František Krátký: Pictures from Italy 1897

Eith exhibition of Šechtl & Voseček Museum of Photography.


František Krátký (1851–1924) is one of the most important Czech photographers of the Austro-Hungarian Empire period. His first photograph is mentioned in 1880, and in 1900 he built a very successful Photochemigraphic business in Kolín. Most of the photographs in the exhibition are from his trip to Italy in 1897.

The exhibition, consisting of 60 enlargements of hand-colored slides, will display a rare preserved photographic heritage. These slides are miniatures with photographic faithfulness, because they are based on black and white photographic slides (8.5 × 8.5 cm). Such slides were rarely colored, because of the high degree of precision and detail required. They were very popular before color photography became common.


Who was František Krátký?

František Krátký

František Krátký was one of the most important Czech photographers from the time of the Austro-Hungarian Empire. He was born 7 September 1851, in the small town of Sadská, where his father, František Vojtěch Krátký, was a painter (of both pictures and houses), as well as having a printing business. The young František learned printing techniques from his father, and studied at the Elementary School of the Prague Academy of Graphic Arts. The first mention in the archives of the name “Krátký”, as being a photographer in Kolín, comes from August 1880.

In addition to portrait work, he also photographed many landscapes and historical attractions. His oldest known dated historical photograph is from 1881. Krátký advocated the use of his photographs as teaching aids, especially for teaching Czech children about their own country. To give his pictures the greatest possible impact, he developed the technique of stereo-photography.

František Krátký with his wife, c 1899

In April 1898, aged 47, he married 20-year-old Anna Pospíšilová (Pic 1), after which, as a married man, he travelled less and concentrated more on the publication of his earlier photographs. Around 1900, he founded his photo-chemigraphic business on the outskirts of Kolin. In 1913, eye trouble forced him to sell the business, and to relinquish his studio. The studio was later used by his son Jiří, born 1901.

František Krátký's house and studio in suburban of Kolín

František Krátký died in Kolín in May 1924, aged 72. Because of the variety of his subjects, and the stories his photographs told, Krátký was one of the few Czech photographers of the Austro-Hungarian period who can truly be called “a European Photographer”.


František Krátký, traveller.

No other professional photographer of his time travelled the Czech and Moravian countryside as thoroughly as František Krátký. Besides the Austro-Hungarian Empire, he photographed also in the Balkans, Italy, Switzerland, Russia, Germany, France and Monaco. He also published photographs from foreign countries, taken by other photographers, for example Czech explorer, E. S. Vráz. He believed that the character of a country is expressed by its people, and so the focus of his interest was on the people, and not just the historical places and buildings alone.

Italy 1897

Most of the photographs in this exhibition date from his visit to Italy in April to June, 1897. The trip can be reconstructed from preserved letters he sent to his family: Florence – Rome – Naples – Livorno – Nice – Genoa – Nice – Monaco – Genoa – Turin – Milan – Verona (Pic 3). In June and July 1898, he took his next trip, to the Balkans. From Mostar, he travelled to Sarajevo, and then from Travnik to Zajce and on to Zagreb. He possibly made short trips to Italy in the early 1900s, and he also visited Venice, which he had bypassed on his first trip.


What are hand-colored slides?

Hand-colored slides are a rare preserved photographic heritage, from the time before color photography became popular. They are miniature pictures, with photographic accuracy. Their base is a black and white photographic slide (usually 85 x 85 mm). Hand-colored photographs were rare even in their time, because they had to be made with great precision and attention to detail, and were often colored by trained graphic artists. Pictures chosen for coloring were those which were considered exceptional for their documentary or aesthetic value. And of course, because most of Krátký’s pictures were stereo-photographs, the intensity and shading of the coloring had to be identical on both pictures.


