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East Bohemia Theatre Pardubice

Antonín Balšánek

alias City Theatre
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Important events

(detail)1885 | Architectural competition

Jury did not awarded the first prize, the author of the second best design was Prague architect Jindřich Fialka, who was consequently assigned to work out detailed design, however, the construction was not realized.

(detail)1893 | Architectural competition

On second of Martz 1893, the second competition was announced for design of self-standing theatre building. Quido Bělský and Jan Vejrych were jury members and they had not found any of the six forwarded designs as fully convenient, in spite of it they awarded the first prize to the design by Jindřich Fialka and the second one to the design by Antonín Balšánek, conceived in Renaissance revival style. The project has not been realized.

(detail)00. 's 20. century | Designs

The municipal council summoned architect Antonín Balšánek to develop sketches and detailed designs of the new theatre on 15th of January 1904.

Antonín Balšánek presented detailed designs and budget for construction of the building to the members of the municipal council. The definitive design was ready on the beginning of the year 1906.

(detail)1909 | Opening of the new building

Ceremonial laying of the foundation stone took place on 16th 1907. The opening was celebrated on 11 and 12 December 1909.

(detail)1926 | Reconstruction

City addressed architect Hermann Helmer junior to provide information, whether enlargement of the stage is possible within the existing building. The construction work on the theatre were commenced in September 1925, carried out by builder Jaroslav Krupař. The adapted building was reopened on 28th September 1926.

(detail)1931 | Fire
The theatre flamed up on 30th March 1931. Lager damage was avoided by lowering the fire curtain in time.
(detail)2002 | Reconstruction

The last general reconstruction of the theatre took place in 2002 according the design by Miroslav Řepa and Vladimír Mlejnek, concentrated mainly on modernization of auditorium part of the building.


(detail)Antonín Balšánek |main architect

Czech  architect of late  Revivalism and Art Nouveau  . From his works: City theater in Plzeň and Pardubice, with Osvald Polívka carried out the construction of Municipal House in Prague.

Balšánek presented his theoretical views about theatre architecture within extensive series of lectures “ About building” in the course of 1913. He stated here that if somebody was evaluating objectively constructed theatres in Czech region in the last years, he “must certainly admit that within given conditions it was reached the maximum of meeting the modern needs without exception in every regard.” He labels the German reformatory, only “allegedly modern” endeavours and attempts to introduce an amphitheatrical type of theatre in Bohemia to be “ completely incorrect”. He associated them with Wagnerian productions pervaded by a ceremonial mood and participation of a cosmopolitan audience, which are “the aspects, which have nothing in common nor with an actual theatre purpose nor with its noble role – to be a people’s house”. He placed against the German effort the healthy ideas of folk theatre and reminded the ideas circulating in Russia endeavouring   “that theatre would become the real centre for all social classes, longing for education, and in that sense that it would be connected with public libraries and tea houses” (see  Antonín Balšánek, O stavebnictví, Architektonický Obzor XII, 1913, s. 137).

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(detail)Hermann Helmer Jr. |architect

Architect, a younger son of architect Hermann Helmer Sr., a co-owner of Viennese architectural atelier Fellner & Helmer, specialized on theatre buildings construction throughout Europe and overseas (South America). After studies in Viennese Technical University, he worked in the atelier of his father.

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(detail)Jindřich Fialka |architect - participant of the competition

Builder, engineer and pedagogue. He built several residential houses in Prague and industry school in Pardubice.

In : Vlček, Pavel a kol. : Encyklopedie architektů, stavitelů, zedníků a kameníků v Čechách, str. 170, Praha 2004.

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(detail)Jan Vejrych |jury member

His work is considerably large and manifold. He was a typical, albeit considerably cultivated, eclecticist. His early buildings were influenced by the work of A. Wiehl. He employed a Gothic architectural vocabulary on his buildings, besides the forms of Czech Renaissance, and later naturally Art Nouveau. A lot of his buildings (as for instance hotel Paříž and houses in Pařížská Street) will be probably appreciated fully in the future.

