Tuesday, May 21, 2013


An Art Nouveau adventure in Prague with the Inconstant Traveler

From my previous posts about our adventures in Vienna and Prague last summer, readers might get the mistaken idea that all the art was in Vienna.

Not true: in addition to all its other charms, the magical city of Prague is alive with art. Centuries-old carvings, corniches and whimsically painted facades decorate just about every other building in the city.  An amble about the "New Town" section (which dates to around the turn of the last century, as opposed to the adjacent Old Town, which dates back to medieval times) is a feast of Art Nouveau architecture and decoration.

And then there's the Mucha Museum. Just off the main shopping boulevard, Na Prikope, in New Town, a couple of blocks down Panska Street, the museum is dedicated to the life and extraordinary work of Czech native son, Alfons Mucha, whose flowing, ornate style is among the most recognizable of all Art Nouveau artists.

And what a great museum it is! All on one floor, and beautifully laid out so you can follow and appreciate the chronology of Mucha's career.

An early popularizer of organic Nouveau forms, his first success was as a poster artist for Sarah Bernhardt in Fin de Siecle Paris. His revolutionary litho poster for her production of "Gismonda" (1894, above) was such a sensation, stealthy Parisian collectors crept out in the middle of the night to razor them off the kiosks!

During his Paris years, while becoming the premiere designer of advertising posters (for cigarettes, bicycles, tea, biscuits, and, of course, champagne), Mucha also produced illustrations, portraits, and decorative panels—the latter in four-part series, like "The Four Seasons," or "The Four Times of Day" (Matin, Jour, Soir, Nuit).

I love this Claire de Lune, from Mucha's four-part "The Moon and Stars" series. These pieces are not on display at the museum,  but I fell in love with the image on this bookmark in the gift shop and had to have it!

In 1910, Mucha rediscovered his roots, returned to Prague, and began creating posters and artwork celebrating Czech history and folklore, culminating in his 20-panel "Slav Epic" series of oil paintings.

These massive works are off-site, housed in the National Gallery's Veletrzni Palace, but the museum displays a large study for one of them, the haunting, enigmatic Star (or Winter Night), in which a Russian peasant woman embraces her fate on a snowy night.

Mucha's decorative lines and sinewy forms are exquisite, and it's fascinating to see some of his original drawings on display next to the printed poster versions.

Sketches and sketchbooks are also viewable in glass cases featuring the artist's designs for jewelry, furniture, and decorative motifs.

At the end of the exhibit, there's even an informative 15-minute biographical video—in English!

Stroll a few short blocks away and prepare to be dazzled by the Municipal House (Obceni Dum), begun in1906 and opened in 1912.

This block-long corner building situated on Namesti Republiky is an Art Nouveau masterpiece, from its gorgeous glass, and iron filigree, and painted and sculptural exteriors to its luscious tiled and stained glass interiors.

Among other things, the building houses three elegant restuarants and cafes—including the very cool Americky Bar in the basement—and the Smetana Concert Hall featuring Mucha-painted lintels and murals.

This is the principal venue for the Royal Prague Orchestra.

The day we visited New Town, we stopped in at Tesco (sort of the Czech Costco) on the way back to our apartment for more Bohemian Sekt ("sekt" being the all-purpose Eastern European word for champagne-like sparkling wine; we sampled sekt in Vienna as well).

Imagine our delight to find this bottle of Mucha Sekt!

The label is a lovely reproduction of a vintage Mucha champagne poster design.

Of course, we had to try it! And, of course, I had to bring the bottle home with me, in memory of our Mucha Day in Prague!

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