Photo by Jiří Sedláček http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/User:Frettie


Many people who visit Prague will hear about Alfons Mucha, who is arguably the most famous Czech painter. Relatively few will see the Slav Epic, which is literally his largest accomplishment.

It is a series of 20 enormous paintings (up to 6mx8m) displayed in a special hall in the National Gallery in Prague. The series commemorates important events in Slavic history and folklore, from their pagan origins through the arrival of Christianity, important battles, coronations, the rise of the Hussites, all the way up to the abolition of serfdom in Russia and a final triumphant ode to the glory of the Slavs.

At the moment, no one is seeing this impressive collection because it is closed until further notice. According to deník.cz, loose plaster around some of the structural elements of the building has forced them to close the hall for repairs. A spokesperson for the National Gallery says that none of the paintings have been damaged, and they will test and strengthen the rest of the hall to prevent any future problems. The exhibition is expected to reopen in August of this year.

This isn’t the end of the story though, because the location of the Slav Epic has been contentious for years. When the Epic moved back to Prague in 2012, Mucha’s family voiced their concerns about the hall currently being used for its display. Upon Mucha’s death in 1939, the works were willed to the city of Prague, on condition that the city built a special building to display them. This has never happened.

During WWII the paintings were rolled up and hidden to prevent them being stolen by the Nazis. They were later provisionally brought to the town of Moravský Krumlov, in Moravia, at a time when the communist government had no interest in building a special hall to display them. The Epic went on display there in 1963, and returned to Prague in 2012 following a controversial legal battle.

John Mucha, grandson of Alfons, confirmed in May that he was unsure whether the National Gallery could provide the right environmental conditions to display the pieces of art. Last week, Michal Hašek, governor of the South Moravian Region, and Tomáš Třetina, mayor of Moravský Krumlov, said they wanted to open a discussion with the new mayor of Prague about returning the Epic to Moravia.

Adriana Krnáčová, mayor of Prague since last November, has said that she is open to a meeting but has no plans to initiate one herself. Realistically, even if such a meeting takes place, it will be an uphill battle to get the Slav Epic returned to its little adoptive home.

Prague is also currently in negotiations with Japan and China over the prospect of displaying the paintings there. Japan has offered to pay for the cost of transport and expects to present the paintings in the National Art Centre in Tokyo for a few months in spring 2017.

As of now, the Slav Epic is expected to remain in its current location at the National Gallery during and after repairs, and then be returned there after its trip Asia.