Czechs in History

In this week's edition of Czechs in History, Nick Carey takes a look at the colourful life of writer Jiri Mucha, the son of the world famous Art Nouveau painter Alfons Mucha.

It is a little-known fact that apart from being a writer, a BBC correspondent during the war, and a political prisoner in the 1950s, Jiri Mucha is also almost single-handedly responsible for making the Art Nouveau paintings of his father, Alfons Mucha, famous again in the West. For many years he promoted his father's works and, as he lived behind the Iron Curtain, possessed no copyrights for these paintings. Adventurous and fearless, he battled with Communist bureaucracy to reintroduce his father to the world, and a true patriot, he revelled in the fall of Communism in 1989, which came just two years before his death.

Jiri Mucha was born in Prague on March 12th 1915, the son of Alfons Mucha, who was at that time a famous painter. Jiri was born some fifteen years after his father shot to fame with the Art Nouveau posters he created while living in Paris. Alfons Mucha spent a great deal of time travelling and teaching in America and France, and Jiri grew up speaking French and English as well Czech. The relationship between Jiri and his father Alfons was from the start a strange one, because, as Jiri's wife Geraldine says, of Alfons' advanced years: Jiri Mucha was an adventurous, even troublesome boy, often disappearing, making him a constant cause for concern to his father. He was a bright boy, but had to change schools on more than one occasion for his unruly behaviour.

Jiri Mucha began writing stories at school, using the name Klacek, a slang term meaning 'young man'. Once he completed his studies, he enrolled at Charles University to study medicine, as he had always wanted to become a doctor, but the reality did not live up to his ideas: Jiri Mucha was living in Paris when the Munich Agreement, under which the Sudeten Lands of Czechoslovakia were ceded to Nazi Germany, was signed in September 1938, and was still in Paris when the Nazis occupied Bohemia and Moravia in March 1939. His father, Alfons Mucha, a leading freemason, as well as an artist, was interrogated by the Gestapo immediately after the occupation, and this interrogation contributed to his death soon afterwards.

Jiri Mucha returned home for his father's funeral, despite the occupation, and remained in the country for a month, before obtaining permission from the German authorities to leave the country as a war correspondent. He went to France and promptly joined up with other Czechs fighting against the German invasion in 1940. He was a fierce patriot, a trait he shared with his father: During the build up to the invasion of France, Jiri Mucha met and married his first wife, but the marriage was tragically short-lived: Jiri Mucha eventually made his way to England in 1941, where he joined the Royal Air Force. At the age of twenty six, however, he was considered too old to fly. He trained for some time at an army base in England, where he met his future wife Geraldine, whom he married in 1941, before working for the Czechoslovak government-in-exile in London. He also began to work with the BBC. Geraldine Mucha: After the war, Jiri Mucha and his wife Geraldine moved to Prague. He published his war memoirs, "Fire against Fire," in 1947, and continued to write for various publications. After the communist take-over in 1948, Jiri, like the other Czechs who had fought against Nazi Germany in the RAF and the British army, became a victim of the political purges that followed the Communists' rise to power: Jiri Mucha was eventually sentenced to six years in prison, but after the death of Klement Gottwald, the first Communist president of Czechoslovakia, in 1953, he was included in an amnesty for political prisoners.

He obtained work at the Barrandov film studios, and managed to produce several films under an assumed name. He also continued to write, but without much hope of publishing, given his background as a political prisoner.

In 1962, a golden opportunity came for Jiri to have his father's works exhibited in London. Alfons Mucha had been almost completely forgotten in the West, and Jiri leapt at the chance to send these works to London: After the success of the exhibition in London, Alfons Mucha's works were much sought after by galleries throughout the world. This was almost entirely down to Jiri Mucha's tireless work.

Jiri Mucha spent most of his later years living outside the Czechoslovakia, and when the Velvet Revolution came in 1989, Jiri was in Paris, in poor health: While in hospital, Jiri Mucha wrote a manifesto for the Velvet Revolution, which was put up in theatres around Prague, where he wrote: "People do not ask for freedom, they fight for it. I am with you and, like many times before, I am willing to give the only thing I can. My life."

Jiri Mucha's health continued to fail, and on April 5th, 1991, shortly after his seventy-sixth birthday, he passed away in Prague. According to Geraldine Mucha, Jiri may not have been pleased with developments in the country were he still alive today: