Row over Slav Epic heats up

Photo: CTK

The row over the Slav Epic, a series of 20 large canvasses bestowed to Prague by their creator, the Art Nouveau painter Alphonse Mucha, has entered a new round. Prague City Hall decided on Friday to ignore a new ban issued by the authorities in Moravský Krumlov, where the paintings have been on display since the 1960s, and to go ahead with their relocation to the capital. Both sides now accuse each other of breaching the law, while the painter’s grandson John Mucha has likened Prague’s latest move to “a rape” of the masterpiece.

Photo: CTK
The run-down chateau in Moravský Krumlov, which has been the home of the Slav Epic for the last 47 years, was besieged on Friday morning by officials form the local town hall, lawyers for the Mucha family and even the governor of the South Moravian region.

They wanted to make sure that Prague City Gallery workers, who arrived the day before to pack the paintings and transport them to the capital, respect a new ban issued local town hall just hours earlier.

After several hours of negotiations they were let in – only to learn that Prague officials had decided to ignore the new ban, and to go ahead with the relocation. Ondřej Pecha, a member of Prague City Council, told a news conference in Prague that a court order which had overturned an earlier ban by the local town hall, is superior to the new ban.

Photo: CTK
“All the documents that we have confirm that the court decision is superior to any such administrative ban. Unfortunately, the other side – Moravský Krumlov town hall and the family of John and Geraldine Mucha – does not respect Czech law.”

Mr Pecha said Prague City Hall was considering filing a criminal complaint against those who obstruct the relocation. But John Mucha, the painter’s grandson and an opponent of the transfer, says it’s Prague City Hall that is breaking the law by not respecting the ban.

“I understand from my lawyers that if the city of Prague continues in this vein, they will effectively be committing a criminal act. I also understand that my lawyers are in fact organizing the necessary documentation to start formal criminal proceedings against the city of Prague.”

One of the reasons behind the recent escalation of the argument between the capital and the small Moravian town is the upcoming local elections in which officials in both places run for re-election. John Mucha sees Prague’s decision as purely political.

“I have always stated throughout this sad episode that what we are going to do is to make sure that the Slav Epic is placed in a suitable place. I’m afraid that what the city of Prague is trying to do now, I would even compare it – it’s a strong wording – to a potential rape of the Slav Epic, because it’s now clear they want to get it for purely political reasons.”

Prague officials say they are determined to get the paintings to the capital at any cost. Meanwhile, Czech Culture Ministry has weighed in officially declared the Slav Epic a cultural monument. This means that as of mid-October, stricter rules will apply to any handling of the paintings.