Battle over legacy of father of Art Nouveau

view gallery VIEW GALLERY

Prague authorities are demanding Mucha's masterpiece be moved to the capital

He is perhaps best-known for his distinctive Art Nouveau lithographs depicting robust, goddess-like maidens with elaborate tresses, bared flesh and flowing robes that were used to advertise mundane items like French roll-your-own cigarette papers a little more than a century ago.

Suddenly, however, the work of Alphonse Mucha, the acclaimed Czech painter, has become the focus of a blistering row in his homeland where the Prague city government, a provincial town council and his grandson are all at loggerheads over a huge collection regarded as the artist's masterpiece.

Mucha, who died after being interrogated by the Gestapo in 1939, is credited with creating the Art Nouveau style through his scores of decorative paintings, posters, lithographs and advertisements. Yet it is his extensive and more serious 1928 tribute to the history of the Slav people which is at the centre of the current dispute.

The Slav Epic, which took Mucha more than a decade to complete, comprises 20 paintings up to 20ft high and 26ft wide that display haunting and evocative moments of Slav history. The works were buried under piles of coal during the Second World War to keep them hidden from Nazi art thieves. They only resurfaced in the early 1960s.

Since 1963, the collection, which was considered revanchist by Czechoslovakia's communist regime, has been on display in a crumbling château in the small Moravian town of Moravsky Krumlov only a few miles from the artist's birthplace in the village of Ivanice. Now, however, Prague wants the collection moved to the capital.

The initiative has provoked a furious and embittered response from the Moravsky Krumlov town council, local people and hundreds of others who have joined a campaign to keep the Slav Epic in the château. Hundreds of Czech art students recently demonstrated in front of the building and called for the collection to be left in place. Vaclav Klaus, the Czech President, has also backed Moravsky Krumlov's campaign.

"The collection is the soul of Moravsky Krumlov," said Jaroslav Mokry, the town's mayor, in a recent radio interview. "Krumlov saved the Epic from the ravages of fate and communism. People are disgusted with how the capital is treating a small town in Moravia which has saved a valuable work of art. It is a disgrace."

The Prague city authorities demanded that Moravsky Krumlov hand the paintings over to the capital earlier this year. They claim that they are simply acting in accordance with Mucha's original wishes which they say stipulated that the Slav Epic should go on display in Prague.

The move would seem to fulfil the promise made to Mucha in 1913, when an American businessman called Charles Crane commissioned the Slav Epic and offered to donate it to Prague on the condition that the city built a special gallery to house it.

Yet Prague never built the special gallery and, if it eventually secures the Slav Epic, it aims to put the collection on show at the city's Veletrzni Palace – a modern exhibition hall outside the centre – until it finds a permanent site for the work. This option has infuriated the artist's grandson, John Mucha, who only last month obtained a court order which temporarily stopped the paintings' planned 160-mile odyssey from Moravsky Krumlov to Prague dead in its tracks.

Mr Mucha claims to have evidence which refutes Prague's claim to the paintings. He says he possesses a letter written by his grandfather in the 1930s which expresses such frustration over Prague's failure to build a gallery for his works that he demands that the city's rights to the Slav Epic be revoked. Mr Mucha has accused Prague's politicians of attempting to speed up the move to gain attention ahead of local elections this October.

Yet Prague is equally angry about the attempt to thwart the paintings' relocation. "It is an absolutely absurd situation and an infringement of Prague's ownership rights," said Ordrej Pecha, the city councillor leading the campaign to have the collection taken to the capital. The city flatly denies that it is focusing on the painting for political reasons.

With attempts to shift the paintings currently on ice, Mr Mucha is said to be negotiating with an investor who has shown interest in providing the estimated €20m needed to build a private gallery to house the Slav Epic. Both want the building to stand on Prague's Letna Hill, where a monumental statue of Stalin stood from 1955 until 1962. However the Letna Hill site could well become the source of the next Czech art row. Fans of Michael Jackson have just secured the rights to erect a 6ft statue of their idol in the Letna park. Opposition to the statue is growing, with critics saying that, apart from one concert in 1996, Michael Jackson had nothing to do with Prague.

Arts and Entertainment
Kathy (Sally Lindsay) in Ordinary Lies
tvReview: The seemingly dull Kathy proves her life is anything but a snoozefest
Arts and Entertainment

Listen to his collaboration with Naughty Boy

Arts and Entertainment
Daniel Craig in a scene from ‘Spectre’, released in the UK on 23 October

Arts and Entertainment
Cassetteboy's latest video is called Emperor's New Clothes rap

Arts and Entertainment

Poldark review
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

Arts and Entertainment
Arts and Entertainment
Katie Brayben is nominated for Best Actress in a Musical for her role as Carole King in Beautiful

