Moravský Krumlov may get Slav Epic back

A proposed five-year loan depends on the chateau meeting climate standards

Alfons Mucha's Slav Epic, a cycle of 20 large Art Nouveau paintings, might return to Moravský Krumlov, at least temporarily, while the city looks for a new home for them. Prague claims ownership of the paintings, but they were displayed in the chateau on Moravský Krumlov from 1963 to 2012.

Prague has offered the authorities in Moravský Krumlov until the end of April to resolve the funding required for the possible exhibition.

Prague City Hall says that under the current conditions, it is not possible to exhibit such valuable works in the chateau and it would not be possible to ensure it in the current space. If Moravský Krumlov obtains the necessary funding, estimated in tens of millions of crowns, Prague would like to continue the negotiations. The loan of the artworks would then have to be approved by the City Council and the Assembly.

By temporarily placing the Slav Epic in Moravský Krumlov, the city would help to resolve a court dispute from the past regarding the ownership. John Mucha, the grandson of the painter Alfons Mucha, agrees with the placement of the paintings in Moravský Krumlov, according to his previous statements.

Prague has long claimed ownership and took possession of the paintings after a protracted decade-long dispute. Moravský Krumlov says that if the town had not hidden and protected the paintings after World War II, they would have been destroyed.

“The Slavic Epic is one of the cultural symbols of this country. Quarreling and disputing over them is a shame and nonsense. That is why we have started to work with all sides and I hope we will come to a rational solution soon,” City Councilor Hana Třeštíková (Praha Sobě) said.

Moravský Krumlov authorities will have to ensure a permanent temperature in the range of 18 to 20 degrees Celsius, environment humidity in the range of 45 to 55 percent with minimal daily fluctuation and security of the building with a direct connection to safety and fire services.

It is also necessary to arrange adequate lighting and exhibition infrastructure including panels, in the possible spaces of the exhibition.

Apart from the security, however, these are not available in the Moravský Krumlov chateau at this time. The chateau lacks adequate heating or cooling control.

The paintings would be shown for only about five years, which would be determined by an agreement between the two municipalities and John Mucha. This will also require the approval of the Prague City Council and Assembly.

At the same time, representatives of Prague are looking for ways in which the Slav Epic could be shown in Prague for a long time.

The loan to Moravský Krumlov and the creation of a long-term solution to displaying the paintings hopefully would end the legal disputes once and for all.

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.

The suit 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 was decided in Prague's favor but was later sent back to lower courts for reconsideration when the Supreme Court found the original verdict 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.

After the paintings returned from their trip overseas, where they had been highly popular, they were shown in 2018 with nine large paintings in Brno and 11 smaller ones in Prague.

Now they are in 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 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 previous administration in City Hall sought to display the paintings in the Lapidárium at the Výstaviště in Prague 7–Holešovice, but that idea is now on hold.

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 and elevated highway. Another site on the opposite side of the highway was also considered.

The pedestal of the former Stalin Monument at Letná, the National Monument at Vítkov, Letohrádek Hvězda, Colloredo-Mansfeldský palác, the Klementinum, Letohrádek královny Anny (Belvedere) and an egg-shape gallery at the end of Revoluční Street have also been suggested at one time or another.

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