Letters from Italy

František Krátký with parents

Some letters from Krátký's trip to Italy have been preserved, where the photographer describes his adventures, troubles and experiences. In a letter from Florence dated April 11 1897, probably written to his parents, he writes, “I haven’t had good luck here. I’ve had a very bad time, and I don’t know how the photographs will turn out”. He sent most of his photographs, both glass plate negatives and films, home to be developed. He says, “In the evening I will develop some of them. I can’t do any more now. I am sending a box of films. Some of them are already developed, but they are all mixed together, so my brother will need to open the box carefully, in the dark room!”

In almost every letter, he is expresses his fears about how the company at home is surviving. “How is the business going? Badly, I fear. You don’t write to tell me if there is any work, or even if we still have a business”. He was also worried about the quality of his work. “I am still worried that I am not doing everything correctly, because it is all so expensive. Let’s hope it will be all right. I am using too many glass plates, because I am not sure if there is enough time”. By “time” he means the lighting conditions. “Time is a problem — if it is not bright enough, then I am toiling uselessly for a whole day”, he writes from Rome in another letter to his parents. He continues, “I shall be here at least 4 weeks, but possibly I may have to stay longer because there is a lot ahead of me”. He also describes financial details of the whole project, and it is clear he is trying to save as much money as possible. From Rome on 16 April 1897, he writes, “Everything is so dear. I am spending 2–3 franks only for the trams. I pay 1.50 guldens per day for an assistant; for a room also 1.50; every day I need 5 guldens for food, and for trams up to 1.50. On average, that’s 6.50 guldens a day. But what can I do? I can’t do it any cheaper”.

As well as the factual information, he also writes about how lonely he feels. “If only I at least had someone I could speak with”, he writes to an unknown friend. Another time, to his parents, he says, “I hope that I will receive a letter from you. I feel like an orphan. I don’t know what you are doing, or how everything is going at home. It is almost as if there is no one else in the world”. He was also feeling tired. “And I am walking so much, I am wearing out my feet, so soon I will get shorter”, he writes to a friend. He was also tired from not sleeping enough. “I am so exhausted, I can’t describe it. I go to sleep at midnight, and often I am woken up by a neighbour in a room next door, or from the opposite of the street. The people here are so rude — how can it continue? They are wild and strange people — they so easily start fighting, and they argue so much!”

He also wrote some remarks about Italians. “They don’t have much sense of hygiene. Italian women walk on the streets, and follow you with flowers. But they don’t allow you to take photographs for free. They want 2 or 3 lire (1 gulden). They are graceful, and many women have nice figures. They have interesting postures, and very proud faces”.



Stereo-photography is a special area of three-dimensional photography, based on the principle of showing two pictures in such a way that when they are viewed, a three-dimensional effect is created. This photographic technique has been used since 1853.

Holmes stereoscope, photographer Dave Pape

Stereo-photography was initially achieved by taking two photographs separately in sequence, using one camera with one lens. Between exposures, the camera would be moved sideways, to the distance corresponding to the distance between the viewer’s eyes. To maintain the stereoscopic effect, it was necessary to precisely preserve the orientation of the camera, and to make the photographs quickly in sequence.

Stereo-camera used by František Krátký and manufactured by J. Wanaus, Vienna, c 1895, for 9 × 18 cm negatives, lenses by C. P. Goerz AG, Berlin

The most important development in stereo-photography was the invention of cameras which allowed both photographs to be taken at the same time. The first prototype of such a camera, built in 1854 by Johan Benjamin Dancer, had two lenses, and an internal partition. While some cameras were made with a single shared bellows, more commonly, such cameras were made with two bellows, so that the stereoscopic camera looked like identical twins. The most common size of negative was 8.5 × 17 cm.

Self portrait of S. E. Vráz in front of mountain Nantai San (男体山), Japan, 1896. Published by František Krátký

The development of stereo-photography was very important in the evolution of photography into a communication tool. In the 19th century, viewing of stereo-photographs was a very popular home entertainment, and this in turn influenced the choice of subjects being photographed. The most common subject for stereoscopic photography was travel.

