Prague retains Mucha's Slav Epic

The Municipal Court has ruled against the artist's grandson

Alfons Mucha's Slav epic belongs to Prague, the Municipal Court ruled. The verdict is final.

The painter's grandson, John Mucha, had sued Prague City Hall over the ownership of cycle of 20 large-scale canvases. The grandson's claim was based on Prague not creating an exhibition hall, which he claimed was a condition for ownership.

Judge Iveta Veselá said the gift agreement was concluded between the city and American industrialist Charles Richard Crane, who commissioned the work. Prague's ownership of the paintings stems from this gift.

Previously the District Court for Prague 1 in a first instance ruling also dismissed John Mucha's claims about the ownership of the Slav Epic and ordered him to pay court costs. John Mucha's lawyer František Vyskočil appealed this verdict to the Municipal Court.

Vyskocil said the case was simple, and that Prague has failed to meet the condition of the donation, which was creating an exhibition space specifically for the Slav Epic. He said that the lack of an exhibition hall after more than 100 years meant there was no transfer of ownership. A letter was written in 1909, the year the commission for the paintings was made, sets the building of an exhibition space as a condition.

The lawyer for the City of Prague, Roman Felix, asked the court to dismiss the appeal, saying that Alfons Mucha had accepted that the city owned the paintings and even asked to borrow them.

John Mucha tried to negotiate an out-of-court settlement with Prague but was unsuccessful.

An exhibition of the Slav Epic was seen by 400,000 people at Veletržní palác between May 10, 2012, and Dec. 31, 2016. Earlier in 2017 they went to Japan for an exhibition and have been returned. They are now in storage and set to go on display in 2018 at the Municipal House (Obecní dům).

Before the paintings were moved to Prague, they were on display at a chateau in the town of Moravský Krumlov, where they were seen by some 20,000 people per year. The city of Moravský Krumlov has also been attempted to have the paintings returned, and says the cycle would not exist if the town had not protected and preserved it during and after World War II, as Mucha was not highly regarded by either the occupying Germans or the communists. That effort to get them returned has also not been successful.

The Slav Epic is a series of 20 monumental canvases painted between 1910 and '28. The largest measures over 48 square meters. Mucha devoted the latter half of his artistic career to this work. The idea was formed in 1899, while he was working on the design for the interior of the Pavilion of Bosnia-Herzegovina, which had been commissioned by the Austro-Hungarian government for the Paris Exhibition of 1900. In preparation, he traveled widely through the Balkans, researching the history and customs of the Slavs.

A key role in creating the famous cycle of paintings was played by Mucha's American patron Charles Crane offered him $ 100,000 to finally paint the works.

The Slav Epic was created in Mucha's rented studio at Zbiroh castle, and the finished canvases were turned over to the City of Prague as they were completed.

In 1919, the first 11 canvases were displayed in the Prague's Klementinum. In 1921, five of the paintings were shown in New York and Chicago. In 1928, the complete cycle was displayed for the first time in Veletržní Palace.

Prague is currently planning to create a new pavilion for the paintings at Těšnov, where a neo-Renaissance train station used to stand.

The Prague 1 district announced that it wants to build a modern, gold-tone oval gallery adjacent to Štefánikův most (Štefánik Bridge) to house the Slav Epic. If the epic goes to the Těšnov site instead, then Prague 1 will use the gold oval for other exhibitions.

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