Alfons Mucha’s Slav Epic set for legal tug of war between Prague and painter’s descendants


The Slav Epic is the monumental work of Czech painter Alfons Mucha in which he traces the history of the Slav peoples. But over the years the fate of the 20 massive canvasses, which Mucha regarded as his lifetime achievement, has also turned into something of a saga between the descendants of the painter and the City of Prague. And the latent tension between them has just taken a new twist.

One of the Slav Epic canvasses, photo: Filip JandourekOne of the Slav Epic canvasses, photo: Filip Jandourek Alfons Mucha dedicated the Slav Epic to the City of Prague in 1928 on condition that a suitable place in the capital was found to exhibit the works. Those undertakings have long been ignored.

In 2011 the works were returned to Prague from the castle of Moravský Krumlov. But instead of a tailor made exhibition space, they have been on show at the National Gallery’s Trade Fair facility. And soon the painting are due to quit Prague altogether for what is likely to be a long Asian tour.

Mucha’s grandson, John Mucha, has now had enough and fired off a warning letter to Prague City Council. Mr Mucha explained how it now looks like a legal battle will open up between Prague and the Mucha family over ownership of the pictures after the city’ council’s reply.

John Mucha, photo: Miroslav KrupičkaJohn Mucha, photo: Miroslav Krupička “It alleges in fact that there is no legal case because Alfons, according to the councillor, never specified that a suitable space be built for it, provided by the City of Prague, which is not the case. I would advise him to read the document, which is the document underscoring the gift, and I think he will then understand what this is all about.”

What’s your next step?

“Sadly, we are now in a process with our lawyers preparing the beginning of formal legal action against the City of Prague. What we will be saying is that for over 20 years I tried to respect, look after, and make available the artistic heritage of my grandfather. We do this, for example, through the Mucha Museum in Prague, through exhibitions and so on. And also to focus on the fact that as far as the Slav Epic is concerned, Alfons was absolutely clear about it, Prague had to do something about it. He was also absolutely clear that, yes it was given to Prague, but only as a vehicle, as a gift to the people and the nation.

Photo: archive of Radio PraguePhoto: archive of Radio Prague “Then the next bit will be that since there is this huge uncertainty now – and indeed the concept now of suddenly making a travelling circus almost out of the Slav Epic - goes dead against my grandfather’s wishes. He certainly would not wish for that to happen. And I think one has to realise, and I don’t think it is just my view, the Slav Epic is something extraordinary and unique. I would suggest that it is, sort of, one of the artistic crown jewels of the Czech nation and I don’t think crown jewels travel. If people want to see it, I think they should come to the Czech Republic.“

The legal procedure Mr Mucha will finalise in Prague next week will seek to reopen the whole inheritance procedure arguing that the Slav Epic should be returned to Mucha’s descendants.