Jan Hendrych was the son of lawyer Jaroslav Hendrych and sculptor Olga Hendrychová (Tobolková), who was lucky enough to be the student of prominent Czech sculptor Otakar Španiel. This is how Hendrych certainly must have acquired his first important information and then went on to successfully pursue his studies in sculpture. During 1955 – 1961 he studied at the Academy of Applied Arts, Architecture and Design in Prague in the Studio of Sculpture of Josef Wagner and Jan Kavan, following which he completed his post gradual studies at the Academy of Fine Arts in Prague under Karel Hladík and Karel Lidický. Similarly to many other students, Jan Hendrych was also searching for his own creative opinion in the convoluted situation formed by the climate of the propagandistically focused dictate of the communist ideology of the 1950s. A number of artists from this time period tried to follow up on the ruptured continuity and find cleansing outcomes by picking up where the interwar avant-garde had left off.
In the beginning while still studying, Hendrych pursued the art of portrait. But he was soon captivated by the figure as a whole and examined possibilities of depicting the figure in a less classical way. There were several incentives: Hendrych was interested in the expressive conception of material, similarly to how Czech Baroque Style had done, for example. The work of his international pier Marin Marini also related to expressionism; he was introduced to him by Prof. Kaplický who was teaching at the Academy of Applied Arts, Architecture and Design. A perpetual topic for students back then was also Otto Gutfreund and his Cubistic sculpture modelling. And finally, very popular was the work of the English sculptor Henry Moore whose statues stood out with their smooth material form and although figural, they bordered between realistic and abstract style. Hendrych did not find a model for literal copying in neither of the styles, rather it was the combination of both and the experience with both that provided him with important lessons, which projected into his later work and helped to form Hendrych’s personal style.
At the beginning of the 1960s, Hendrych briefly pursued structural abstraction, but he did not find creative fulfilment in this direction either. He found his path during the 1960s when sculptures started to emerge pointing in a new direction, which was defined at the end of the 1960s as “new figuration”. Hendrych also started to experiment with new materials – for example with plastic (Figura s rastrem (Figure with a Grid), polyester, 1960). In some of his figures he combined plaster with plastic, sometimes even with industrial elements and occasionally he partially polychromed the statue. His subjects are civil topics such as a man sitting on a chair reading a newspaper. It is not a mare image of a person, but rather a symbol of everyday human mythology. Hendrych’s period of new figuration is an echo of George Segal’s sculptures who also portrayed people in typical urban situations such as women sitting on a chair, men relaxing on a bench, a bus driver, or a figure behind a bar table. Some elements were real objects such as a chair, a table, a bed or a window incorporated into the whole artistic object. The notion new figuration had not been exactly defined yet. It practically included all possible expressions that revived interest in the figure and which appeared to be a current testimony. Morphologically it includes an entire range of types and the semantic tone is also broad: from grotesque, through existential urgency, all the way to civil sobriety. New figuration primarily represented the return to the human figure as the foundation for art work. And that was perfectly suitable for Jan Hendrych who was an essential figural artist.
The first time Hendrych exhibited his sculpting work in public was in 1964 in Liberec in the open air exhibition Socha (Sculpture) 1064, which introduced a wider display of contemporary sculpture in Czechoslovakia for the first time. This exhibition, however, was overtaken by the subsequent exhibition organized in the streets of Liberec in 1969. It introduced already mature expressions of Czech sculpture including work by Jan Hendrych. Here he installed a plaster sculpture of two male figures. One was sitting on a chair with a jacket casually thrown over his shoulders and with his hands in his lap and the other was standing with his jacket casually unbuttoned. It looked like an informal situation – civil scene from any everyday environment around us.
Hendrych reacted to the occupation in 1968 by creating several busts of state secretaries (Tajemník velký (Large State Secretary), 1968-69). He was not allowed to exhibit after 1969 so he made a living as a restorer of statues. He was able to exhibit his own work until 1988 in the City Gallery Prague. During the time that he was “excluded from life” Henrych continued to return to a more classical sculpting form increasingly often: his figural compositions lacked that civilization flavour. He created primarily female figures and especially nudes in which Hendrych continued in the tradition of pre-war modernism, but also utilized experiences from Czech Baroque sculpture. The names of his sculptures such as the series of sculptures titled Pomona or Studie aktu (Study of the Nude) also reveal his respect for modernistic classics as well as his admiration of timeless topics from the time of antiquity. However, Hendrych is not trying to be a worshiper of female beauty as it was in the world of antiquity or renaissance. His Pomona has a bulging stomach and a rather non-elegant posture. It resembles more our Venus of Dolní Věstonice than the Greek Aphrodite. Some of his other statues are inspired by Chinese art, for example his statue of a man titled Vzpomínka na Čínu (Memory of China). Hendrych’s approach to material is also not very classical. He often leaves certain spots as if unprocessed, some figures have an obvious surface structure – for example an imprint of wool tape (Kalhoty (Pants), 1978-1991) or the surface is “sloppily” worked with an expressive gesture. Occasionally, Hendrych manages to sneak a grotesque accent in some of his statues (Dívka s koulí (Girl with One Ball)) and he also achieves certain lightness by using details of “low” culture (statue Piercing).
Jan Hendrych has always remained an essential sculptor, summarizing his admiration of the tradition of modernism, as well as all sculpture long before then. He also absorbed elements of art from the 1950s and 1960s, especially pop art and new figuration. In several of his sculptures he also explored the field of abstract non-figural art (sculpture Kolotoč (Carousel) , 2…). He was able to distinctively interpret all sources and create from various impulses solid and convincing creative style, managed with excellent sculpting craftsmanship.
Křížová cesta (socha Vykoupení), pískovec, Dvůr Králové
pamětní deska B. Suttnerové, bronz, Palác Kinských, Praha
pomník J. Krčína z Jelčan, bronz, mramor, Třeboň
pamětní deska F. Kafkovi, bronz, palác Kinských, Praha
pamětní deska UNESCO, bronz, Staroměstská radnice, Praha
Most, granit, sympozium Guilin, Čína
pamětní deska, Pražského povstání, Staroměstská radnice
Nachýlená figura, granit, Manchester by Sea, USA
Labe, pískovec, Přední Labská (Špindlerův Mlýn)
Plastika s rostlinnými motivy, sídliště Lhotka, Praha
Kašna, pískovec, Jižní město, Praha
Plastika s rostlinnými motivy, sídliště Lhotka, Praha
Býk, pískovec, SOU Písnice
5 reliéfů, bronz, Mramorový palác, Teherán
keramická stěna, Čedok Berlín
centrální plastika, pískovec, hřbitov Stachy
Velká hlava, železo, Košice
Nachýlená figura, železo, Elblag
Václav Erben, Jan Hendrych, Galerie Benedikta Rejta, Louny 2009.
Jna Kříž, Jan Hendrych, České muzeum výtvarných umění, Praha 2005.
Richard Drury, Jan Hendrych, Galerie Magna, Ostrava 2002.
Václav Erben, Jan Hendrych, Galerie Ztichlá klika, Praha 2001.
Josef Kroutvor, Jan Hendrych: Mosty a brány, Galerie Ztichlá klika, Praha 1997.
Marie Halířová, Jan Hendrych: Plastiky, Galerie hlavního města Prahy 1988.
Jiří Šetlík, Plastiky Jana Hendrycha, Ostrov (Karlovy Vary) 1967.