The stereograph as an educator, Underwood & Underwood, 1901

Stereo-photographs could be viewed using simple binoculars made from card stock, or by using wooden boxes that were part of the interior furniture.


Texts about Italy by Jaroslav Mária

Jaroslav Maria, photographed by Josef Jindřich Šechtl.

Jaroslav Maria, Italy

Today, it is difficult to imagine what it was like to be travelling abroad at the end of the 19th century. Since then, tourism has changed completely. We can get some idea of how much, by reading early travel guides from people like Czech writer and lawyer Jaroslav Mária. His book about Italy was published in 1925, but was already in preparation at the time of Krátký’s trip there. We have selected a few quotations from this book to guide you through the exhibition. Let’s start with the author’s introduction:

“The art of travelling is difficult. Learning that art is paid for by all kinds of sufferings and wasted money. Most travellers, often young married couples, decide, “Let’s go to Italy”, and have in a mind a sweet dream of tropic vegetation, palms, orange trees, magnificent houses, beautiful collections, where you can just look, and your mind and heart are full. It is almost funny to see the disappointment of those poor souls, with their new dresses, and their big luggage, where they have packed a lot of useless stuff across the border, and they can’t tell the conductor where they are going, or call a porter to carry the luggage. They have no idea about differences in eateries, about special foods, and, of course, no idea at all about the meaning and the value of the art that is scattered across Italy.

For nearly a quarter of a century, I have been travelling in Italy almost every year. I have paid blood money, and had many difficulties for my studies. I want to briefly tell you my experiences.”

— Jaroslav Maria, “Itálie”, 1925, p 7

Jaroslav Maria, 1840–1942

His real name was Jaroslav Mayer, of Jewish origin, born February 24 1870 in Rakovník; and died November 8th 1942, in Auschwitz concentration camp.

As a writer and dramatist, he wrote many provocative dramas and novels – for example, from the justice environment: “Panstvo v Taláru” (Gentry in Gowns), and “Váhy a meč” (Scales and Sword). In his novels and lampoons, he drew scathing critical and satirical pictures of contemporary Czech society – “Vojáci a diplomati” (Soldiers and Diplomats), 1930, “Bankéři a proletáři” (Bankers and Proletarians), 1934, and “Advokáti” (Lawyers), 1937. The most beautiful moments of his life he spent in Italy, the country that he knew so well, and that he loved, almost as his homeland. Jaroslav Maria was born into a large family of jurists. He studied in Hradec Kralové, and made his final exams in Prague, at the Gymnasium, and at the Czech University. He worked as an accredited clerk in Beroun from 1903–1908, and later, as a lawyer in Tábor. During WWII, he was arrested in July 1942, and imprisoned in Prague, then in Terezín, and finally in Auschwitz, where after several months, he died of typhus.

— Jiří Kohout


“Tuscany is beautiful foothills country. It is separated from Umbria by the Apennine mountains, and reaches down to the Tyrrhenian Sea. It is roughly bounded by the towns of Ravenna, Faenza, Pisa, Orvieto and Arrezzo. This blessed, bright province is one large undulating orchard. From Fiesole at Florence, it is possible to get a good idea of this great smiling garden, where there are no brown fields or sandy deserts. Mostly, there are various tones of sparkling green, cut by the grey sheen of the Arno river, with white farmsteads, monasteries, churches, villages with modest towers, and small towns. In the centre of all this is the eternally beautiful (but just when seen from above) city of Florence.

Tuscany also has an inhospitable and gloomy face. Not far beyond the capital, toward the sea, and close to Siena, the landscape is more severe and taciturn. There where the romance of Riviera ends, gradually begins a deadly belt of swamp land, breathing out fumes. That’s the damned Maremms, following the coast from Pisa to Rome. A view of these undulating uplands is oppressive but imposing. Here lies the tragedy of land, once rich and smiling, which for reasons yet unknown became sick. It breathes doom, as though infected by leprosy, and concentrates itself in hamlets, poor villages falling apart, and ancient cities, silent in proud misfortune.”

