Our 5 day trip to Prague was a disaster! Apparently the city becomes the world capital every weekend for Stag & Hen Parties, street vomiting, yobbishness and general rowdyism. Only one person rescued us ……. the late master of Art Nouveau, Alphonse Mucha.
Born in 1860 Mucha became a painter and commercial artist renowned for his Art Nouveau style of posters advertising soaps, champagne, cigarettes as well as working with other media such as furniture and jewellery.
There is a small museum dedicated to Mucha in the centre of Prague which is organised into 7 sections. The two sections best known are his Parisian Posters and his Decorative Panels.
The Parisian works included his commercial advertising posters for companies such as Job Cigarette Rolling Papers and a very famous set for Sarah Bernhardt the Parisian actress. Of the Bernhardt set it is the one entitled Gismonda that made Mucha famous, you will possibly recognise it. The story behind it is that Bernhardt called her printer asking for an urgent poster advertising Gismonda, but that all of the usual artists who did such work were on holiday. Mucha happened to be at the printers that day and so was asked to do it.
This poster became so popular in Paris that collectors bribed bill-stickers to get one and many disappeared overnight as they were cut from hoardings! Bernhardt was so delighted with such publicity and awarded Mucha a 6 years contract for posters as well as stage & costume design.
The Decorative Panels work of the artist was typified by his first set, The Four Seasons, which he followed up with The Four Flowers and The Four Times of Day. Perhaps his best known is The Four Arts Cycle depicting Dance, Painting, Poetry, Music.
Between 1910 and 1928 Mucha returned to Prague to work on his best known masterpiece, The Slav Epic, a collection of 20 VERY large canvases depicting the mythology and history of the Slavic People. The largest of these measures 6m x 8m and positively dwarfed us as we stood, then sat gazing at it.
The work was eventually sponsored financially by Charles Richard Crane, a wealthy Chicago businessman, and in 1928 Crane and Mucha presented the full series to the city of Prague as a gift to the nation. I believe however, that we were extremely lucky to be able to view the full collection which was housed at the National Gallery, but I believe there are arguments over actual ownership and where it should ultimately be housed. Any updates welcome, and here’s a sample of the canvases: