Mucha’s “Slav Epic” moved to Prague without approval
Conservationists and art historians warn temporary venue could damage the paintings
By David Creighton. Web only
Published online: 05 April 2012
The remaining 15 canvases of the Czech artist Alphonse Mucha’s “Slav Epic” cycle have been removed without approval from the Moravian town of Moravsky Krumlov and taken to Prague, according to the Alphonse Mucha Foundation. The canvases will be reunited with the five other parts and the entire series of 20 canvases is due to go on show at Prague’s Veletrzni Palac (Trade Fair Palace). But leading conservationists and art historians say this venue could cause severe damage to the paintings, which Mucha considered his masterpiece. “It’s a very serious mistake,” says Petr Kuthan, the head of restoration at the Czech National Gallery in Prague.
The foundation wants the monumental work, which depicts the history of the Slavic people, to be housed in Prague’s main train station. “We have issued a formal letter of intent, signed by us, the Czech railways and the Italian developer overhauling the station,” says John Mucha, the artist’s grandson and the president of the foundation.
Part of the work was returned to Prague last year after a compromise was reached with Moravsky Krumlov, where the canvases were taken in 1950 having surived the Second World War in Prague. After Communism fell in 1989, Prague City Council considered “repatriating” the paintings, sparking a long dispute between Prague and the town near Mucha’s birthplace. Under the arrangement, the “Slav Epic” is due to be exhibited for two years in Prague from 2011, and the Moravsky Krumlov château, where the canvases were displayed from 1963, is due to undergo renovation.
The cycle will be reunited next month in the Great Hall of the Veletrzni Palac. “It’s perhaps the only accessible space meeting the exhibition requirements of these huge canvases,” says Michaela Mouckova of the City Gallery Prague, which leases the space from the Czech National Gallery. She says that temperature and humidity are constantly monitored. “The paintings are under the supervision of restorers, who are working on the light and climatic conditions to guarantee the best conditions during the exhibition.”
But most experts, including Kuthan, regard the Veletrzni Palac as completely unsuitable, citing humidity and temperature issues among others. “In spring and autumn, when large differences in outside temperatures occur, there are huge changes in day and night temperatures inside the room. This is one of the serious factors negatively influencing the stability of the huge canvases,” he adds, noting that much of the damage would occur gradually. Restorers also argue that while the Moravsky Krumlov château needs repair, it is a better environment than the Veletrzni Palac, including in terms of temperature.
The Mucha Foundation says that Prague’s main railway station is the best permanent home for the paintings. John Mucha says that the foundation is in negotiations with the council about the plans. “Everyone’s pulling in the same direction,” he says. “If we all manage to keep this momentum, the ‘Slav Epic’ should be unveiled [there] in spring 2014.” When describing the suitability of the venue, John Mucha says that the train noise can be screened, and appropriately the art nouveau station was designed by Josef Fanta, a friend of Alphonse Mucha. “It’s also critically important that wherever the ‘Slav Epic’ is exhibited, it must be according to the artist’s plans. He spent years working on them,” says John Mucha.
Alphonse Mucha was equally specific about the future of the paintings. The cycle was donated to Prague by the artist when he finished the work in 1928 (having started on it in 1910), stipulating that the city build a special pavilion for the series, but this condition was never met.
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