In: Prostor - AD

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Josef Döller |builder
(detail)František Urban |painter

His life work was dedicated to church art, especially to the wall decoration of the churches and designs of church windows. He was disciple of František Ženíšek, skilful in drawing and composition and became a decorator of large surfaces, stylized with an accent of Vienesse Art Nouveau.

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(detail)František Fröhlich |painter

Author of painting works in minor and grand hall in Smetana House in Litomyšl.

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(detail)Marie Urbanová-Zahradnická |painter

Author of the drapery above the curtain in Smetana House.

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Bohumil Vlček |sculptor
Leopold Werner |Commissioned by
Jiljí V. Jahn |Commissioned by
Gustav Heš |Commissioned by


Detached building, closing up the south side of náměstí Republiky (Republic Square), towards which its north main entrance facade is turned , east side theatre facade constitutes the scenery for west side of Smetanovo náměstí (Smetana square).

The idea to establish an independent building for the needs of theatrical art in Pardubice originated in debates of company, which met regularly in  Střebský hotel cafe with leading figures like was Mayor Leopold Werner, poet and director of Pardubice Realschule Jiljí V. Jahn, Professors Gustav Heš and František Sova and amateur actor MUDr. F. Cibulka. Kaiserlich-königlich Statthalterei (Imperial and Royal Governorship) in Prague approvedstatutes of established Association for theatre house in Pardubice foundation on 12th February 1881. Association funds were increasing and they enabled to purchase construction plot in Žižkova Street (today U divadla). It was decided to announce a contest for design of a theatre building with social rooms and restaurant on general meeting of Association. Appointed jury evaluated in total fourteen submitted designs on 18th April, from which as much as eleven did not meet the conditions of the competition. The jury did not award the 1st  prize and divided the sum of 450 Guldens among three designs. The author of the most fitting one was Prague architect Jindřich Fialka, who was later called upon to work out detailed designs and detailed estimate, but he postponed their delivery as he was busy with construction of Prague hall in Žofín. General meeting of Association decided in January 1887 to start preliminary construction works, but they stopped due to arisen complications. General meeting revoked its previous resolution and recommended to consider, whether to build only theatre or rather multifunctional house with theatre hall.

Another general meeting chose the construction of independent theatre, its supporter was primarily notary JUDr. Josef Štolba, practising in Pardubice since 1890. Second tender for design delivery of detached theatre building construction, announced on 3rd March 1893, requested a capacity of minimally 800 seats and construction cost without inner furnishings no more than 45 000 Guldens. The jury, with participation of Prague architects Quido Bělský and Jan Vejrych, did not find any of six submitted designs to be fully suitable, in spite of it, it awarded the first prize to design by Jindřich Fialka and the second prize to Neo-Renaissance design by architect Antonín Balšánek, at that time assistant on Prague Technical faculty. Indecisiveness of association committee resulted not only in a continual delay of construction works, but that even members got out of Association on a large scale and its activities slackened.

Two decisive circumstances had a substantial contribution on the revival of theatre issue: increase of Associations’ funds to 124 000 Crowns and the decision that Association will render capital together with purchased plot to the city, which will take over the whole issue of theatre construction. The city confirmed by resolution from 18th March 1903 that was going to construct a theatre building and even cover possible costs exceeding rendered capital of the Association.

The city council called on architect Antonín Balšánek on 15th January 1904 to elaborate sketches and detailed designs of new theatre. Assignment of the project to Balšánek without any competition was probably a contribution of the fact that Balšánek was working at that moment on designs for town planning adjustment of Zelená brána (Green Gate)  surroundings, into which grounds with theatre plot belonged. Planned adjustment of contemporary náměstí Republiky (Republic Square) area consisted of park adaptation with promenades in north half with look-through to Renaissance castle and to its fortification, whereas grounds on the opposite side were closed off by new public building (Balšánek drew this building as municipal theatre into site plan, he designed in Art Nouveau style designed pool with fountain and  lamps with decorative lamp-post in front of theatre frontage).

