Alfons Mucha’s personal and philosophical sides on show at special new Prague exhibit
A new exhibition about one of the most famous Czech painters, Alfons Mucha, opens this Friday in Prague’s Waldstein Riding School. Titled “Mucha: The Family Collection”, the exhibit offers a closer look at the development of Mucha as an artist and individual. It features materials that haven’t been displayed before, such as Mucha’s last grand but unrealised project. According to his grandson, Mucha developed a philosophy towards the end of his life that is particularly prescient in current times.
Originally the stables of Albrecht von Wallenstein’s Baroque palace, the Waldstein Riding School in now part of the National Gallery in Prague. Its wide open spaces were further tweaked by the famous architect Eva Jiricna and her studio AI DESIGN for the new exhibition that seeks to bring closer the various phases in Alfons Mucha’s life that were key in forming his art and thinking.
Visitors will come across a wide range of objects that are part of the Mucha family collection. Aside from paintings, there are also various studies, writings, photographs, sculptures and jewellery. These pieces are set up in way that presents Alfons Mucha’s life through six themes. These include a focus on Mucha’s “Bohemian” and cosmopolitan periods as an up-and-coming artist in Paris, or his fascination with mysticism and his leading role within Czechoslovakia’s Free Mason organisation.
Unsurprisingly, a part of the exhibition is also dedicated to Alfons Mucha’s role as a Czech patriot and his near two decades long work on his most famous masterpiece – the Slav Epic.
However, it was already during his work on the Slav Epic, that Mucha’s thinking, scarred by the First World War, began to take on a more universalistic approach, says his grandson John Mucha.
“There is no question that when he began making it, he was a patriot. However, as he progresses and is looking at the different canvases of the Slav Epic, the message starts changing.
“The evidence for that can be seen right at the end of the exhibition where you can find three small studies, called ‘The Age of Wisdom, Reason and Love’. This is the absolute distillation of his philosophy. You could almost say that the Slav Epic is a stepping stone in a way towards that.”
Mucha originally planned to paint this last project as a gigantic triptych. Those who have seen the Slav Epic, may understand the proportions that the artist would have considered. However, a few months after the Nazi occupation of Bohemia and Moravia, Mucha died of pneumonia. The Age of Wisdom, Reason and Love therefore ended up being no more than a study.
The exhibition provides visitors with an idea of what the grand project may have ended up looking like by displaying some of Mucha’s paintings and sketchbook drawings in which he was working out its final form. The curator of the exhibition, Tomoko Sato, says that Mucha started coming up with the ideas around 1936.
“He actually defines what wisdom, love and reason mean. He concludes that there are three building blocks, or characteristics of humanity."
She says that the artist saw positive and negative sides to each of these building blocks.
“It shows you authorities, industrialisation, dictatorship, politicians calculating everything…Of course, calculation is important, reason is important, but when it gets too extreme, it becomes like Nazis.
“This, in turn, is love. You can see, all dreamy, love and peace. Yes, it’s great. Everybody needs love. However, it is not good enough either, because you can become a fanatic, be sensless and too tolerant.
“Finally, he concluded, wisdom is the only way. It balances both the good and bad things of love and reason.”
Looking at the last grand project of his grandfather, I asked John Mucha if he sees his efforts to establish a permanent museum for the Slav Epic in Prague, which City Hall recently agreed to have constructed on the premises of the Savarin Palace complex near Wenceslas Square, as his own last big project.
“I hope that the Savarin will happen, because I think that I will have then achieved the fact that [the Slav Epic] is exhibited in Prague. Not only the 20 canvases, but we also have lots of other material, such as studies, photographs, drawings, written materials and all around information about how it came into existence.
“I always say that it would be something similar to the Van Gogh Museum in Amsterdam. It would be three dimensional. Some people have said things like that it is underground or whatever. Well, Tom Heatherwick is the architect [for the project] and he is world famous. He described it exceptionally well: ‘Underground cathedral’. I don’t think I need to say any more.”
The Mucha: The Family Collection exhibition will be open from Monday to Saturday every week until the end of October this year. It is organised in cooperation with the Senate of the Parliament of the Czech Republic, under the auspices of the Speaker of the Senate Miloš Vystrčil.