— Jaroslav Maria, “Itálie”, 1925, p 9


“Great joy and greater disappointment. The surrounds of the Tuscan city are charming. The city is compressed into a valley, rimmed by softly undulating heights, so appealing that I have never seen hills so balanced and gently embracing the human ant-heap. Rust-red roofs, imposing domes, lofty spires and the flow of the winding, shiny river. Seen from above, the view is eternally majestic. Closer up however, the city, disappoints. Homely, unappealing buildings, neither old nor new, jostle in narrow dirty streets. The left bank of the river Arno is appalling in its ugliness. It is all poverty and dirt. A large city with many houses, but few outstanding examples of the builder‘s art. Even the cathedral and bell-tower disappoint. They are somber and pompous.

Only the Town Hall, heroic, somber, massive, majestic, with battlements and a threatening tower, next to the open Logia dei Lanzi, evokes respect and gives a clue as to how the town once had been, but no longer is. The city has two charms – the surrounding landscape, and the country‘s greatest art.”

— Jaroslav Maria, “Itálie”, 1925, p 15


A large rabbit-warren, built in terraces into a rocky slope, and beautifully set in a bay of peaceful blue sea. Behind it rises the bluish cone of Vesuvius, where a wisp of smoke ever trembles over its summit. Rock ridges surround the city, always green, full of old trees and clean, beautiful villas. From the sea rise misty shapes of charming islands. There are many positive qualities to praise. But in other ways, this is a crowded place, of dirt, smell and noise. Nowhere can you escape. There are no artistically appealing buildings. There is no tidy park, no shady avenue. Sweltering heat, pungent smoke, flaking facades; all is shabby and decrepit. Walking is difficult in the steep streets, with trams only coming at hourly intervals. Then, when they do arrive, they are overful, and whiz past, leaving you standing.

Beautiful from a distance – but Naples, I would’t die for!

— Jaroslav Maria, “Itálie”, 1925, p 21–22


“A sad and at times desert landscape defined roughly by the towns of Padua, Ferrara, Ravena, Bologna, Modena, Piazenza and Milan. Its banality, although sporadically fruitful, animated just by fields, willows, olives, grapevine growing everywhere and scorched grass. Also mosquitoes are blustering here. Surprisingly, this area has a big importance in fine art.”

— Jaroslav Maria, “Itálie”, 1925, p 8

“Guard of the Apennines, a very nice, spacious and airy town, typified by its archways and two prismatic shaped towers, inclined awry to one to another, one long and one short. Nearly nothing remains from the old medieval town. Bologna is a good example of a modern provincial Italian town, of rather small interest on the whole, but hiding here and there a precious artwork .”

— Jaroslav Maria, “Itálie”, 1925, p 15

8th exhibition of Šechtl and Voseček Museum of Photography

The exhibition consists of 56 photographic prints prepared digitally from original hand-colored stereoscopic slides. The exhibition has been prepared by Pavel Scheufler and Šechtl and Voseček Museum of Photography.

Co-workers on the exhibition: Mr Andrea Archangeli and Mr Paolo Bonzini helped to identify photographs, Mrs Bumerlová and Mrs Lánová corrected Czech texts, Miss Eva Hubičková, Marie Šechtlová and Mr Jan Hubička organized the exhibition, and brought it into being, Miss Eva Hubičková corrected and extended original František Krátký's captions, Mr Jiří Kohout wrote poster about Jaroslav Maria, Mrs Kateřina Scheuflerová digitally retouched the photographs and prepared them for print, Škrla family provided a home for the exhibition, Mr John Titchener and Mrs Eleanor Schlee translated texts into English and proved valuable feedback significantly improving quality of the captions, Mr Jakub Troják designed typography for invitation cards, captions and posters.

The photographs on poster on stereophotography are made available by US Library of Congress, portrait of Jaroslav Maria by Hussite Museum, Tábor. Thank you!

Part of photographs from exhibition is available on-line on the address in the section with exhibitions.