Even the briefest of visits to Prague will reveal that the city vibrates with a wealth of cultural events from small guitar concerts to grand performances at the National Theater or State Opera. Nods to author Franz Kafka can be found on both sides of the river, and galleries abound with the works of famed (and lesser known) artists.
Among them of course is the Czech Republic’s own son, Art Nouveau painter, Alfons Mucha (also seen as Alphonse) who was born July 24, 1860 in Ivančice, a small town in the South Moravian Region. Founded in 1212, it lies on the confluence of the Oslava, Jihlava and Rokytná rivers. Being just 21 km southwest of Brno, it’s well worth a visit not just for die-hard Mucha fans, but for those who seek adventure and a deeper look into Czech history. The beautiful landscapes and nature offer plenty of opportunities for casual walks, hiking through forest, and cruising along the rivers. But Mucha isn’t the only famous native. Visitors will also find homages to musicologist Quido Adler and actor Vladimír Menšík here as well.
Searching for Mucha
The works of Mucha are scattered throughout the city in various exhibitions and galleries. If you have time and are really a fan, it may well be worth visiting all of them. But if you’re short on time –or patience – perhaps due to a less enthusiastic travel partner, here are a couple of highlights to put on your must-see list.
The Mucha Museum in New Town opened in 1998 and is the only official museum dedicated solely to the works of Mucha. Inside you’ll find a selection of Mucha’s decorative panels created at the turn of the 19th century in Paris. These themed lithographs are among Mucha’s most popular and well-known works and were created as inexpensive art pieces that even the most modest homeowner could purchase and decorate his or her home with.
The museum also presents a selection of Mucha’s celebrated fin-de-siècle posters, including two original printer’s proofs of Gismonda, the poster Mucha created for Sarah Bernhardt. Not only was this poster responsible for propelling Mucha to stardom, it also revolutionized poster design itself.
Aside from Slav Epic, Mucha’s many oil paintings are relatively unknown. The museum houses the whole range of Mucha’s artistic aspirations, except for Slav Epic (see below). The majority of works date from the later period of Mucha’s life. You’ll also find a series of his photographs, charcoal drawings, pastels, and personal memorabilia on display.
Mini Mucha Exhibit
Head into Old Town Square and across from the Astronomical Clock you’ll find Dům U Bílého jednorožce (Staroměstské námesti 15), which houses another small collection of Mucha’s works. On display are pieces that demonstrate the depth and breadth of Mucha’s talents, including posters, pictures, black and white photographs, designs, cutlery, glass, and porcelain. The exhibit shares space with Salvidor Dali, so art explorers can partake of both exhibits for a reduced fee, or select just one or the other.
Unlike the Old Town Exhibit and Mucha Museum, The Slav Epic (Slovanská epopej) is not in the city center. However, the trek to Veletržní Palác in Prague 7, which houses the National Gallery of Prague, is well worth the effort. The mere size of the 20 separate panels is enough to take your breath away and get lost in the wonder of how he may have accomplished such a feat. Dissecting the pictures for symbolism and meaning can easily while away the minutes, if not hours. There’s little more than a title to give a clue as to what each panel contains, the rest is left to your interpretation and imagination, although there are bound books that appear to provide details but they’re written in Czech. Interestingly, all but one of the panels are unsigned.
Weaving mythology with historical events, the panels are displayed in historical order. Half of them are specific to Czech history or mythology while the remainder depict scenes of other Slavic people and regions. Mucha traveled extensively to research the stories and people he depicted. If you’re unable to read the Czech books it’s worth taking the time to relax and watch the three movies at the end that tell the story of the creation of the series as well as its physical journey through history and how it found its current home in the National Gallery.
The Slav Epic is part of the greater collection of the Museum of Modern and Contemporary Art at the National Gallery. You can buy a ticket just for the Epic, or add the whole museum for a reduced fee.
The End of an Era
Mucha died in Prague on July 14, 1939. You can bid your final farewell to the great artist by visiting his memorial in the Slavin at Vyšehrad Hrbitov (Cemetery) located in Prague 2. The memorial is so simple, it may well be a let-down in and of itself, however, the cemetery as a whole is worth the visit. It’s the final resting place of many notable and famous Czech residents.
For more on Mucha’s exhibitions and history, visit muchafoundation.org
For more information of Alphonse Mucha, check out Artsy’s Mucha page.