Slavic Epic’s location back in play

City Hall is re-examining where to put the Art Nouveau paintings

The issue of what to do with Alfons Mucha’s Slav Epic is still not settled. Prague City Councilor Hana Třeštíková (Praha Sobě), responsible for culture, has set up a new working commission to come up with a solution for what to do with the 20 large-scale paintings.

At the same time, a lawsuit over the ownership of the paintings, backed by the painter’s grandson, John Mucha, is continuing.

The previous administration of Prague City Hall, led by then-mayor Adriana Krnáčová (ANO), wanted to paintings to be housed in a newly built section of the Lapidárium at the Výstaviště in Prague 7–Holešovice. The Kč 500 million project to expand the landmark gallery has a building permit.

Třeštíková said she wants to get acquainted with the project before deciding on how to proceed, adding that there were some weaknesses in the current plan.

She reportedly wants to hold a meeting later in January before deciding where the city will build a pavilion for the Slav Epic.

If the current plan turns out to be unrealistic than more time will be needed to explore alternatives.

John Mucha said last year that he would consider dropping his suit over ownership of the paintings if the city came up with a serious plan for displaying the pictures.

In his suit, he claims the city has failed to meet the original conditions of ownership, which he says included creating a suitable purpose-built place to display the paintings. This case has been ongoing and was sent back to lower courts for reconsideration last year when the Supreme Court found the original verdict in favor of the city was not adequately justified.

John Mucha became concerned about the fate of the paintings when the city decided in 2017 to ship them to Japan for a show, as it risked damage. He said his grandfather wanted the paintings displayed in the Czech lands and not abroad.

Jan Wolf, who was the city councilor for culture at the time and is currently chairman of the city’s commission for culture, said the exhibition abroad was a success, and that people in Japan showed much more interest in the Slav Epic than people in Brno, where nine of the paintings were shown in the last half of 2018.

After the paintings are returned from Brno and another exhibit ends in Prague, the paintings will go back into storage in the municipal depository.

The entire epic was last shown in Prague from 2012 to the end of 2016 at the National Gallery’s modern art venue at Veletržní palác.

The Slav Epic was painted between 1910 and ’28. 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 paintings was played by Mucha's American patron Charles Crane, who 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.

The plan to display the paintings in the Lapidarium is just one of a long line of options suggested over many years.

Previously, there was a plan to build a new exhibition space at Těšnov, the site of a former railway station that is now a green space. Another site on the opposite side of Těšnov was also considered.

Prague 1 proposed a gold-tone egg-shape gallery that it plans to build at the end of Revoluční Street adjacent to Štefánikův most (Štefánik Bridge).

The pedestal of the former Stalin Monument at Letná, the National Monument at Vítkov, Letohrádek Hvězda, Colloredo-Mansfeldský palác, the Klementinum and Letohrádek královny Anny (Belvedere) had also been suggested at one time or another.

From 1963 to 2011, the Slav Epic was housed at the chateau in Moravský Krumlov, where they had been safeguarded since World War II. The epic was the town’s main tourist attraction.

Prague City Hall after the Velvet Revolution waged a legal battle to have the canvases returned to the city, claiming that they had been a gift from businessman Crane. The conditions of that gift and whether it was made by Crane or Alfons Mucha are at the heart of the still-current legal dispute.

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