Arts and Entertainment
Israeli-born actress Gal Gadot has been cast to play Wonder Woman
Top Gear presenter James May appears to be struggling with his new-found free time
Arts and Entertainment
Kendrick Lamar at the Made in America Festival in Los Angeles last summer
Arts and Entertainment
'Marley & Me' with Jennifer Aniston and Owen Wilson
Arts and Entertainment
Jon Hamm (right) and John Slattery in the final series of Mad Men
Arts and Entertainment
Arts and Entertainment
Place Blanche, Paris, 1961, shot by Christer Strömholm
photographyHow the famous camera transformed photography for ever
Arts and Entertainment
The ‘Westmacott Athlete’
Arts and Entertainment
‘The Royals’ – a ‘twisted, soapy take on England’s first family’
tv Some of the characters appear to have clear real-life counterparts
Brooks is among a dozen show-business professionals ever to have achieved Egot status
Arts and Entertainment
A cut above: Sean Penn is outclassed by Mark Rylance in The Gunman
film review
Arts and Entertainment
arts + ents
Arts and Entertainment
James Franco and Zachary Quinto in I Am Michael

Film review Michael Glatze biopic isn't about a self-hating gay man gone straight

Arts and Entertainment
A scene from the movie 'Get Hard'
tvWill Ferrell’s new film Get Hard receives its first reviews
Arts and Entertainment
Left to right: David Cameron (Mark Dexter), Nick Clegg (Bertie Carvel) and Gordon Brown (Ian Grieve)
tvReview: Ian Grieve gets another chance to play Gordon Brown... this is the kinder version
Arts and Entertainment
Benedict Cumberbatch and Martin Freeman in the first look picture from next year's Sherlock special

Arts and Entertainment
Because it wouldn’t be Glastonbury without people kicking off about the headline acts, a petition has already been launched to stop Kanye West performing on the Saturday night

Arts and Entertainment
Molly Risker, Helen Monks, Caden-Ellis Wall, Rebekah Staton, Erin Freeman, Philip Jackson and Alexa Davies in ‘Raised by Wolves’

TV review
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    War with Isis: Iraq declares victory in the battle for Tikrit - but militants make make ominous advances in neighbouring Syria's capital

    War with Isis

    Iraq declares victory in the battle for Tikrit - but militants make make ominous advances in neighbouring Syria
    Scientists develop mechanical spring-loaded leg brace to improve walking

    A spring in your step?

    Scientists develop mechanical leg brace to help take a load off
    Peter Ackroyd on Alfred Hitchcock: How London shaped the director's art and obsessions

    Peter Ackroyd on Alfred Hitchcock

    Ackroyd has devoted his literary career to chronicling the capital and its characters. He tells John Walsh why he chose the master of suspense as his latest subject
    Ryan Reynolds interview: The actor is branching out with Nazi art-theft drama Woman in Gold

    Ryan Reynolds branches out in Woman in Gold

    For every box-office smash in Ryan Reynolds' Hollywood career, there's always been a misconceived let-down. It's time for a rethink and a reboot, the actor tells James Mottram
    Why Robin Williams safeguarded himself against a morbid trend in advertising

    Stars safeguard against morbid advertising

    As film-makers and advertisers make increasing posthumous use of celebrities' images, some stars are finding new ways of ensuring that they rest in peace
    The UK horticulture industry is facing a skills crisis - but Great Dixter aims to change all that

    UK horticulture industry facing skills crisis

    Great Dixter manor house in East Sussex is encouraging people to work in the industry by offering three scholarships a year to students, as well as generous placements
    Hack Circus aims to turn the rule-abiding approach of TED talks on its head

    Hack Circus: Technology, art and learning

    Hack Circus aims to turn the rule-abiding approach of TED talks on its head. Rhodri Marsden meets mistress of ceremonies Leila Johnston
    Sevenoaks is split over much-delayed decision on controversial grammar school annexe

    Sevenoaks split over grammar school annexe

    If Weald of Kent Grammar School is given the go-ahead for an annexe in leafy Sevenoaks, it will be the first selective state school to open in 50 years
    10 best compact cameras

    A look through the lens: 10 best compact cameras

    If your smartphone won’t quite cut it, it’s time to invest in a new portable gadget
    Paul Scholes column: Ross Barkley played well against Italy but he must build on that. His time to step up and seize that England No 10 shirt is now

    Paul Scholes column

    Ross Barkley played well against Italy but he must build on that. His time to step up and seize that England No 10 shirt is now
    Why Michael Carrick is still proving an enigma for England

    Why Carrick is still proving an enigma for England

    Manchester United's talented midfielder has played international football for almost 14 years yet, frustratingly, has won only 32 caps, says Sam Wallace
    Tracey Neville: The netball coach who is just as busy as her brothers, Gary and Phil

    Tracey Neville is just as busy as her brothers, Gary and Phil

    The former player on how she is finding time to coach both Manchester Thunder in the Superleague and England in this year's World Cup
    General Election 2015: The masterminds behind the scenes

    The masterminds behind the election

    How do you get your party leader to embrace a message and then stick to it? By employing these people
    Machine Gun America: The amusement park where teenagers go to shoot a huge range of automatic weapons

    Machine Gun America

    The amusement park where teenagers go to shoot a huge range of automatic weapons
    The ethics of pet food: Why are we are so selective in how we show animals our love?

    The ethics of pet food

    Why are we are so selective in how we show animals our love?