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THE SLAV EPIC

THE MAGNUM OPUS OF ALPHONSE MUCHA

[Introduction] [Gallery]
 
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Alphonse Mucha

Alphonse Mucha (1860 - 1939) achieved international fame as a master of Art Nouveau, the decorative style of sensuous and opulent decoration that captured the fin-de-siecle world but was rapidly supplanted by the harsher vision of modernism. His  poster art remains familiar over sixty years after his death, but the work he considered his masterpiece is sadly neglected. Whilst the series  is now on public display, it is confined to a remote Czech village and outside this site, images are hard to find.

The Slav Epic is nevertheless a monumental artistic achievement; it consists of twenty enormous canvases, some as tall as 6 metres, presenting a brilliantly conceived narrative history of the Slavic people in general and the Czech people in particular.

 

 

The Klementium exhibition; the seated figure is Mucha.

 

The story of the Slav Epic

After spending many years in Paris and America, Mucha returned to Prague in 1910 with the Slav Epic project as his driving ambition. He had arranged funding from the American, Charles Crane, and the work occupied the years 1912 to 1928. The first eleven canvases were displayed in Prague's Klementium in 1919 to great public interest and acclaim. Critical opinion though was hostile,  being out of sympathy with was was seen as its dated nationalism and academic style.

Various canvases from from the sequence were displayed in both Czechoslovakia and America over the next twenty years producing a similarly ambivalent reaction. Mucha  gifted the Slav Epic to the city of Prague in 1928; ironically, the poster he created to mark the occasion (below) is perhaps more famous than the work itself. 

 
 

 

'Slovanska Epopej'

 

 
 

 

The city however, was unwilling to provide a permanent exhibition space for the work and, after a temporary showing in 1935, the canvasses were rolled up and placed in storage. When Mucha died in 1939, his spirit had been broken by what he saw as the failure of his life's great work.

Not surprisingly, the post-war Communist government had little interest in restoring the series to public display and it was to remain out of view for many years.  In 1950, 11 years after Mucha's death, the epic was transferred to Moravsky Krumlov, near his hometown of Ivancice. Then, in 1963, after nearly 30 years out of sight, the first nine paintings in the series were exhibited and finally, in 1967, the entire Slovanska Epopej returned to public exhibition.

For recent developments concerning the location of the paintings, please look elsewhere.

 

 

Web links

The Mucha Foundation

Biography of Mucha

Mucha Museum

An Introduction to the Work of Alphonse Mucha and Art Nouveau

Illustrated biography

Account of a visit to Moravsky Krumlov

Photos of the exhibition

Article from Time - 28 November 1928

The Slavic people

Reference books

Two outstanding books are

Alphonse Mucha.   Sarah Mucha, Frances Lincoln Publishers Ltd, ISBN: 0711225176

Alphonse Mucha: The Spirit of Art Nouveau. Victor Arwas, Jana A. Brabcova, Jean-Marie Bruson, Anna Dvorak, Geraldine Mucha, Jack Rennert,  Yale University Press, ISBN: 0300074190.

 

The Paintings

The sequence is divided equally between Czech and broader Slavic themes, and is also arranged thematically along allegorical, religious, military and cultural lines. As well as the time spent composing the paintings, Mucha devoted considerable energy to research involving travel throughout the Balkans and Russia; this scholastic approach resulted  in considerable moral and didactic content.

The first twelve painting group readily into blocks of three

  • The first three deal with the early days of Slavic history and are highly symbolic, using the devise of an upper and lower register

  • The next three are centred around specific rulers from the early middle ages

  • The Magic of the word triptych deals with the emergence of a Slavic religious consciousness, centred around Jan Huss.

  • Finally, there are three painting illustrating the effects of the Hussite wars.

These series establish the themes of the series which are

  • Celebration of Slavic love of peace, piety and learning

  • Lamentation of the interference of foreign oppressors, and the wars they bring

  • Pleas for Slavic unity, which finds expression in Slavic liturgy and religion

These ideas recur repeatedly in the remainder of the series, which is supportive of the right of the peoples of the world to live and prosper in an environment free from oppression and subjugation.  Its creation marked a shift in Mucha's artistic interest from the individual to the collective in an attempt to inspire his countrymen to achieve their full destiny. This has being unfairly characterised as  jingoism, but can more accurately be understood by considering  Mucha's own words:

'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.'

To see the paintings, click here: Gallery .

They have been ordered by reference to the date of the subject matter rather than by date of composition.

e mail: info@slav-epic.org.uk