Romantic Oil on Canvas
This small oil painting was produced by A. Żatkovoj in 1940 or earlier. A transcription on the verso indicates that this painting was donated to Prague on Easter day in 1940. Entitled “Easter (at the time of the boyar),” this quaint scene of courtship is a romanticized picture of 18th-century life. Little is known about the artist, A. Żatkovoj, and the circumstances of the painting’s donation to Prague are uncertain. In 1940, Prague belonged to the Protectorate of Bohemia and Moravia – territory annexed by the Nazis in 1939. The population consisted largely of ethnic Czechs. The Nazis deemed Czech people as inferior to people of “Aryan” ancestry and had plans for their Germanization or eradication (depending on their ethnic and social status). The couple’s costumes are distinctively Eastern European. The woman wears a blue holiday dress and kokoshnik (kokošník) – a head piece typically worn on special occasions. Likewise, the man sports traditional, white woolen boots (válenky) and colourful garb for Easter. The couple’s blue, red, and white costumes contrast delightfully against the natural backdrop. The young woman gathers pussy willow branches, which are symbolic of spring and Easter in Orthodox tradition. Meanwhile, her suitor offers her a small blue object, possibly a painted egg, or an egg-shaped pendant. The tradition of gifting decorative eggs at Easter in Eastern Europe dates back to the 15th century.
At this time in Prague, Reinhard Heydrich (1904–1942), top Nazi official and acting governor of the Protectorate of Bohemia and Moravia, was assassinated in Operation Anthropoid, the only government-sponsored assassination of a senior Nazi leader during World War II. The 1942 event was carried out by Jozef Gabčik (1912–1942) and Jan Kubiš (1913–1942), two Czechoslovakia soldiers specially trained by the British Special Operations Executive, with the approval of the Czechoslovak government-in-exile. Heydrich’s death led to a wave of reprisals, including the destruction of villages and mass killings of civilians. Both operatives were killed in retribution.