Josef Vachal Museum – Litomysl, Czechia - Atlas Obscura
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Litomysl, Czechia

Josef Vachal Museum

Unique house covered in a nightmarish mural of demons, ghosts and monsters. 

“Carve out something devilish, grimacing…let him have glass eyes which could be given a coat of that luminous paint… Just imagine how diabolic it would look in that recess, as if the eyes were glowing”.

At this request, Josef Váchal set out to paint almost the entire interior of his friend’s home in a furious carnival of demons, ghosts, elves, serpents, and monsters.

The Josef Váchal museum is the former modest home of Josef Portman, a teacher and librarian with a penchant for the Czechoslovakian avant garde. He became a fan and later a friend of Josef Váchal, a renaissance man of sorts who worked in the fields of illustration, bookmaking, writing, and printmaking.

Váchal’s complicated work combines a far-flung cacophony of inspirations, merging mysticism, Art Nouveau, futurism, Christian iconography, Nietzsche, Asian philosophy and demonology. Troubled most of his life with vivid night terrors, Váchal believed he could purge his WWI demons by painting them. Accenting the murals are captions such as “Lies and ignorance walk together” and “Devil made a woman”.

The artist agreed on the request of Portman to paint the interior of his house, and finished in four year’s time in July 1924. Walls, windows, furniture and ceilings were all blanketed in paintings of endless horrors and misery that lent to a claustrophobic, nightmarish atmosphere. The friendship soon fell apart, however, when Portman declined to purchase Váchal’s novel “Murder Story”, which featured Portman as one of the main characters.

Though the friendship dissipated, the artwork still stands today thanks to painstaking restorations in the 1990s. Described as a “mardi gras for everyday”, the three-roomed museum opened in 1993 and remains a unique example of independent Czech avant-garde art. It is also called the “Portmoneum”, a name conjured by Váchal himself in his novel “Bloody Novel”. The unique exhibits are contextualized by photographs, small prints, and correspondence.

Know Before You Go

Portmoneum is located few minutes walking distance from the castle, main square and monastery gardens.