Evropa by Josef Šíma: Understanding the Meaning of a Hidden Gem

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Evropa Painting by Josef Sima cartoon image
A Cartooned Version of Evropa by Josef Šíma Above
  • Art: Evropa
  • Artist: Josef Šíma (1891- 1971)
  • Year: 1927
  • Style: Surrealism

Evropa is a not so popular painting by the Czech artist Josef Šíma (pronounced as Yosef Shima). Popularly known as Joseph Sima in the English-Speaking countries. Let’s explore this artwork by Šíma and find its meaning while uncovering every important aspect of it. To make it fun, above is a cartooned version of Evropa. However, also check out the original painting here!

Why is the Painting Called Evropa?

Evropa means Europe in the Czech language. However, initially, the painting did not have a name. Šíma hadn’t named it anything.

When the painting was first exhibited in Paris, in 1928- it was titled “Nu couché” (Reclining Nude).

The title “Evropa” was given to the painting by Šíma’s friend and fellow artist, Jindřich Štyrský, in 1934.

Štyrský believed that the painting evoked the myth of Europa, a Phoenician princess who was abducted by Zeus in the form of a bull. The painting’s title has since been accepted by scholars and art historians.

The title “Evropa” is also significant because it is the Czech word for Europe. The painting can therefore be seen as a representation of Europe itself, or of the European continent’s history and mythology.

What was Life Like for Josef Šíma?  

When understanding any painting, you first need to understand the artist’s motivation and life circumstances. It is the first step to decipher any artwork.

Artists are humans just like you. And they have their opinions, ideas, and biases as well. Hence, it is important for us to know what the artists went through and what scientific, technological, economic, political, philosophical, social, and other developments and changes led their era.

They might have drawn inspiration from those experiences in their lives. Those experiences in turn could reflect in their paintings and give us a glimpse into history as well.

The artist we are discussing here is Josef Šíma. He was born in 1891 and died in the 1971. In these a little over 80 years of his life, there was a lot he experienced. Some of the majorly known changes during his time were:

  1. The Surrealism Movement in Arts
  2. The First and the Second World Wars
  3. Sigmund Freud’s Psychoanalysis
  4. Electricity and Automobiles
  5. Machines such as Radio, Telephone, and Television
  6. Industrialization and Urbanization
  7. Post-war economic Boom
  8. Globalization and decolonization
  9. The Russian Revolution
  10. Invention of Nuclear-Weapons
  11. Space Exploration by the USSR and NASA

Now, our job as readers of art is to keep in mind all of the factors that could have influenced the artist’s imagination. But we just keep these as a guide and don’t enforce anything on the artwork. It could be that the artist did not take any inspiration from his present time and rather drew inspiration from an ancient (or maybe even a futuristic) artform.

What Does the Painting Evropa mean?

Evropa is one of the most unique artful creations of all times. It is a painting that could mean many things. And it could mean them in many different ways.

It was created when the era of surrealism had just started, in 1924- with the book, the Manifesto of Surrealism being published by the poet and critic André Breton (1896–1966). Hence, it is no wonder that this painting adopted the surrealism style.

Like any other artform, this painting is open to interpretations and there is no right or wrong interpretation. As aptly quoted by the author Margeret Wolfe Hungerford, “Beauty is in the eye of the beholder”.

This painting means what you believe it does!

However, just to give a boost to your imagination and creativity, we have mentioned a few interesting interpretations below:

1. The Young and the Old Women Through Time:

Try to visualize the No. 5 in the painting as a young woman dressing up, with No. 1 being her dress. The head of this young woman, which is No. 2 is a mirror.

Now, the interesting part comes, visualize No. 4 as not just a woman’s body, which is more apparent at first, but rather as a wrinkled and deformed face of an old woman. No. 3 are still her hair. This old woman is looking in the opposite direction of the mirror. The young woman, No. 5 is also facing away from this old woman.

It could mean that the young lady is looking away from her future older self. And because her head is made up of a mirror, she cannot even see herself in the mirror. She can only show others what they look like. Moreover, the mirror is facing the opposite direction of the older self, which could mean that it is not reflecting the reality.

The young woman is also wearing a blue dress as her arms could be seen partially out of the dress. This could mean that she is embracing an artificial life, one distinct from the nature. As naturally, humans are born naked, we embrace the human-created lifestyle becoming a part of the society.

2. Union of a Man and a Woman:

If you observed carefully, the figure No. 5 did not have any explicit feminine qualities. It could even be a male figure. But the reclining figure No. 4 is a feminine figure for sure. Also, the figure No. 5 is wearing the dress, which is No.1, in this interpretation as well. It’s just a masculine figure who is wearing the dress. And the feminine figure is relaxing.

Since, the egg-shaped structure in the painting could mean multiple things, we could consider it to be the egg of life in this interpretation. This interpretation could show the union between a man and a woman to create life.

3. A New Beginning:

In context of the name of the painting Evropa, this could also mean that the Europe, No. 5 is wearing new clothes, No. 1, and is facing away from its older past No. 4. Since, Šíma had seen Europe’s turmoil during the world wars, and was seeing it recover from the losses, this could be a viable interpretation as well.

Now, that you have gained an insight into a masterpiece, it’s your time to interpret such artworks and maybe even create some of your own! Don’t forget to drop in your interpretations of this artwork in the comment section. Also check out other resources at Alekhni Artspace to include in your artistic journey!

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