I’ve always been a fan of Art Deco, both architecture and art. One of my favourite artists is Alfons Mucha and, until I visited Prague, I had no idea how connected to the city he was. So I decided to discover more about him by seeking out the places where he left his mark on the city.
My first encounter is at St Vitus Cathedral in the castle complex. As I enter, my eye is drawn to one of the first stained-glass windows. I recognise the style instantly. Mucha was commissioned in 1931 to design a window for the cathedral. He was already a well-established artist and had become very famous in Prague following his exhibition of the Slav Epic in the Trade Fair building in 1928. The women depicted in the window resemble the many posters of Sarah Bernhardt that Mucha produced for her numerous stage plays between 1894 and 1898.
I next find his influence in the beautiful Obecni dum (Municipal Building) which he helped to design in 1911. Although I am unable to see the ornate halls, I can appreciate the dining areas and hallways which boast features representative of Mucha’s art.
In order to learn more about Alfons Mucha, I visit the museum located not far from Obecni dum. It’s a small exhibition of some of his theatre posters, sketches and a few paintings. I find the black and white photos of models posing in costume for his Slav Epic particularly interesting as I hadn’t realised that artists were using this technique a century ago.
Alfons Mucha was born in 1860 in Southern Moravia and started his artistic career painting scenery for a theatre. When the theatre burned down, he moved on to house painting where his talents were recognised by Count Karl Khuen, who sent him to study at the Munich Academy of Arts and later to the Academie Julian in Paris. Mucha also spent time on book illustration and designing jewellery for Fouchet. However, his real desire was to create an epic work which told the mythology and history of the Czechs and other Slavic people. He began work on it in 1910 and the 20 canvases, many of which are 8m x 6m, were finally displayed in Prague in 1928.
Mucha was greatly influenced by the Freemasons and connections to this can be seen in his work. In 1918 he established the first Czech Lodge and later became a Grand Master. Following the Independence of Czechoslovakia in 1918, he designed the new banknotes and also stamps, some of which are displayed in the museum.
Sadly, at the beginning of WWII, he was arrested by the Gestapo and taken for questioning. He never recovered from his ordeal and died 8 days later on the 14th of July 1939, aged 78. I walk up to the Vysehrad fortress to see the cemetery where he was laid to rest. His name is displayed on a plaque on the Slavin Monument. He is in good company for Kafka is also buried there and not far away is the tomb of Czech composer Dvorak.
After paying my respects I decide to take a peek inside the St Peter and St Paul church which borders the cemetery. What I find inside is the most fitting tribute to Mucha. The colourful interior is decorated in his unique style with saints adorning the pillars, looking just like Mucha’s theatrical posters. Soft organ music is playing in the background and I feel very peaceful.