For forty years, a 30-meter steel column has stood in front of the new building of the National Museum as a pedestal for a statue. And only now was the originally intended work completed and presented to the public. Today, November 17, a bronze sculpture called "Plamen" (Flame) on "Palach's" pylon was unveiled.
On January 16, 1969, student Jan Palach set himself on fire in Prague in protest against the fact that people had fallen into lethargy following the horror of the occupation by the Warsaw Pact troops, wanting to stir them up. Seriously burned, he died on January 19.
The steel pylon was designed by architect Karel Prager in February 1968 during the designing of the Federal Assembly complex. From the start, the architect collaborated with the best artists of the time. One of the most important Czech historians and art theorists, Jiří Šetlík, took part in putting together the artistic concept. According to the original design, the slender steel pylon, which depicts a flame rising up to the sky, was to carry a sculpture by Miloslav Chlupáč called "Plamen" (Flame). But officials banned it in the early 1970s. The sculpture model is preserved in the National Gallery. The Czechoslovak coat of arms was displayed on the pylon for decades.
During the completion of the building of the Federal Assembly, the author of the pylon, Karel Prager, counted on the reminder of Palach's deed not being far from the place where it happened. Evidence of its original purpose has only recently been discovered in Prager's archives. The National Museum restored the mast, which was designed as a huge sculpture. Now it has been fitted with a sculpture reminiscent of flames by the academic sculptor and artist Antonín Kašpar.
Kašpar was the only one to apply for the tender, which was announced last year, and won the contract for 3.7 million crowns. During restoration research, he discovered documentation on the expansion and alterations of the Federal Assembly building in the archives of the National Museum, prepared by the GAMA Architectural Studio in 1991 and signed by the then director of the studio, architect Prager. In this documentation, the pylon is already called the Palach pylon.
The National Museum decided to complete the work in 2019, at the time of Palach's 70th birthday he did not live to see. The year 2019, when the whole country commemorated 50 years since Palach's self-immolation and the 30th anniversary of the Velvet Revolution, was marked by the first negotiations concerning the rehabilitation of Palach's pylon. Due to the weight of the originally designed block and the problem of its anchoring to the steel pylon, it was necessary to carry out its realization using a different material. The final material is bronze.
The sculpture was unveiled today by the Minister of Culture Lubomír Zaorálek (ČSSD) together with the General Director of the National Museum Michal Lukeš and its author, academic sculptor Antonín Kašpar.
"I am happy that we can remember our history and heroic deeds this year as well, and I hope that we will continue to remember them."
"Today we commemorate the 31st anniversary of the Velvet Revolution, the Day of the Struggle for Freedom and Democracy, but also the memory of all the heroes who sacrificed their lives for our freedom and the opportunity to live our lives in a democracy. Our homeland and its inhabitants are currently experiencing difficult times. That is why we decided to unveil the Jan Palach memorial today. In order to pay tribute to all those who have earned us our freedom in the past, we remind ourselves of its importance in the present day and so we do not forget to protect it in the future as well. "
After many years, Prague has two monuments dedicated to Palach. A few years ago, a sculpture by the American architect and sculptor of Czech origin John Hejduk was unveiled on the Alšov embankment. This monument, called "Dům syna a Dům matky" (House of the Son and House of the Mother), consists of two geometric sculptures, also depicting stylized flames.
Last October, the National Museum opened the Palach Memorial in Všetaty in the Mělník region. It includes the birth house of Jan Palach and a new building with a multimedia exhibition.