Balšánek worked out the design in two variants: one as independent theatre building  or as association theatre house, in both the cases as detached building. Preparation of the construction was concurrently accompanied by local press debates, if the selection of the designer was well-thought-out, new generation of Modernists was mentioned at this occasion - Jan Kotěra, Josef Gočár and Otakar Novotný.

Balšánek submitted detailed designs and budget of actual theatre construction to members of municipal council on 18th November 1905. Builder Václav Kašpar proposed to move the building more to the north on general meeting of Association on 15th February 1906. Joint committee of city and Association assented to the proposal, which fortunately draw out the theatre out of line of row houses into predominant location in south part of  square, and recommended to realize this modification. City thus undertook a task of converting original construction site, acquired in 1884–1885, into money and supplying plot on newly selected location, which was accomplished in first half of 1906 with demolition of several houses. In the beginning of the same year, Balšánek worked out the final building plans, which were appraised positively by summoned experts, former National Theatre director František A. Šubrt and engineer Skopec. Municipal council decided to build the theatre on meeting on 30th May and providing an amount of 100 000 Crowns from municipal budget for it.

Josef Döller, a builder from Chrast, was assigned to construct the theatre on the beginning of September 1906 and he commenced the construction soon. Ceremonial laying of foundation stone of theatre building took place on 16th May 1907. Neither construction progress nor its speed were a lot satisfactory. Builder Döller did not executed correctly two concrete interjoists and the city had to let circa one sixth of ceiling be pulled down on its expenses; iron structure was forgotten by order assignment and designer Antonín Balšánek – parallelly fully occupied by Municipal House construction in Prague - commuted only rarely into Pardubice and provided some detailed designs not before the course of construction.

Whole construction, finished on 12th November 1909, exceeded considerably the budget – total expenses amounted to approximately 480 000 Crowns.  According own Balšánek´s words, by construction of Pardubice theatre „ an attempt has been made to erect a theatre for middle large country cities of ours with as much small cost as possible“. Confined spending was the main cause, why architectural decoration had to be reduced to a minimum both on the front facade and in the interior. Rakovník fireclay plant provided inner cladding on vestibule walls, staircases and foyer. Electrical lighting was provided by firm Křižík from Pardubice.

Prague painter František Fröhlich made the paintwork in auditorium, foyer and staircases with simple, in Art Nouveau style made floral and vegetable decorative motives. „ paintwork of lunette fields in auditorium, foyer and in staircase were left for later period“, reminded Antonín Balšánek still in 1910; however, this intended decoration has not been realized. In abstemiously externalized theatre interior, the attention was focused primarily on theatre curtain and its programme embellishment. The task of painting the curtain fell upon painter František Urban, a disciple of Ženíšek, oriented first of all on religious motives. As the theatre committee was taking a decision about curtain assignment, a certain role unquestionably played the Urban´s excellent curtain, which he painted for Smetana House theatre hall in Litomyšl in 1904. Urban created allegorical scene, depicting a group of  Muses, set in landscape around Labe with Kunětická Hora castle dominant, with traditional attributes (palette and paintbrush – painting, violin – music) and young man with hammer (symbolizing builder of the theatre), who observe the personification of Drama bringing model of the new theatre as a gift to them, all this in rich  ornamental framing, which was painted by artist´s wife Marie Urbanová-Zahradnická.

The evaluation of architectural aspect of Balšánek´s Pardubice theatre was quite contradictory: art historian Karel B. Mádl considered Balšánek´s buildings in Pardubice to be representing „ only condensed, cramped and here and there even unnatural replica of National Theatre“ and according to him  they look like „ whichever court theatre of minor bashaw ruler.“ Architect Pavel Janák regarded Pardubice theatre to be one of the building in the context of author´s work, in which author´s character makes evidently its appearance, thus „a lack of art principles and character, a dowry of professor Shulz.“ This negative evaluation was  renewed by architect Otakar Novotný,  who considered Pardubice theatre to be a humorous example of the fact that official representatives of Revival architecture from the beginning of 20th century – through loudly promulgating national peculiarity and tradition – rested on „ on those forms and always several years behind, against which they fought as being untraditional and which they had learned on Kotěra´s work.“ Architectural ambivalence in style of Balšánek´s building is perceived by recent research synthesis on Czech modern architecture (for instance according to Petr Wittlich, it is possible to feel from Pardubice theatre „ the designer’s uncertainty helping himself out by ostentatiously exaggerated motives“).

