In this week's edition of Czechs in History, Nick Carey takes a look at the colourful life of writer Jiri Mucha, the son of the world famous Art Nouveau painter Alfons Mucha.
It is a little-known fact that apart from being a writer, a BBC correspondent during the war, and a political prisoner in the 1950s, Jiri Mucha is also almost single-handedly responsible for making the Art Nouveau paintings of his father, Alfons Mucha, famous again in the West. For many years he promoted his father's works and, as he lived behind the Iron Curtain, possessed no copyrights for these paintings. Adventurous and fearless, he battled with Communist bureaucracy to reintroduce his father to the world, and a true patriot, he revelled in the fall of Communism in 1989, which came just two years before his death.
Jiri Mucha was born in Prague on March 12th 1915, the son of Alfons Mucha, who was at that time a famous painter. Jiri was born some fifteen years after his father shot to fame with the Art Nouveau posters he created while living in Paris. Alfons Mucha spent a great deal of time travelling and teaching in America and France, and Jiri grew up speaking French and English as well Czech. The relationship between Jiri and his father Alfons was from the start a strange one, because, as Jiri's wife Geraldine says, of Alfons' advanced years:
Jiri Mucha began writing stories at school, using the name Klacek, a slang term meaning 'young man'. Once he completed his studies, he enrolled at Charles University to study medicine, as he had always wanted to become a doctor, but the reality did not live up to his ideas:
Jiri Mucha returned home for his father's funeral, despite the occupation, and remained in the country for a month, before obtaining permission from the German authorities to leave the country as a war correspondent. He went to France and promptly joined up with other Czechs fighting against the German invasion in 1940. He was a fierce patriot, a trait he shared with his father:
He obtained work at the Barrandov film studios, and managed to produce several films under an assumed name. He also continued to write, but without much hope of publishing, given his background as a political prisoner.
In 1962, a golden opportunity came for Jiri to have his father's works exhibited in London. Alfons Mucha had been almost completely forgotten in the West, and Jiri leapt at the chance to send these works to London:
Jiri Mucha spent most of his later years living outside the Czechoslovakia, and when the Velvet Revolution came in 1989, Jiri was in Paris, in poor health:
Jiri Mucha's health continued to fail, and on April 5th, 1991, shortly after his seventy-sixth birthday, he passed away in Prague. According to Geraldine Mucha, Jiri may not have been pleased with developments in the country were he still alive today:
New foreigners’ law to change conditions for non-EU nationals
Czech foreign ministry reports record number of visa applications
Restaurant tells visitors to “clear their plates” or pay a 50 crown fine for wasting food
New index shows locations with best quality of life in Czech Republic
Archaeologists unearth rare Renaissance-Baroque brew house in ‘Czech Paradise’