Robin Camille Davis
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A Mucha Tour of Prague

August 19, 2012

Readers of my blog probably know by now that I really like Art Nouveau. It's been a while since I posted much about art history, but I was lucky enough to attend the fantastic Digital Humanities 2012 conference in Hamburg, Germany — and squeeze in an inexpensive side trip to Prague to fulfill an Art Nouveau dream!

One of my favorite Art Nouveau artists is Alfons Mucha (1860-1939). He is most famous for his lithographic work in Paris, like the example to the left. But he is originally from the Czech city of Ivančice, and after living in Munich, Paris, and the United States, he returned to his homeland to contribute his artistic skills to several projects, for the city and for himself. The beautiful city of Prague boasts many artworks and artifacts from his life, from a drawing he made at eight to some of his most famous and not-so-famous works.

View Mucha Tour of Prague in a larger map

I've put together a Mucha-themed tour of Prague. If you stay downtown, where most of the ho(s)tels are, all of these sites are easily accessible on foot or on the metro system. You can follow along a Google Map I made.

Tour summary:
1. Mucha Museum
2. Municipal House (1912)*
3. Slav Epic at Veletržní palác (1910-1928)*
4. St. Vitus Cathedral (1931)*
5. Mucha's Prague house
6. Vyšehrad Cemetery (1939)

* = if you can't visit all of these sites, at least visit these.

1. Mucha Museum

Address: Kaunický palác, Panská 7, Prague 1. Nearest metro stop: Můstek. Admission: about $9 for adult.

A good way to begin a Mucha tour is this museum, as the works displayed show his artistic trajectory quite well. It consists of two large rooms and a hallway, which sounds small, but for a retrospective of a single artist's work, it seemed sufficient to me (despite some very poor lighting conditions). On display were sketches, photographs, drafts, jewelry, childhood artwork, paintings, and, of course, lithograph posters. The latter I didn't expect to find that interesting, as I'd seen them reproduced in books and online — but it was stunning to see them in person! To see where the lines did not quite meet up where the prints overlapped, to see notes scribbled along the worn edges of century-old posters, and, most excitingly to me, to see the lithograph ink in person. I was shocked that some ink colors were metallic!

Unfortunately, the museum forbids photographs, and the stern ticket lady (who makes cameos in several unfavorable online reviews) unnerved me enough to obey. But trust me when I say that for Mucha enthusiasts, the museum is fascinating and well worth it.

2. Municipal House (Obecní Dům)

Address: Nam Republiky 5, Prague 1. Nearest metro stop: Náměstí Republiky. Ticket for guided tour: about $14 for adult, plus a few extra for permission to take photographs.

There's a reason this building is called the jewel of Prague! Opened in 1912, the Municipal House exemplifies the best of Czech Art Nouveau in every room. The country's best artists were called upon to each design a hall or contribute art in the form of paintings or sculpture. The result is a wide range of Art Nouveau interiors, including the Lord Mayor's Hall, which was designed floor to ceiling by Mucha.

The tour was all right. I wish it had included more history/art history facts instead of factoids for tourists ("If you stand way over there and I stand here and whisper, you can hear me so well it is like I have whispered in your ear!"). Still, it is a visual smorgasbord. I was all aquiver.

Exterior detail of Municipal Hall

Part of a triptych mural Mucha painted in the Lord Mayor's Hall, celebrating the unity of Slavs

Lighting fixtures and metal details designed by Mucha

Curtain, tassel, and window detail

Small decorative painting in Lord Mayor's Hall

Stained glass window in Lord Mayor's Hall

My photos are all close-up details since my lens is not wide-angle. Let's just say those photos are teasers for the awesome entirety of the hall. (The other rooms in Municipal Hall are gorgeous as well — just take a look on Flickr!)

3. The Slav Epic at Veletržní palác

Address: Dukelských hrdinů 530/47, Prague 7. Nearest metro stop: Vltavská. Admission: about $5 adult.

