET, Bojnice (SK)Solo
2008UntitledRoyal Palace (spolu s J.P.Witkinem), Milano (IT)Solo
2007UntitledGalerie Jana SaudkaPraha (CZ)Solo
2006UntitledMezinárodní fotobienále, 6. ročník, Moskva (RU)Solo
2006UntitledGallery IN FOCUS, Köln (GERMANY)Solo
2005UntitledDům U bílého jednorožce, Praha (CZ)Solo
2005UntitledGallery of Photography Past Rays (JAPAN)Solo
2005UntitledGalerie K. Mennour, Paris (FRANCE)Solo
2004UntitledKrisal Gallery, Geneve (Swiss)Solo
2004UntitledGalerie Lattuada Studio, Milan (ITALY)Solo
2003UntitledBröel MuseumSolo
2003UntitledBiennale de Venise (ITALY)Solo
2003UntitledFIAC, Galerie K. Mennour, Paris (FRANCE)Solo
2003UntitledKrisal Galerie, Geneve (SUISSE) Solo
2003Absolut Generations, 50th Biennale of Modern Art, Venezia (I) Group
2001UntitledComenius Museum, Naarden (NL)Solo
2001UntitledUniversity of Nothingham Solo
2001Akt v české fotografii, Museum umění, Olomouc (CZ)Group
2001Akt v české fotografii, Pražský hrad, Praha (CZ)Group
2001Typical Men, Gallery of Modern Art, Glasgow (Scotland) Group
2000UntitledCarousel de Louvre, Art Paris, Galerie Mennour, Paris (F)Solo
2000Absolut Ego, Musee des Arts Decoratifs, Paris (F) Group
1999UntitledParis Foto, Galerie Mennour, Paris (F)Solo
1999UntitledVB Photographic Centre, Kuopio (Fin) Solo
1998UntitledBergamot Station Art Center BGH Gallery, Santa Monica (USA)Solo
1998UntitledObecní dům, Praha (CZ)Solo
1998UntitledThe Museum of Photography, Tel-Hai (Israel) Solo
1998Zärtlicher Blick auf schöne Damen, Museum Ludwig, Köln, (D) Group
1997UntitledKen Damy Museo, Brescia (I)Solo
1997UntitledParis Foto, Krisal Gallery, Paris (F) Solo
1997Month of Photography, Paris (F)Group
1997The Body in Contemporrary Czech Photography, Macintosh Gallery, Glasgow (Scotland) Group
1996UntitledMuseum umění, Olomouc (CZ) Solo
1996Jistoty a hledání v české fotografii 90. let, Pražský hrad, Praha (CZ) Group
1995UntitledA Gallery for fine photography, New Orleans (USA) Solo
1995Fotofeis Scottish Internatonal Festival of Photography (Scotland) Group
1994UntitledParco Gallery, Tokio (J) Solo
1993UntitledMesiac fotografie, Pálffyho palác, Bratislava (SK) Solo
1993Fotofeis Scottish Internatonal Festival of Photography (Scotland) Group
1992UntitledGalerie Municipale du Chateau d´Eau, Toulouse (F) Solo
1991UntitledMusee National d´Art Moderne, Centre Georges Pompidou, Paris (F)Solo
1991UntitledPortfolio Gallery, London (UK) Solo
1990UntitledRobert Koch Gallery, Los Angeles (USA)Solo
1990UntitledYokohama Gallery, Yokohama (J)Solo
1990UntitledR.I.P., Arles (F) Solo
1990Tschechoslowakische Fotografie der Gegenward, Museum Ludwig, Köln (D) Group
1989UntitledFotografie Forum Frankfurt, Frankfurt (D)Solo
1989UntitledJan Kesner Gallery, Los Angeles (USA) Solo
1987UntitledMusee d´Art Moderne de la Ville de Paris, Paris (F) Solo
1986UntitledCentre National de la Photographie, Paris (F)Solo
1986UntitledFotografie Forum Frankfurt, Frankfurt (D) Solo
1985UntitledMünchner Stadtmuseum, München (D) Solo
1985Das Aktfoto, Münchener Stadtmuseum, München (D) Group
1984UntitledMusee National d´Art Moderne, Centre Georges Pompidou, Paris (F) Solo
1981UntitledCincinnati Art Museum , Cincinnati (USA)Solo
1981UntitledJacques Baruch Gallery, Chicago (USA)Solo
1981UntitledMarcuse Pfeifer Gallery, New York (USA) Solo
1980UntitledFNAC Montparnasse, Paris (F)Solo
1980UntitledPhotokina, Köln, (D) Solo
1979UntitledG.Ray Hawkins Gallery, Los Angeles (USA) Solo
1978UntitledCincinnati Art Museum , Cincinnati (USA)Solo
1977UntitledInternational Museum of Photography at George Eastman House, Rochester (USA) Solo
1977UntitledAustralian Centre of Photography, Sydney (AUS) Solo
1977UntitledNational Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne (AUS)Solo
1977UntitledR.I.P., Arles (F) Solo
1976UntitledArt Institute of Chicago, Chicago (USA)Solo
1976UntitledJacques Baruch Gallery, Chicago (USA) Solo
1969UntitledUniversity of Indiana, Bloomington (USA)Solo
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