Art Nouveau at its Finest

Municipal House PragueThe dry sounding Museum of Decorative Arts is not the most visited in Prague while the prominent Municipal House is seen by nearly everyone who comes to Prague. For the thankfully long period of November 2013 through December 2015 they have combined to create an outstanding exhibition.

Many of our favourite places in Prague are showcases for the Art Nouveau (Secese in Czech) style.  We love its flee flowing, nature inspired design.  Karin commented at the exhibition that it makes the Modernist art that replaced it in popularity look sterile and boring.  We have written several times about the Art Nouveau artist Alphonse Mucha.

Art Nouveau furnitureThe thought that kept recurring in my mind as I walked around the exhibition was “That is truly a museum piece.”  In our wanderings around Prague and other European cities we see a lot of beautiful historical pieces in buildings and in antique shops.  We admire them appreciatively. Yet the items on display in this show are in a far superior category; they are awe-inspiring.  I highly recommend it to any lover of art.

First photo from Wikimedia Commons; others by Karin. Click on slide show for 80 more.

art nouveau cafe' in Municipal House, PragueBy the way, the Municipal House lobby has an elegant cafe’ and restaurant that we had avoided due to its high prices.  However, this time we so enjoyed the exhibition and the tickets included a discount so we went in for coffee.  It was a delightful experience and good value so we have added it to our recommended places.

A Tug of War over the Slav Epic

As mentioned in the previous posting, I am an avid admirer of Mucha’s work.  It was not until visiting the Mucha Museum that I became aware of Mucha’s great work called the Slav Epic.  They consist of 20 panels, some as tall as 10 feet.

From Wikipedia:

Mucha spent many years working on The Slav Epic cycle, which he considered his life’s finest masterpiece. He had dreamed of completing a series such as this, a celebration of Slavic history, since the turn of the 19th century, however, his plans were limited by financial constraints. In 1909, he managed to obtain grants by an American philanthropist and a keen admirer of the Slavic culture, a Mr. Charles Richard Crane.  Mucha began by visiting the places which he intended to depict in the cycle, such as Russia, Poland and the Balkans, including the Orthodox monasteries of Mount Athos.  Additionally, he consulted historians about the details of historical events in order to ensure an accurate depiction. In 1910, he began working on the series.  Mucha continued working on them for 18 years. He gradually handed over the finished paintings to the city of Prague for display with the idea that a proper building would be built to house them.

Following the Czechoslovak coup de etat of 1948 and subsequent communist takeover of the country, Mucha was considered a decadent and bourgeois artist, estranged from the ideas of socialist realism. The building of a special pavilion for the exposition of the cycle became irrelevant and unimportant for the new regime.  After the war, the paintings were moved to Moravska Krumlov by a group of local patriots where they went on display in 1963  in the chateau and are there still.

Below is an example of one of the panels:Example of Mucha's Slav EpicTo see all of the panels you can go to this site: http://www.muchafoundation.org/gallery/themes/theme/slav-epic (On the site click on each photo for an enlargement.)

Last winter we spent 3 months in Prague.  We decided make the journey to Moravsky, which is about 216 km away from Prague, requiring a train or bus journey.  Thank goodness I did some inquiries about the days and times the chateau would be open because I discovered it was closed during the winter months!  I was extremely disappointed and  wondered why they weren’t here in Prague, where they could easily be viewed by so many, instead of in a remote chateau that wasn’t even open year around.

After returning home to Greece I started reading the Prague Post on-line.  How amazing!  Articles started to surface regarding Mucha and the possible relocation of the panels to Prague!    I was enthralled and without another thought I took sides that they should be relocated to Prague.

The subject became quite controversial.  Each side suing the other and obtaining last minute restraining orders from the courts.  Points of contention included how they should be housed, what kind of building would be required, if they could even be legally moved, who owned them!  The Mayor of  Moravsky Krumlov was not going to give in easily.  He said that they brought in revenue of which the town had become dependent.  Guess that would be a concern and a valid argument.

As the year progressed, the arguments grew quite interesting, at least to me.  I saw it as a total tug of war.  One week had the media reporting that the Epic will NOT be moved as no place in Prague was yet built to house them, as promised, (true) and no existing building would be acceptable.  Then Mucha’s grandson retaliated saying he will fight government officials to the very end to have his grandfather’s hopes of having the Slav Epic collection housed at a suitable location in Prague.  He felt honor bound to do as his grandfather would have wanted.  Another admirable argument.

Months later the ownership argument resurfaced–who actually owned the paintings, even going so far as to mention the American, Mr. Randolph, who gave the money in the first place for them to be painted!  (I saw this as a stalling tactic, as Mr. Randolph is no longer alive and would take a long time to sort that one out).   Then Japan jumped in.  They would be happy to restore and display them in Japan!  That brought a quick No! from both sides, fearing if they left the country something unforeseen could happen and they might not be returned.  (A good decision, in my opinion.)  The tug of war went on until it became laughable.  Neither side would budge or cooperate.

