The historical curtain of the Turnov theater

Restoration of the historical curtain of the Turnov theatre

In 2018, the Museum of the Bohemian Paradise in Turnov began working on a project that enabled the restoration of a number of important objects from the collections of history, ethnology, art and also a significant part of the collection of prints (approximately thirteen thousand pieces) from the so-called Scheybal Collection.

One of the most important artefacts from the historical part of the museum's collection, which was restored as part of the above-mentioned project, is the original theatre curtain, which welcomed visitors to Turnov from the very beginnings of the permanent theatre opening in 1874 until 1935, when it was replaced by a new neutral curtain made of dark red velvet.

It is a work of impressive dimensions of 757 × 482 cm, but it is neither signed nor dated precisely, and surprisingly, even the chronicles of the Turnov amateur theater association do not mention any details about the curtain. The only person who attributed its authorship to Josef Macourek is the later town chronicler and regional researcher Karel Kinský. If this was the case, the Turnov curtain would probably be one of his last works, as he died on 31 August 1874 - a few months after the opening of the Turnov theatre in February 1874. Josef Macourek, a Prague painter of decorations and a landscape painter, could indeed be considered as the author, since he was a member of a number of amateur theatre associations from the Pojizeří region (he is documented as the author of decorations in Mladá Boleslav, Jaroměř, Nymburk and elsewhere). Presumably he has worked the very precise piece of the Turnov painter Michal Bělohlávek, a graduate of the Prague Academy, and the author of the curtain design, into these enormous dimensions... and its author didn't even have to visit Turnov. 

The importance of the curtain lies not only in the fact that it is the first curtain of the Turnov permanent theatre, but also in its subject matter. It is the fourth oldest preserved panoramic view of the town and can be valuable for researchers simply because the roofing of Turnov houses can be recognized. (We can see that at the end of the 19th century, shingle roofs still dominated, followed by clay tiles, and here and there slate was also present).

Since the Turnov Museum has in its collections a similar view of the town, created by the aforementioned Michal Bělohlávek, which is also precisely dated (26 September 1857), the development of the town can be traced by comparing these two depictions. There are various house extensions and additions, the first chimneys of the Turnov factories appeared, a woodworking enterprise started to operate in the middle of the town, which is still there today, and the same is the case with the rope factory, which is depicted on the curtain as a new building (the complex on the left side of the picture).

The restoration of the curtain was the responsibility of the academic painter Jiří Látal and his team, who had their temporary restoration workshop in the attic of the Sárovec mill near Vysoké Mýto. There was enough space to unpack the large object and work on it. The original storage of the curtain was not ideal, given its size, and therefore the restorer first had to deal with a number of folds and creases, which also severly damaged the paint. The drawing then became more visible and the outlines became clearer. Then followed the dublage (ironing) onto a new canvas of the same texture and density as the original, and then onto a new, structurally suitable stretching frame, where the curtain was mended and restored. Finally, it was varnished for protection.

Its permanent display was initially envisaged in the foyer which is to be built during the construction of the extension of the Turnov municipal theatre. If everything goes at least a little according to plan, visitors could enjoy the sight of the newly restored curtain in about three to four years. But all this remains in the stars. Now visitors can see it in the premises of the Liberec Regional Gallery, because curtains are most beautiful when they are hanging and visible.