The Neo-Renaissance building of Prague Rudolfinum has not yet been duly appreciated in the history of European architecture in spite of the fact that this building got ahead of others of the kind by almost a century by its design as a multi-purpose cultural center.
The "Na Rejdišti" site - the present location of the Rudolfinum, was originally used for commercial purposes. In the early seventies of the 19th century Česká spořitelna (The Czech Savings Bank) bought the site and in 1874 the management decided to utilize it for building Dům umělců (the House of Artists) at their own cost as part of the celebrations of the 50th anniversary of its foundation. In 1874 the Czech Savings Bank invited architects to participate in a public open competition for the design of the building that was to house a concert hall and exhibition halls under one roof.
Afterwards the jury consisting of prominent European architects evaluated eight proposals. The common design of the architects, Josef Zítek and Josef Schultz, rated highly, nevertheless the jury stated that no entered design complied with the competition rules. In spite of that, the jury, in Gottfried Seper´s letter of recommendation addressed to the savings bank management, proposed that Zítek and Schulz´s project be chosen.
The letter stated that although their design did not strictly comply with the competition rules, the architects had created an extraordinary building that ideally fulfilled all operational and artistic requirements. The ceremonial opening on February 8, 1885 was attended by Rudolf, Austrian Prince Royal, in whose honour the House of Artists was given the name Rudolfinum.
Since the building opened, the Picture Gallery of the Society of Patriotic Friends of Art was permanently placed there. Their collections later became one of the founding components of the future National Gallery collections. Along with the Picture Gallery, the building hosted the Aesthetic Union, which between 1885 and 1929 organized a lot of exhibitions of mostly contemporary art. The activities of the Czech Philharmonic in the Rudolfinum commenced in 1896. In 1918, the Rudolfinum was chosen as the provisional seat of the Parliament of the Czechoslovak Republic. As of 1920 the Parliament resided there on a permanent basis. The part of the building that had housed the galleries faced a most profound and radical reconstruction, involving construction and room plan as well as ceilings of the exhibition halls. Not even the concert hall was saved from profound changes as the organ was taken away and replaced with a parliamentary tribune. The concert hall underwent its first partial restoration in the 40´s. Since the end of World War II, the Czech Philharmonic has resided in the Rudolfinum again. The space of the former gallery though was used by the prague Conservatoire and the Academy of Performing Arts. As late as in 1990-1992 the building was profoundly rebuilt and modernized. As a result, this precious monument has been restored to its original state and above all to its original purpose. It again serves the public for concerts and art exhibitions.
The Galerie Rudolfinum (part of The Czech Philharmonic) is a state non-profit institution directed and financed by the Ministry of Culture of the Czech Republic, and has its seat in the reconstructed building of Prague Rudolfinum, together with the Czech Philharmonic Orchestra. J. Zítek and J. Schulz, architects of the National Theatre in Prague, designed the representative neo-renaissance building of the Rudolfinum, completed in 1884, to house both a concert hall and a gallery. Located in the vicinity of the Museum of Decorative Arts, the Faculty of Philosophy, and the Academy of Decorative Arts, on the edge of the historical city districts Old Town and Lesser Town, it is a natural centre of cultural life in Prague.
Galerie Rudolfinum started its activities in the renewed premises of the Rudolfinum building on 1 January 1994. Within the few years of its operation, Galerie Rudolfinum has acquired a firm position on Czech art scene. Focusing on contemporary art with occasional excursions into periods more distant in history, searching for new and often unexpected connections in the work of well known or even famous artists as well as young, emerging ones, and presenting the international art scene in both individual and collective projects, Galerie Rudolfinum has been making a successful contribution to the recent exhibition program not only in Prague, but in the whole Czech Republic. The gallery's exclusive orientation on temporary exhibitions (the gallery has no collection of its own), which provides background for a wide range of accompanying programmes, makes it possible to develop several main themes in its program at once. Currently about a thousand and five hundred square metres of exhibition area are available in the gallery. A large-scale architectural concept of exhibition halls illuminated day-light passing through glassed ceilings has been recently amended by the possibility of darkening the halls and by various forms of artificial lighting.
In the Galerie Rudolfinum, contemporary art meets the neo-renaissance architecture of the historical building. The connection of visual art with music and other art disciplines offers an unusually wide range of possibilities to experience art and culture.