Playing I Spy with Alfons Mucha

Exhibitions runs till Dec 31st 2016 @ National Gallery Prague

It is like you are playing the children’s game, “I Spy” with Alfons Mucha guiding the game as your eyes carefully scan the ginormous canvas spanning close to six meters above you, a pamphlet in your hand and your mind spinning in complete and utter awe.

In awe over not only the mere size of just one of the twenty monumental Slav Epic canvases but the colossal, endless and careful detail that was put into every last centimeter of the paintings. Some of the canvases feature ten, forty or even more people, who all display their own unique expression. Making the viewer think that Mucha thought of each figure in his depiction of the Slav Epic as an individual, not just another face he was painting to fill up space on the canvas.

All twenty of Alfons Mucha’s infamous “The Slav Epic” canvases (created between 1911—1926) are on display at the Prague National Gallery’s Trade Fair Palace. The canvases are among the most important works of Czech art from the early 20th-century. After being placed in the National Gallery back in 2012, the exhibit continues for one more year, till Dec. 31, 2016.

Mucha was the Czech’s most important art nouveau artist from the 20th-century, until he died in Prague in 1939. The panels depict the history of the Slav people’s civilization and Mucha considered it his life’s masterpiece, taking him eighteen years before they were all first displayed in Prague.

To prepare for painting the canvases, in 1899, Mucha traveled throughout the Balkans to research the historical and present culture and traditions of the Slavs.

While all the canvases are equally as extraordinary, “The Defence of Sziget,” stands out as the most dramatic of the series. The scene depicts the heroism shown by the inhabitants of the Hungarian fortress Sziget, who sacrificed their lives to resist the Ottoman intrusion in 1566 into the Habsburg lands. The painting glows vibrantly from Mucha’s use of reds, oranges and yellows to illustrate the final hours of the fateful burning of the fortress.

Mucha painted hundreds of Slavs in this one, slaughtered and fighting for their lives. He challenges you to use the eyes of the dying civilians to direct you to find the commander, Nikola Subic and his wife Eva in the background of the scene. If you scan the entire painting, there is one face near the front center of a young child that is facing directly towards the audience. Her eyes are piercing, sending chills up your spine as you take in her desperate expression, in the same way that the child from “The Slavs in Their Original Homeland” canvas does at the beginning of the exhibit.

The final canvas in the Slav Epic, “Apotheosis: Slavs for Humanity!” summarizes the Slav’s history as a whole, while expressing Mucha’s thoughts on its meaning. Lots of rich colors are used and each distinguishes an individual age of the Slav Epic. Blue depicts the ancient myth; the flourishing Middle Ages is represented by red, and yellow shows the sphere of the present.

A larger, overjoyed Slav figure towers over all the other individuals painted while he holds up wreaths of freedom and unity. Finally, your eye is drawn to Christ, who is blessing the Slavs below him, giving the audience a piece of mind in their final moments at the exhibit.

Then just before your eyes flick away from the monumental canvas (480 x 405 cm), your eye flicks back. You “spy” a crouching girl holding her radiating heart in her hand, leaving you with a sense of elation and a big smile on your face as you exit the gallery.

Alfons Mucha
The Slav Epic
National Gallery of Prague’s Trade Fair Palace
Till 31.12.2016

Opening hours:
Daily except Monday 10:00 - 18:00
Admission:
Basic 180 CZK
Reduced 90 CZK
School groups 20 CZK

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