Josef Portman (1893–1968)
After graduating from the grammar school, he passed supplementary exams at the teaching institute in Hradec Králové. In 1915, during the First World War, he enlisted, but was soon discharged due to poor health. After returning to Litomyšl, he worked as an assistant accountant at the city office and was later promoted to revenue officer. He remained in this job until 1941. He then became a librarian at the city library.
Portman had a reputation as a jolly companion, played several musical instruments, but was primarily an art collector. In 1936 he married Marta Jozefyová, with whose two children from a prior marriage he never became close. His life’s passion became the printing of bibliophilia. He printed 312 of his own books, almost half of them as one-offs, and the rest in no more than about 20 copies. He chose the illustrators of his books from among his favourites – Jan Konůpek, Zdeňka Braunerová, František Bílek, Karel Svolinský, Jan Zrzavý, Milada Marešová, Josef Čapek, Albert Schamoni and others.
Portman first came across the works of Josef Váchal in a magazine in 1913. He addressed him by letter, but they did not meet for the first time until 1919, after the war. Portman invited Váchal to Litomyšl, and the invitation was accepted. Váchal set about fulfilling Portman’s dream, of decorating his rooms with murals and fitting them out with bespoke carved and painted furniture. Their cooperation lasted until 1924, after which Váchal distanced himself from Portman and in 1927 stopped being friends with him altogether, after several quarrels.
Josef Portman bequeathed his collection of art, books, his own bibliophilia and also Váchal-painted furniture to the Karáskova Gallery, which was at that time coming under the stewardship of the Museum of Czech Literature in Prague.