Grandson of Alphonse Mucha hoping Slav Epic will finally find permanent home in Prague

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Alphonse Mucha’s Art Nouveau paintings are among the most instantly recognisable works in Czech art. He himself considered the Slav Epic, a series of huge paintings depicting the history of the Slav peoples, his greatest achievement, though it has not had the happiest of fates. Mucha donated it to Prague in 1928, on condition that the city build it a dedicated home. Eighty years later, his grandson John Mucha says he is at a loss as to why the artist’s wish has still not been fulfilled.

Alphonse Mucha’s 1928 request that Prague create a home for the Slav Epic was ignored and his great work went on to suffer decades of neglect before eventually going on display in 1967 in the town of Moravsky Krumlov, where it remains.

Plans to build at the Výstaviště exhibition centre were approved some years ago, though since then no headway has been made. What’s more, the artist’s heirs have the right to demand its return if the city does not build a pavilion for the cycle of paintings by 2010.

But why after all these years is the Slav Epic not on show in the capital? That’s a question for John Mucha, Alphonse Mucha’s grandson and the president of the Mucha Foundation.

“I’m at a loss as to why it is not here. It is certainly not because of the family. We understand that it was given to the city of Prague, so ultimately it should be in the city of Prague. But it should be exhibited in the way Alphonse conceived it. It should be exhibited in a space which is appropriate to the works.”

The idea of building a pavilion at Výstaviště has hit a brick wall, with the operators of the exhibition centre objecting to plans which had already received a construction permit. John Mucha is so far not insisting on the return of the great artwork. He says he would like to see a home for it in Prague’s Karlín district.

“It is our understanding that the city will not be proceeding with the construction of that building…It depends obviously on the size of the building, I have some ideas, including one particular idea about possible land which actually belongs to the city of Prague, where currently there is nothing. It’s not absolutely in the centre but logistically it’s closer than Výstaviště, in Holešovice. It’s near Florenc and it would be in an area which has anyway gone through re-generation, but which could sort of broaden this space.”

Getting back to Alphonse Mucha’s great paintings themselves, his grandson explains a little about the genesis of the Slav Epic.

“He worked on it for many, many years. And in our archive we have all the thoughts that he put down on paper. He even made a replica of each canvas. Each replica measures approximately one centimetre by two centimetres – the actual paintings are roughly six metres by eight metres. But he had these little models so that he could move the pictures around to make sure that theme was as he wanted it.”