Another Side of Mucha in Prague

Chances are you’re familiar with the Czech artist Alphonse Mucha. You’ve seen his Art Nouveau posters but did you know he would have preferred to be famous for his paintings and patriotic passions? In fact, he was frustrated by the fame he gained from his posters because he believed the purpose of art was spiritual, not commercial. Mucha’s greatest interest and aspiration was to create art inspired by his homeland. 

The art Mucha is famous for…his commercial posters, advertisements and illustrations.

"Affiche Biscuits Lefèvre-Utile Mucha" by Alfons Mucha - unknown. Licensed under Public domain via Wikimedia Commons

An Epic Series

Twenty HUGE paintings – some almost 20 feet tall. It’s hard to believe I’d never heard about them! “The Slav Epic” was inspired by Slavic mythology and the history of the Czech nation. As a devoted patriot who believed that art should be made for the people, Mucha said:

“I am convinced that the development of every nation may proceed with success only if it grows organically and continuously form the nation's own roots and that for the preservation of this continuity, knowledge of its historical past is indispensable.”

And so he hoped the series would inspire his countrymen to achieve their full destiny. The really tragic thing is, these paintings which he considered to be his fine art masterpiece, were sadly neglected and overshadowed by the popularity of his illustrations. After a temporary showing in 1935, the canvasses were rolled up, placed in storage, and didn’t return to public exhibition until 1967.

Mucha’s Slav Epic paintings are “epic” indeed. They are expressive, mystical, and highly dramatic. I wondered how much his style was influenced by his experience painting theatrical scenery as a young artist. All 20 are on view at the National Gallery in Prague.

"Side part of Slav Epic in Veletržní Palác, Prague" by Jiří Sedláček - Own work. Licensed under Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons 

Part of the Slav Epic series, “The Slavs in Their Original Homeland” portrays the Slavs crouched down in fear in the foreground while hostile hordes on the hill behind them art invade the village. A floating Pagan priest is flanked by a young man and woman who symbolize war and peace.

"Slovane v pravlasti 81x61m" by Alfons Mucha - Licensed under Public domain via Wikimedia Commons

When Czechoslovakia gained its independence after World War I, Mucha was asked to design an important part of any country's identity…its money.

"CS 50 Korun Kč 1929" by Alfons Mucha (1860-1939)(Designed) for the Czechoslovak National BankPeter Zelizňák(photo) - cc-by-3.0 - Own work. Licensed under Public domain via Wikimedia Commons 

Magnificent Room in The Municipal House

Given that I’m a huge fan of Art Nouveau, I enjoyed every minute we spent at the Municipal House, Prague's most prominent Art Nouveau building. Inside and out and everywhere you look are exquisite details – the furniture, lighting, paintings, sculptures, mosaics – its something you have to experience, as the photos can’t quite capture the beauty.

When we came to one particular room – the Mayor Hall – I think my jaw dropped.

Mucha was commissioned to decorate the circular salon in 1910 and his designs celebrate the heroic past of the Czech people and the unity of the Slav nations. The ceiling fresco "Slavic Concorde" with an eagle in the center is carried by eight pendentives on which human virtues are personified by historical Czech characters (faithfulness, strength, vigilance, intractability, independence, justice, wisdom, militancy).

Three wall panels portray Slavic youth who swear their allegiance to the mother nation. Decorative panels above the sofas are replicas of colored drawings by Mucha. He even designed the curtains and window-panes.

Looking up at the ceiling of the Mayor Hall in the Municipal House, a center for social and official gatherings.

Stunning Stained Glass 

I’ve been in a lot of churches and seen a lot of stained glass. Beautiful stained glass. But never anything like this. Inside the St. Vitus Cathedral, the largest church in Prague and burial place of former Czech Kings, there is an extraordinary window designed by Mucha. 

The vivid color and fine painterly style make for a spectacular combination and the expressive faces are unmistakably Mucha.

The window portrays the boy St. Wenceslas with his grandmother in the center, surrounded by episodes from the lives of saints who spread Christianity among the Slavs. As a ruler, Wenceslaus attempted to reduce the oppression of the peasants by the nobility and bring together warring factions within Bohemia.

Mucha's window in the St. Vitus Cathedral

Of course, no mention of Mucha in Prague would be complete without reference to the Mucha Museum, where you'll find the famous posters and learn all about the man who made them. I still love the posters, but I was happy to see another side of Mucha in his homeland.