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Prague’s Art Nouveau, Mucha, and the "Slav Epic" (3:01)

Prague, Czech Republic

Alfons Mucha, a founder of Art Nouveau, gained acclaim for his early work — commercial posters of slinky women. But his later work was his masterpiece, the Slav Epic — a series of 20 huge paintings illustrating the struggles and triumph of the Slavic people.

Complete Video Script

The Art Nouveau facades gracing the Jewish Quarter and streets all over the city seem to proclaim that life is precious and to be celebrated. Prague is perhaps the best Art Nouveau town in Europe.

Art Nouveau was an ethic of beauty. It celebrated creativity and the notion that art, design, fine living — it all flowed together.

For a closer look at that Art Nouveau aesthetic, visit the Mucha Museum. I find the art of Prague’s Alfons Mucha, who worked around 1900, incessantly likable.

With the help of an abundant supply of gorgeous models and an ability to be just provocative enough, Mucha was a founding father of the Art Nouveau movement.

His specialty: pretty women with flowers, portraits of rich wives, and slinky models celebrating the good life. But he grew tired of commercial art and redirected his creative energy.

A short tram ride away, in the Czech National Gallery of Modern Art, is Mucha’s greatest work, his magnum opus.

Mucha dedicated the last half of his career — 18 years — to painting the Slav Epic. It’s a series of 20 huge canvases designed to tell the story of his people on a grand scale.

In this self-portrait young Mucha is the seer — a conduit, determined to share wisdom of a sage Slav with his fellow Czechs.

Mucha paints a brotherhood of Slavic people — Serbs, Slovaks, Poles, and Czechs — who share a common heritage, deep roots, and a hard-fought past. Through these illustrations of epic events, Czechs can trace their ethnic roots.

Mucha, with his romantic nationalist vision, shows how through the ages Goths and Germanic people have brought terror and destruction to the Slavs… whose pagan roots are woven deep into their national character. With each panel you get more caught up in the story.

The establishment of the Orthodox Christian faith provided a common thread for Slavic peoples. To maintain their identity, they stood up to the Roman Church with courageous religious leaders boldly confronting Vatican officials. The printing of the Bible in the Czech language was a cultural milestone.

Then they endured three centuries of darkness during the time Czechs were ruled by the Catholic Austrians. Mucha’s final canvas shows the ultimate triumph of the Czech people as, in the 20th century, they join the family of nations with their Czech ethnicity intact. The Slav Epic.

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