Then suddenly all was quiet on the front until the 14th of March when the Prague Post released this article:

˜Five paintings from Alphons Mucha’s famous Slav Epic are to go on
display at Prague’s Veletrzni Palac (Trade Fair Palace) in April, according to the head of the Prague Municipal Gallery which is now in charge of them. The first
five paintings from the 20-piece epic were relocated to Prague a month
ago despite protests from the town of Moravsky Krumlov which has housed
the collection for the last 47 years. The rest are to follow in the
autumn.  The Prague Municipal Gallery says the paintings
are in very good condition and is awaiting permission to start
restoration work expected to last no more than a fortnight.”

From russianculture.wordpress.com

So, there you are! The tug of war is finally over, and Prague has won.   I am over the moon because when we go to Prague this fall, I will finally be able to view them!  A totally selfish wish on my part, however it will benefit many as they can now be seen year around.

How to get to the the Veletrzni Palac  (Trade Fair Building):

Address: Veletrzni Palace (Trade Fair Palace), Dukelskych hrdinu 47,
How to get there: Tram 5, 12 or 17 to Veletr or metro red line C to Vltavska
Phone: +420 224 301 111,

A Journey over Many Years

It all happened a long time ago probably in the 1980’s.  When my daughter was about 12 years old she wanted her bedroom to have a new, grownup look.  We researched various different styles, added some new furniture and found the perfect picture for the wall.  It was a print called “The Four Seasons” by Alphonse Mucha.  I knew practically nothing about him, other than I wasn’t sure how to pronounce his name and that he was born somewhere in Europe.

Four Seasons by Mucha

Over the years I had a love affair with that print which inspired me do some research.  I discovered Mucha did a lot of posters for Sarah Bernhardt and was considered Art Nouveau.  I had seen Mucha calendars in bookstores and sometimes saw his posters being used in advertising various products.  I felt I was becoming addicted to Mucha!

Now we move forward to December, 2008.  Our first trip to Prague.  Before travelling there I browsed the internet to learn more about the city and what it had to offer.  Imagine my delight to find out there was a Mucha Museum in Prague.  I told Michael it was definitely on the list to go and see!

Once in Prague, we located the museum on a map, figured out what Metro to take and off we went (see link at the bottom of this posting for instructions and map).

I learned so much about Mucha through the exhibits in the museum.  He was born in Southern Moravia (Czechoslovakia) in 1860.  As a young man, Mucha spent a great deal of time in Paris (1887 – 1904) where he did art work for Sarah Bernhardt.  Many examples of his art work was on display.  Of course  seeing the first Four Seasons (which was a little different from the one that my daughter had in her room), was a highlight.  Also on exhibit were several decorative panels which showed his conception of Art Nouveau.  I believe Mucha would be considered the Father of Art Nouveau.

Pages from his Parisian sketchbooks, never exhibited before, can also be seen.   Examples of decorated books are found in the show cases. The work he created  consists of posters, drawings and oil paintings. At the end of the exhibition I saw what Mucha’s studio in Paris must have looked like, with some of the original furniture, photos of his family and a set of photographs taken in the studio.  A half hour long documentary film about the life and work of the artist is also a part of the exhibition, which really answered many of my questions. I found it interesting that his family still runs the Museum.

Here is a site that shows some examples of his art work: http://arthistory.about.com/od/from_exhibitions/ig/mucha_belvedere/

After many repeated invitations to visit the United States, Mucha finally accepted an invitation and went to the United States in 1904. For a time he was the guest of President Theodore Roosevelt and his family. While there, Mucha made portraits of some of  the most important American families and also of well-known actresses, like Ethel Barrymore, Maude Adams, and others. He also had exhibits in New York and Chicago.  In addition to Mucha’s many works of art, he was asked by the government to organize art education in the United States. He assisted in this and also taught art classes to hundreds of students.

Between 1904 and 1913 Mucha visited America six times, hoping to accumulate enough capital to begin work on his painting of the (now famous) Slav epic and to insure the future of his family.

According to Wikipedia:   “When German troops marched into Czechoslovakia in the spring of 1939, Mucha was among the first persons to be arrested by the Gestapo. During the course of his interrogation, the aging artist fell ill with pneumonia. Though eventually released, he never recovered from the strain of this event, or from seeing his homeland invaded and overcome. He died in Prague on 14 July 1939, of a lung infection, and was interred in the Vysehrad cemetery.”  Michael and I visited this famous cemetery, but the snow kept me from finding all the gravesites I wanted to see.  As a note of interest,  Vysehrad cemetery is full of famous people:  musicians, artists, poets, writers and, as I understand it,  NO politicians!

Slavin or common grave site in Vyselhrad cemetary, includes A. Mucha

 

This photo is of a later visit.  Mucha’s plague is located on the lower left of this central monument or “common” grave.

So, what started out as a poster on my daughter’s bedroom wall in Portland, Oregon, USA has taken me down many paths ending up in the Mucha Museum in Prague, the Czech Republic!

But the Mucha journey has not fully ended yet.  There is the Slav Epic yet to see.  It has been in the news most of this last year, becoming a very heated and  controversial issue of which I have dutifully followed.  Read all about it in my next posting!

NOTE: Address and directions to the Mucha Museum – http://www.pragueexperience.com/places.asp?PlaceID=614

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