PRAGUE.- Alfons Mucha (18601939) was the most famous Czech modern artist. He attained international fame in Paris at the turn of the 20th century for his original Secessionist decorative art. He saw his own purpose in life, however, in a project that he regarded as much more important: The Slav Epic, a collection of twenty monumental paintings that he worked on between 1912 and 1926. The complete collection was presented to the Prague public for the first time in 1928 on the occasion of the tenth anniversary of the independence of the Czechoslovak state. That exhibition took place in the just built Veletrní palace (Trade Fair Palace) and it has returned to that location today. The current installation is based on Muchas original arrangement of the Slav Epic following the chronology of the themes in the paintings. This arrangement brings out the inherent ties between the paintings, underscores the rhythm of the series, and highlights the main aim of this grand work, into which Mucha invested the best of his abilities for many years. Even before Mucha began working on the Slav Epic he decided to dedicate it to the City of Prague and he delivered the paintings one by one over time to the citys representatives.
The thematic timespan of the Slav Epic stretches from impressive visions of early Slav history and the veneration of pagan gods, to the depiction of real culturally and intellectually significant historical events, to the closing vision of the intellectual significance of the Slavs for all of humanity. On ten of the canvases Mucha portrayed scenes from Czech history: the Czech epicis the central theme of the work. Mucha focused on the Hussite movement and the Czech Brethren, which, like Frantiek Palacký, Ernest Denis, Jaroslav Bidlo, and Tomá Garrigue Masaryk, he regarded as the most important stages in Czech history. He drew his information and inspiration from expert literature and discussions with historians, archaeologists, and folklorists. It was not, however, his intention to draw history. The selected themes invite readings and interpretations on several levels; they express Muchas philosophy of history based on humanistic ideals. The next ten canvases are devoted to the other Slavs and to pan-Slavic scenes. Mucha based the facts and the atmosphere of the depicted locations on his own knowledge. Since he would never have been able to cover the costs of the material, models, and study trips, he was able to obtain support for the project of the Slav Epic from the American millionaire and Slavophile Charles Richard Crane, who was a long-time friend of T. G. Masaryk and President T. W. Wilson.
To accompany the exhibition, City Gallery Prague in collaboration with Arbor Vitae Publishers has published a monograph on the Slav Epic, edited by Lenka Bydovská and Karel Srp in cooperation with Miroslav Petříček, Markéta Theinhardtová, Dominique Lobstein, and Tomá Berger. Rich in illustrations, the publication provides a current look at the Slav Epic, analyses and interpretations of the paintings, a detailed chronology, a selection of contemporary criticism and comments, and an anthology of texts by Mucha. Graphic layout by Jan erých.