Prague Does Not Own Alphonse Mucha Masterpiece, Court Rules

The District Court of Prague has ruled against the capital in a case regarding a seminal cycle of paintings by the Czech Art Nouveau painter and designer Alphonse Mucha. The lawsuit was filed by the artist’s grandson John, who claimed that the city had violated the terms of a 1913 agreement between Mucha and his benefactor, the American philanthropist Charles R. Crane, which stipulated that the works would be gifted to Prague on the condition that the city build a pavilion to house them.

The works were donated in 1928, and nearly 90 years later, a sufficient facility has still not been constructed. Per the court ruling, ownership of the works has been transferred back to the Mucha estate. According to a report in Czech Radio, the city government is expected to appeal the verdict.

Mucha, who died in 1939, gained international celebrity for his distinct posters and illustrations, which today are among the most iconic pieces of the Art Nouveau movement. Travels through the Balkans inspired him to undertake a record of the region, which culminated in 1928 as the cycle of 20 paintings known as the Slav Epic. The enormous canvases (the largest measures around 25 feet high) depict the mythology and key histories of the Slav people. He considered the Slav Epic his masterwork, telling a crowd upon the debut of the initial 11 canvases in 1919, “Let it announce to foreign friends—and even to enemies—who we were, who we are, and what we hope for.” The insurance value of the group of works has been estimated around 10.8 million euros, or $11 million.

The works resided in the permanent exhibition at the chateau in the town of Moravský Krumlov for nearly 50 years, until 2010 when Prague requested their return for restoration and subsequent display despite concerns that the capital did not have suitable galleries to display the monumental paintings.

The works have been shown since 2012 at the Veletrzni Palace in the Prague National Gallery. In 2017, the Prague City Gallery, announced that the city had approved a three-month loan of the canvases to the National Art Center in Tokyo, where they were seen by nearly 662,000 people.

The news was met with condemnation from an international association of restorers, who said the Prague City Gallery, which is run by the City Council, did not appreciate the risk of transporting such large, fragile paintings. Mucha’s grandson filed a lawsuit soon after, arguing that because the artist’s stipulations had not been honored.

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