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 likeable. 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, the Czech National Gallery
of Modern Art is Mucha’s latest 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, Russians,
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 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 Habsburgs. Mucha’s final canvas
shows the ultimate triumph of the Czech people
as in the 20th century, they joined
the family of nations with their
Czech ethnicity intact. The Slav Epic.