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Meda Mladkova, Czech art patron, dies at 102

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Meda Mladkova, a Czech art collector, patron and historian who was an impassioned promoter of Frantisek Kupka and supported artists in communist Czechoslovakia while she was in exile outside the Iron Curtain, died May 3 in Prague. She was 102.

The Kampa Museum, a modern art gallery that Mrs. Mladkova created in the heart of Prague, announced the death but did not give further details. “All her life she believed in the idea: ‘If culture survives, the nation will survive,’ ” said Jiri Pospisil, the chairman of the museum’s board.

Mrs. Mladkova was born Marie Magdalena Frantiska Sokolova in what was Zakupy, Czechoslovakia (now the Czech Republic), on Sept. 8, 1919. She was studying political science in Geneva in 1948 when the communists took over Czechoslovakia. She refused to return and moved to Paris instead after her graduation.

She met her husband-to-be, exiled Czech banker Jan Mladek, in the French capital and studied art at the Sorbonne. There, too, she fell in love with the work of Kupka (1871-1957), a Czech-born pioneer of abstract art, who was then a largely unknown painter. She befriended Kupka, whose early 20th-century works “Fugue” and “Warm Chromatics” are now considered to be the first two entirely abstract paintings.

When Kupka was dying of cancer in 1957 — still struggling for artistic recognition — Mrs. Mladek wanted to make him happy and told him she would arrange “a big exhibition” of his works. After she and her husband moved to the United States in 1960, she helped organize a Kupka retrospective at New York’s Guggenheim Museum in 1975 that triggered major interest in the artist.

To afford to buy two of Kupka’s increasingly expensive oils, Mrs. Mladek and her husband (an official with the International Monetary Fund) had to sell their house in Washington for $950,000. Their efforts of many years have resulted in a collection of pencil studies, watercolors, color pastels and oils reflecting the development of Kupka’s art from his student days to his late abstract pieces.

In the meantime, Mrs. Mladkova traveled on a regular basis to her homeland after 1967, purchasing art pieces by artists who were banned by the totalitarian communist regime. Following the death of her husband in 1989 and the fall of communism, she decided to move her collection of Kupka’s works to Prague.

In the Czech capital, Mrs. Mladkova opened the Museum Kampa, a complex of meticulously renovated historical buildings on Kampa island near Prague’s Charles Bridge. It houses a valuable collection of 215 works by Kupka, who has become one the country’s most celebrated painters.

The museum also displays sculptures by Czech cubist artist Otto Gutfreund and a collection of modern Central and Eastern European art.

In 1999, Mrs. Mladkova was awarded a state decoration by President Vaclav Havel.

Mrs. Mladkova, who has no immediate survivors, had donated her art collections to the city of Prague.

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