Ministry of Culture called on to stop Slav Epic tour of Asia

Slav Epic, photo: archive of Radio Prague

An epic series of paintings and what looks now like an epic battle about plans to take Alfons Mucha’s Slav Epic on an Asian tour. The latest turn is an appeal from a Czech cultural association for the paintings’ tour to be stopped in its tracks.

Slav Epic,  photo: archive of Radio Prague
The 20 giant canvases by world famous Czech painter Alfons Mucha have been around quite a lot since they were completed in 1928. Experts say they have been packed up around 20 times and sent on exhibitions as far afield as the United States and Japan.

But at a press conference on Thursday they also cautioned that even the most modern transportation techniques are no guarantee that the fragile works will not be damaged. In fact, they warned that the more the works of art are moved the greater the likelihood that they will need restoration work which will dilute the original artistic content of their creator.

And leaders of the Association for the Conservation and Development of Cultural Heritage in the Czech Republic (Asorkd) highlight the fact that after a previous foreign trip in which the Slav Epic canvasses were damaged in 1936, Prague City Council’s executive recommended that they never be allowed to go on tour again.

Photo: Tomáš Berger
That past recommendation though has been ignored by the current city leadership which in June agreed the paintings be allowed to go on exhibition in China. After that a further tour of Japan is expected and that might be broadened to include South Korea.

Art experts say that apart from the dangers to the painting from transport and handling, the high temperatures and humidity of such Asian countries also increases the risk of damage.

And whereas the original artist, Alfons Mucha, was on hand in the mid-1930s to carry out restoration himself, that is obviously no longer the case.

The association has now called as a last resort on the Czech Ministry of Culture to step in and block the Slav Epic’s China and mooted Asian tour and overturn the deal agreed by the council. One of those taking part in the press conference was John Mucha, the grandson of the famous painter. He backs the appeal to the culture ministry but is also taking his own steps as well:

“There is now a legal situation in the process where my lawyers have issued a writ against the City of Prague. They have just replied – and the reply is nothing unexpected. So in fact later today, after this conference, I have a meeting with my lawyers and we will take things further.”

John Mucha,  photo: Miroslav Krupička
And John Mucha says his concerns are particularly focused on China:

“My hand as protector of Mucha’s heritage has been forced by the city of Prague because the city of Prague basically seems to have an aim of making the Slav Epic a sort of exhibition circus. Now, the exhibition in Japan, so be it because the Japanese do look after things very carefully. I am in contact with leading museums in the world who have experience of China and exhibition conditions in China and if the Slav Epic goes to China, that is the end.”