Toward the end of his life, Mucha left lithography behind and returned to painting, often with nationalistic themes. From 1910 to 1928, Mucha, supported by an American philanthropist, worked on the Slav Epic: 20 enormous paintings celebrating Slavic history and mythology. He considered it his life's greatest work, which may be a surprise, if you've never heard of it. Mucha gave the paintings to the city of Prague on the condition that a hall be built to permanently display the paintings. Unfortunately, wars, money, and city politics prevented this, so the Epic had instead been on display since the 1960s in Moravsky Krumlov, a very small town about 2 hours south of Prague. From 2012 to 2014, however, the Slav Epic is exhibited in Prague's Veletržní palác! (Despite some controversy.)

The 20 giant paintings are all on display in one large hall, well lit and spacious. An informative brochure guides you from painting to painting, explaining the history or folklore behind each. There is a smoky, seductive quality to Mucha's work here, far different from the clean lines of his graphic work in Paris. The figures are very expressive, often haunting, and I could see traces of Art Nouveau poses. I highly, highly encourage you to visit the Slav Epic if you are in Prague in the next two years — it was the highlight of my stay!

Hall at Veletržní palác displaying the Slav Epic

One painting of the Slav Epic

Detail from a painting in the Slav Epic

More photos of the Slav Epic are on Flickr.

4. St. Vitus Cathedral (Katedrála svatého Víta)

Address: Hrad III. nádvoří, Prague. Nearest metro stop: Malostranská. Admission: about $12 adult (short visit ticket includes other parts of the castle grounds)

Overlooking Prague is a castle on a hill. The castle grounds include several churches, the most famous of which is the St. Vitus Cathedral. Chances are you'd visit the castle and this cathedral no matter your fan level of Mucha. Like so many European cathedrals, St. Vitus took centuries to complete. Indeed, though the cathedral was founded in the 14th century, it was not until 1929 that the cathedral was considered complete.

Many features in the cathedral are beautiful, but the stained glass windows are particularly remarkable. I've never seen any like them, and I've done my fair share of church tourism. Thousands (millions?) of shards of colored glass flow together to great an intricate visual. But one window is unlike the others — this is the one that Mucha designed in 1931. To be honest, I still do not know who designed the other windows or why Mucha did just this one (the man at the ticket counter refused to sell me an audio tour, claiming that the two hours until closing time were not enough). I also failed to get a good picture... Internet, show the good people some photographs!

Exterior of St Vitus Cathedral. Source: Ignaz Wiradi user with CC-BY-SA-3.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Stained glass window in St. Vitus Cathedral (non-Mucha). Source: Xidis user with CC-BY-SA-3.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Stained glass by Mucha. Source: user Morpheus2309 with CC-BY-SA-3.0-de from Wikimedia Commons

5. Mucha's Prague house

Address: 25 Thunovská. Nearest metro stop: Malostranská. No entry.

While he was in Prague, Mucha lived in this house, which is just down the hill from the castle. In fact, one of the main stairways to the castle grounds ascends right across the street from his house. I'm unclear on the dates. There is a goofy-looking commemorative plaque on the house for its famous once-inhabitant. You can't go inside, as people still live there; instead, linger suspiciously outside snapping photos.

Mucha lived in the white house on the right.

Commemorative Mucha plaque on the exterior of the house he once lived in

The view from the walkway across from his house

6. Mucha's grave at the Vyšehrad Cemetery

Address: Vyšehrad, K rotundě 1, Prague. Nearest metro stop: Vyšehrad (bit of a walk). Admission: free!

The last stop on our Mucha tour of Prague is his grave in the  Vyšehrad Cemetery. His final resting place is located in what is referred to as the Slavín Cemetery, the centerpiece of the Vyšehrad Cemetery, wherein many Slavs famous for their artistic, intellectual, or political contributions are buried. The cemetery as a whole is absolutely beautiful. The gravestones are old and new, traditionally elegant and abstractly expressive. Also on the Vyšehrad grounds are a cathedral, some cafes, a park, and an incredible view of the city.

The Slavín Cemetery, containing many notable figures in Slavic history

Mucha's grave

View from Vyšehrad

That concludes our Mucha tour of Prague. I hope this is useful for other Mucha fans out there who are lucky enough to visit Prague!

Leave a comment if you have a question or suggestion, or if you know some facts about these sites that I have failed to retain or find.