Review: Mucha Museum

Though well touristed, this Prague collection offers a welcome escape into the Czech master's decorative paradise

Best known for his theatre posters, Mucha's singular style has left its mark on a far greater stage, from soap packages to costumes, and advertisements to large-scale canvasses. Mucha went far beyond the Art Nouveau style that surrounded him, combining grace, elegance and a magnificently astute eye for composition. So innovative was his approach that that the early Art Nouveau era was often referred to as "Le style Mucha."

Prague's Mucha Museum features a good range of the artist's more famous lithograph prints (see sidebar), in addition to drawings, sketches, designs for jewelry, and photographs from his life. Set out in three main rooms, the museum offers a welcome escape into Mucha's decorative paradise.

Born in Moravia in 1860, Mucha first studied in Munich and moved to Paris in 1887. After doing his bit as a "starving artist" for a few years, he finally got his break after winning the acclaim of Paris's darling of the stage, Sarah Bernhardt. A six-year contract with the actress ensued, during which his fame and artistic output continued to grow.

Although Mucha reportedly hated Art Nouveau, his choice of commissions reflected the new, more populist sentiment in art at the turn of the 20th century. His fame is well deserved, if not for his intricate designs, dancing to a symphony in praise of natural form, then surely for his technical mastery.

Mucha & Lithography

Mucha used the lithographic technique for most of his work.

Invented in 1798, lithography is most commonly associated with prints from the late 19th century but the method is still used today, in a more modern form, to print books, magazines and newspapers. Lithography became popular with artists because it was the first printmaking technique that allowed them to control every aspect of an image's creation.

In order to create a lithograph, the artist first uses a greasy medium - a crayon, for instance - to create an image on a plate or a stone. The whole surface is then dampened with water, which is repelled by the greasy medium but remains on the stone's untouched areas.

Next, an oil-based ink is applied to the stone, which sticks to the areas where the artist has drawn an image. The image is then transferred onto paper, by pressing it against the stone's surface.

This process can then be repeated, sometimes as many as 200 times, using different colors, or the artist can paint directly onto the print.

After Mucha moved back to Czechoslovakia his art took a turn toward the traditional, and he devoted the rest of his life to the Slovanská epopej, 20 epic canvasses detailing the history of the Slavic people. (These works are now on permanent display in Moravský Krumlov, near Brno.).

In 1939 Mucha was arrested by the Gestapo but later released. After this incident, his health took a turn for the worse and he died later that year. Look for his grave in the cemetery at Vyšehrad.

Although the Mucha Museum is often overrun with tourists, it really is worth a visit. It's not possible to comprehend Mucha's skill and the subtleties of color, form and detail in his work without experiencing them in the more intimate setting of a museum.


Mucha Museum

Panská 7, Prague 1

Phone: (+420) 221 451 333

Metro: Můstek (line A & B)

Tram: 3, 9, 14, 24, 51, 52, 54, 55, 56, 58 (stop: Jindřišská)

Open: Mon to Sun 10:00 - 18:00


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