In succession to new theatre building, park adaptation of the square came into existence in 1912–1913 with decorative flower carpets, which were designed by orchard architect Batěk according to original Balšánek’s concept in 1911 and which ceased to exist on the beginning of 1950s. Some concerns appeared among Association members already in the time of acceptation of Balšánek’s design, whether the designs are fully suited from point of view of the spectator seats capacity or not. As much as the capacity concerns, the theatre sufficed only for productions of local amateur actors in early 1920, however, visiting drama or opera troupes were unprofitable, although the city patronized them with various subventions.  The city thus asked several local architects in 1923, if it would be possible to enlarge the spectators’ capacity of the building; the majority of addressed architects express their opinion that reconstruction is not possible anyhow without demolishing the main walls. Pardubice parish of Czechoslovakian Hussite church even proposed to purchase the building from the city and to convert it into church.

The city, however, did not resign on theatre auditorium enlargement and, after an agreement with theatre  committee,  addressed architect Hermann Helmer Jr. from renowned Viennese design atelier specialized on theatre buildings construction, to impart, if the auditorium enlargement  in existing building is possible at all without having its architectural side suffered. Helmer submitted two alternatives of the auditorium part and supplementary rooms enlargement  to the city in May, the committee recommended to acceptance the more generous variant on 13th May 1925, according to which the amount of seats should rise from 317 to 630 and total amount of spectators to 966. Engaging architect Helmer received negative reception from Prague Architects Association, its chairman Bohumil Hübschmann posted a letter, in which he reproached that the city did not entrust the solution of the reconstruction to Czech architect, but summoned Austrian architect. Helmer inquired of municipal council in his letter from 17th July 1925, if the annexe exterior should be adjusted to  existing Balšánek´s facades, or be solved differently. The city responded immediately that he should follow on building volume the existing outer facade appearance of the theatre.

Construction works on theatre reconstruction were initiated in September 1925, they were carried out by Pardubice builder Jaroslav Krupař and iron structure of balcony was supplemented by firm A. Rainberg. Helmer Jr. left only four proscenium boxes in the ground floor, whilst he eliminated the others and replaced them with enlarged rows of seats. He eliminated director´s office on one and doctor´s room on the other side of the lateral corridors ends, as well as the exits from the building by the sides of central bays of lateral facades. First tier was declined by 70 cm lower and balconies and boxes flooring went through an adjustment. Two columns supported iron balcony construction in ground floor. Cloak rooms were elongated, resting place and meeting rooms by boxes were set up in lateral rooms of first tier. Second tier of seats was added up completely anew with front balcony with seven rows, two lateral balconies and four proscenium boxes. Part of the ceiling above the auditorium was lowered and it was replaced by new woven-wire ceiling, two meters higher placed, mounted on metal structure and ascending in direction of rear part of auditorium by moderately vaulted arch. Hitherto lateral staircases along vestibule sides were raised up by one storey, new lateral staircases were added onto level of first tier. Adapted building was opened on 28th September 1926.

A fire burst out in theatre on 30th March of 1931, which consumed a painted curtain by painter František Urban and  all the sceneries and properties with it as well. Theatre agent dr. Krpata described in his memories how: rampaging hell wolfed Wenig´s coulisses, organs, two grand pianos and all the technical and decorative equipment, whilst Urban´s curtain flared up and burnt spewing out swarms of ember sparks as a omen of sacrificing beauty, pride and symbol of matutinal era of our Dionysus temple in the level of collapsing constructions. It disappeared in flames without any remains.“ Prompt lowering of fire curtain forestalled more damage. Subsequent renewal of the stage consisted of inner construction substitution by a completely new one, flooring replacement, all of the stage equipment and electric lighting. Ceiling and stage roof were raised up by two meters.

