Alphonse Mucha’s Slav Epic goes on display in Japan

Alphonse Mucha’s cycle of paintings the Slav Epic has gone on display in the Japanese capital Tokyo. It is the first time ever that the whole collection is being shown abroad. The exhibition is part of a Year of Czech Culture in Japan and is expected to attract several hundred thousand visitors.

Slav Epic exhibition opening in National Art Center Tokio, photo: archive of Czech Ministry of CultureSlav Epic exhibition opening in National Art Center Tokio, photo: archive of Czech Ministry of Culture The Slav Epic, a series of 20 large canvasses chronicling Slavic history by the Art Nouveau painter Alphonse Mucha, has gone on display in Tokyo, part of the Year of Czech Culture in Japan organised in connection with the 60th anniversary of the renewal of diplomatic relations between the two countries. The exhibition was opened at the National Art Center by the Czech Minister of Culture Daniel Herman and is expected to be seen by up to a quarter million people. How well is Mucha's work known in Japan? That was a question Radio Prague put to Petr Holý, a former head of Czech Centre Tokyo and an expert on Japanese culture who has lived in the Japanese capital for more than 20 years.

“Mucha is very well-known in Japan. A lot of people know his posters and the work that he did for actress Sarah Bernhardt. Some will be familiar with the Slav Epic, having seen it either at Moravský Krumlov before, where the cycle used to be housed, or to Prague when it was at the National Gallery. It’s a little more complicated in the sense that a lot of the Japanese public thinks that Mucha, whose name they pronounce as Musha, was French. Many may be surprised to find out he was Czech.”

Slav Epic exhibition opening in National Art Center Tokio, photo: archive of Czech Ministry of CultureSlav Epic exhibition opening in National Art Center Tokio, photo: archive of Czech Ministry of Culture Petr Holý says it is not surprising that the Art Nouveau itself should be so popular in Japan, given the famous movement was itself inspired by, and borrowed from, aspects of traditional Japanese art including both floral patterns and flatness in its depiction. The expert again:

“The Japanese love decorative elements, which are present in Japanese art but also present in Mucha’s posters and commercial work. In that sense, the Slav Epic will be a little bit of an eye-opener for some. It is a later work in his career and the paintings are scarier to a degree, so that will be something of a surprise.”

Slav Epic exhibition opening in National Art Center Tokio, photo: archive of Czech Ministry of CultureSlav Epic exhibition opening in National Art Center Tokio, photo: archive of Czech Ministry of Culture The National Art Center in Tokyo is itself a renowned museum (the building was designed by the late Kisho Kurokawa) which sees some two million visitors annually. The draw for the Mucha exhibition is also expected to be big; along with the Slav Epic, an additional 80 works by Mucha are also on view. Petr Holý once more:

“I think that the estimated number of visitors [of around 250,000 people] is entirely realistic. Not least when you consider that Tokyo alone has more inhabitants than the entire Czech Republic! Similar shows here have proven very, very popular. The opening night was very grand and there were more than 1,000 people.”

The show lasts until June 5. Find more information at www.nact.jp