Like many working artists of the 1920s and 30s Czech painter and illustrator Zdeněk Rykr is most famous for his commercial work, designing striking ads for the Bat’a shoe company, Čedok travel agency, and packaging for Maršner-Orion, one of the largest chocolate manufacturers in Czechoslovakia between the wars.
Unrivaled in sophistication and originality, the self-taught artist most memorably created the blue chocolate star and the cord lettering on the Orion name that still exists on the brand’s packaging today.
He also designed the striking wrapper for the Kofila candy bar with its blackamoor imagery, still in circulation today despite these racially sensitive times.
Rykr’s whimsical graphic designs exist in stark contrast to an avant-garde solo career that produced expressionist, realist, and cubist works of a more haunting nature.
He also took part in the legendary Czechoslovak Pavilion at the World Expo in Paris in 1937, where his travel posters for the spa industry were featured.
Rykr’s widespread commercial success and critical artistic acclaim make him a remarkable figure in the history of Czech art. He worked for Orion up until 1939.
In 1940, facing arrest by the Gestapo as a “degenerate” artist during the Nazi occupation of Czechoslovakia, Rykr committed suicide by throwing himself under a train at Barrandov.
Last week a retrospective of his illustrations and paintings, Zdeněk Rykr and the Chocolate Factory (Zdenek Rykr a továrna na čokoládu), opened at the National Gallery in Prague. It runs through August 28 and will exhibit his work in its entirety.
(Images: NG Prague)