Further repair works were carried out in 1945–1948. The building was partly adapted and moderately heightened according to the design by Jiří Vopršal in 1954. Another repair took place in 1965 concentrated especially to technical operating rooms in the theatre ground floor and construction works in its basement. Mayor repair of the roof took place within maintenance works in 1994. Last general reconstruction of the theatre occurred from May to October 2002, it was realized according to the design by architects Miroslav Řepa and Vladimír Mlejnek concentrated mainly on modernization of auditorium part of the building.  


Present state

The building, oriented into almost concurrently founded square, forms striking architectonic scenery visually concluding its south side. Main north three part frontage is dominated by central two-storey bay with wide protruding staircase, which is framed by concave carved walls, decorated by umbos. Architectural trim of bay central part consists of Art Nouveau pilasters with capitals carrying laurel-wreath and maskarons; rounded bay corners are connected with outer wings of the frontage in crescent shape. Vestibule in ground floor is accessible through three glassed doors. Convex  curved balcony with metal banister with grid decorated with interlaced floral ornamentation jutting out of the storey above the entrance part.

Surface above the balcony is filled by high thermal window decorated by grooving on the inner side, by geometric relief elements and umbos with relief foliage on the outer side. The inscription MUNICIPAL THEATRE is led up above the window semicircle, divided by female mask in the centre and above it by cartouche with city crest – white half horse in red field. Main front facade is closed by gable with decorative vases at the base and  sculpture Genius on the top in the shape of winged young man by sculptor Bohumil Kafka (a figure, which was carved out by Pardubice sculptor Rudolf Vávra from Hořice sandstone according to the model by Kafka and which has – as they pass on – a face modelled according to the face of Emma Destinová). Coloured figurative bands from fireclay bricks cover the upper surface of lateral parts of main frontage. Left frieze, designed by František Urban and inspired by the theme from Bedřich Smetana´s work, represents Libuše’s judgement , a mythical scene from Czech prehistory and there is an inscription: My beloved Czech nation will not pass away  above it.

Frieze in right part of the front facade was inspired by Hussite period and it represents Jan Žižka in front of Prague (accordingtoBalšánek´s commentary to original project, there should have been Rokycana in front of Žižka), possibly with reference to anti Austria play by Josef Kajetán Tyl Žižka z Trocnova. There is an inscription above the frieze: Where is my home – where is my  fatherland. Oblong stone slabs are imbedded below figural friezes carrying circular disks with relief busts of B. Smetana (left wing) and of J. K. Tyl (right wing) supplemented with relief foliage on sides and inscriptions below it.

Identically conceived facades of lateral theatre facade are multi-axial, with three staircase bays. The facades constitute above low stone plinth smoothly plastered surfaces in two coloured scale - off-white and brightly yellow. Auditorium part of lateral facades is segmented by three rows of regular oblong windows, entrances to staircases in the most northern bay are concluded by triple-arched iron canopies (reminders of originally richly in Art Nouveau constituted constructions of cast-iron canopies) and above them, narrow windows with coloured panes illuminate inner staircase.  Building volume increases on the sides of the stage framed by two bays up to five storeys ( the highest one is blank without windows), which surround continuous relief cornices. Above the second floor windows, circle medallions are made with portraits of drama writers Emanuel Bozděch and Václav Kliment Klicpera (east facade) and opera composers Karel Bendl and Antonín Dvořák (west facade). Prague sculptor Bohumil Vlček created all the portraits medallions on the building skin (including medallions of Josef Jiří Kolár and Zdeňěk Fibich, located on the rear facade of the building). Rear plain facade is seven-axial, central part with  loading ramp is grasped by two  staircase bays.

Auditorium and stage parts of the building are covered by tiled gabled roof. Ventilating turret, in  Art Nouveau style, juts out of roof ogee in the auditorium part of the theatre. Motive in ventilation turret with colure in the form of a reversed keel of a ship culminates even in continuing, to auditorium perpendicularly laid exceeded volume of fly facilities, lesenes and umbonal decoration rhythmize simply its facades.

