Mucha's masterpiece may be in Prague by 2008

Slav Epic

The Art Nouveau "Slav Epic" is considered the magnum opus of the artist Alfons Mucha. But for decades the paintings have been housed "temporarily" in a chateau in a small Moravian village which is difficult to reach. The city of Prague has long wished to build a home for the paintings, and a spokesman now says construction of a permanent gallery could start in a little more than a year.

It took eighteen years for Alfons Mucha to complete the 20 enormous paintings in his Slav Epic, depicting the history and legends of the Czechs, Russians, Serbs, and other Slavic peoples. The paintings were shown for the first time at Prague's exhibition grounds in 1928, and 80 years later, that is where they will return to under plans drawn up by the Municipal Investor Department of the city of Prague.

Jiri Toman is director of the department:

"The Slav Epic project is in the phase of getting necessary permission for construction. These days we're waiting on a permit to use the lot. Then we'll will enter the review phase, in which many city agencies will take part, as well as local property owners. And at the end of next year we expect an announcement seeking for bids to construct the building. We think once we have the building permission, which appears certain, nothing will stand in the way of the construction of this quite important building."

Once those final bits of bureaucratic red tape are removed, Toman believes construction will take about a year. That means the new gallery could be finished at the end of 2008 or beginning of 2009.The estimated cost is 150 million crowns, or a little over seven million US dollars. The entire bill will be footed by the city of Prague.

In recent years the plans have hit more red lights than green, and the project has been delayed repeatedly. But Toman says it appears virtually certain now that Mucha's masterpiece will find a home at the edge of Stromovka park in the sleepy Prague neighborhood of Holesovice.

"Of course we expect the building will raise the level of tourism. In my opinion it could draw significantly more visitors to the whole area, including the Holesovice exhibition grounds, even if there the number of visitors is already pretty high."

The ultra-modern design of the proposed gallery has received some criticism. Certainly it's in a style Mucha himself would not have recognized. But, says Toman, that doesn't mean he wouldn't have approved.

"The construction of this building will realize the intentions of the artist, Alfons Mucha, who dedicated his Slav epic to the city of Prague on the condition that the city construct a suitable home for it on the permanent exhibition grounds. Those grounds weren't available for many years, so they searched for another place to house the project and it ended up at a chateau in Moravia. We can only guess what Mucha himself intended but we can guess by the scale of his paintings that he wanted a large, dignified space where visitors could really take in the works. And with this project, we believe lots of people will be able to come see them."