Do you remember the first time you encountered Alphonse Mucha’s powerful work? Maybe it was in school – you learnt about him and other artistic trailblazers in art class. Maybe a friend introduced you, or you heard him referenced in passing on a TV show or in a movie. Maybe it was a book at the library that caught your eye, filled with lush pictures of young women with hair like twisting vines and longing looks framed by exquisitely ornate patterns in warm reds and yellows.
What was it that made you stop for just a moment and take a deeper look? Mucha’s work is a feast to the eyes. Pouring over every detail, letting the lines and shapes and colours come alive before you on the page can only be second to seeing the artwork in person.
Mucha’s The Slav Epic has always had a controversial history when it comes to where it would be displayed. The 20 canvases were on exhibit in a small town for over 50 years where they weren’t as accessible to the public as they would’ve been in Prague, but there was the space for them in the beautiful old palace of Moravský Krumlov.
However, in 2012, Prague won the rights to display the exhibit and displayed the National Gallery’s Veletržní Palace for four years until 2016. One visitor, Laura Lytwyn, a travel blogger from Canada, was fortunate enough to be in Prague during this time and describes what it was like to be able to stand before the entire breathtaking collection and witness it in person:
“When you step inside the work’s gallery inside Prague’s Veletržní Palace, you’re immediately awestruck by the sheer size of these canvases. They feel more like walled frescos than average paintings. Moments are frozen in time, captured in life-sized (and in some cases, larger than life) works of art. Each of the paintings depict the history of the Slav people, their civilization, wars, and celebrations.
The first thing you notice of these works, after taking in their sheer size, is the quality of the canvas. These are not the languid, sensual forms of Mucha’s other commercial art nouveau work. These are deftly painted portraits and landscapes that profoundly depict, in each stroke of paint, the emotions and collective journey of the subjects.”
Slow down and appreciate the Slav epic
As society becomes increasingly hyper-visual, we’ve become constantly overloaded with pictures and images, and it’s harder to take the time to focus our full attention in just one direction. And now that it’s easier than ever for us to express ourselves in nuanced ways – we have filters and stickers and gifs and emojis available to us unthinkingly at our fingertips – we seem to have less and less to say.
This is why It’s more important than ever to slow down and appreciate Mucha’s commitment to this massive breadth of work, dedicated to such a significant group of people. Seeing the compelling real-size of his artistry and the high level of detail that went into every inch of these paintings, instills a sense of appreciation for storytelling that is more and more rare. It’s worth taking the time to stop and reflect that this massive collection took 18 years for Mucha to complete. That’s the amount of time it takes us to transform from a newborn baby into our adult selves!
Currently, The Slav Epic is no longer on display anywhere and is still awaiting its permanent home. However, the Prague City Council did approve a plan to renovate and expand the Lapidarium at Výstaviště in Prague’s Holešovice district, in order to be the collection’s long-term residence one day. It’s unclear though when the building will be completed as it has to meet several demanding technical requirements. But it looks like Mucha’s initial wish for his gift to be displayed in Prague is finally coming closer to coming true than ever before.
If you’re curious to see other works of Mucha in the future, check out this list of his exhibits around the world.
Have you ever seen The Slav Epic in person? What was your experience like? What surprised you the most? Do you think it should stay in the Czech Republic or be exhibited around the world for other people to enjoy and learn about Mucha’s work? Comment below!