The scheme of the so called parterre seating arrangement survives in layout  arrangement of the interior – which is evolutionarily obsolete in the European context. Interior of the building consists of an auditorium part with lateral corridors, vestibule in the ground floor and foyer in the first floor  and stage part with adjacent operational  rooms.

Building ground floor has been raised against the pavement level by 1.5 m because of basement rooms’ formation. The staircases leading to foyer with huge Art Nouveau electric chandelier were inserted into lateral wings of the building on the sides of entrance vestibule looming from rectangular ground plan with rounded corners similarly as in the foyer area above it. Side semi circularly rounded entries into foyer and three axis passageway into circle corridor have decorative extensions with stucco masks, vegetable ornaments and mythical head of Medusa; similar relief ornaments embellish arches springing lines. The parquet circle of moderately semi-circularly closed auditorium is filled by seats in 12 rows, two proscenium boxes are on each side in the front. Front part of dress  circle carries 5 rows, six boxes, descending towards the stage, are on each side. Upper circle has 6 front rows and simple rows of seats on the lateral arms.

Connecting and lounge rooms are united by modern utilitarian aesthetics after the last reconstruction. December 2002 witnessed the unveiling of new painted theatre curtain, loose replica of the curtain destroyed in the fire in 1931, which was created by the team under direction of painter Václav Špale.


Sources and literature:


– Archiv stavebního odboru Magistrátu města Pardubic, plánová a spisová složka k budově divadla čp. 50

– Státní okresní archiv Pardubice, Archiv města Pardubice, fond Spolku pro postavení divadla v Pardubicích, kart. 158, a fond Spisy v záležitosti přestavby městského divadla

Osvěta lidu r. 1903–1905, Samostatné Směry r. 1912, Východočeský republikán r. 1925–1927

Plány pardubického divadla 1895: Z plánů poctěných , b. m, b. d.

– Antonín Balšánek, Úprava okolí Zelené brány a stavba městského divadla v Pardubicích, Architektonický obzor IX, 1910, s. 9–11 a 17

– Pavel Janák, Antonín Balšánek, Umělecký měsíčník I, 1911, s. 83–85

– Karel B. Mádl, Divadelní otázky, Národní listy z 22. září 1912

– Josef Tejčka, Divadelní život v Pardubicích, in: Almanach divadla sdružených měst východočeských a českého severu, Pardubice 1928, s. 49–56

– Alfred Javorin, Divadla a divadelní sály v českých krajích I, Praha 1949, s. 163–165

– Otakar Novotný, Jan Kotěra a jeho doba, Praha 1958, s. 42

60 let Východočeského divadla v Pardubicích. Pardubice: VČD 1969

Pavel Thein, Pardubická jeviště, Zprávy Klubu přátel Pardubic, září 1974, č. 9, s. 32

– Petr Wittlich, Česká secese, Praha 1982, s. 252

– Jan Kmoníček (red.), Východočeské divadlo Pardubice 1909–1984: 75 let Východočeského divadla, Pardubice 1984

– Dr. Krpata, 75 let Thalie v Pardubicích, Zprávy Klubu přátel Pardubic XXXIX, 1984, č. 102–103 (21. prosince)

– Jiří Hilmera, Česká divadelní architektura, Praha 1999, s. 65–67

– Pavel Panoch, Dionýsův templ: Stručná historie stavby pardubického divadla.Antonín Balšánek a Hermann Helmer – architekti pardubického divadla, Listy Muzejního spolku v Pardubicích, 2001, č. 5, s. 2–9

– Jan Císař – Věra Mohylová, Historie divadelní Pardubic a okolí, Pardubice 2002

– Pavel Panoch, „Dionýsův templ“ a secesní nálady v Pardubicích po roce 1900, in: Dagmar Blümová – Zuzana Gilarová (eds.), Čas secese: Kapitoly z kulturních dějin přelomu 19. a 20. století, České Budějovice 2007, s. 7–16


Tags: Austria-Hungary, Art Nouveau, Belle Époque, Fin de siècle, detached building, prestige building


Author: Pavel Panoch

Translator: Jan Purkert

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