Inspiration from the ship
The spectacular series of twenty paintings, The Slav Epic, to which Mucha devoted nearly twenty years of work, had its first foundations in place before the first stroke of the brush. Mucha had been developing the idea of a monumental work devoted to his nation since 1900. However, it was not until 1906 during one of his journeys to the USA (to gain the means to fulfil his dream), did he begin to wonder how exactly it would look. He drew inspiration from the vast sails that adorned the steam ship on which he travelled, deciding to paint his cycle precisely on such material. Thanks to this, some of the paintings in The Slav Epic series hold monumental dimensions (the largest being 610 x 810 cm).
The chateau in Zbiroh provided the painter and his canvas sufficient space, becoming the Mucha's family residence for almost twenty years. Mucha worked tirelessly, sometimes well into the night in his studio, the chateau’s former dining room. Jiri Mucha recalls how, as a boy, he went to his father’s studio to tell him that lunch was ready. "... I entered a huge hall with a strange feeling of mysterious excitement. On the left, a blue-eyed figure with a circle in the right hand, a symbol of unity at the forefront of the Cyrillo-Methodian picture, looked at me; on the right, I saw Manka over which Thor and Svatovit were floating.” Manka was the family au pair, taking care of Mucha's children, and posed (like everyone close to Mucha) as many characters. For example, Mucha chose to use a local teacher from Zbiroh to pose as George of Poděbrady. For a precise idea of Jan Hus’s stance, he used a photo of himself pictured in the middle of a sermon. Mucha formed a close relationship with the residents of Zbiroh, and between 1923-1924 he painted a curtain for the local gymnasium.
Zbiroh and its surroundings provided the painter with the peaceful backdrop and inspiration he needed to concentrate on his work. Although this didn’t put an end to his travels. He visited Russia, creating a series of photographs of Vasily Blazhen's Temple, depicting the scene of the Abolition of Serfdom in Russia (1914). He also lived with Orthodox monks on Mount Athos. The Easter of 1924, spent in the Chilandar Monastery, was an unforgettable experience for him, providing inspiration for one of his most impressive paintings; The Holy Mount Athos (1926), No. 17 in The Slav Epic cycle.
The last screen of the Epiphany was painted by Mucha in Prague, in his studio at the Czech Bank Palace (the King of Bohemia Přemysl Otakar II.) And also in U Studánky in Prague Holešovice (Mont Athos, Apotheosis of Slavonic History, linden).
Nobody is a prophet at home
Alphonse Mucha returned home after a quarter century of life spent abroad, and longing to use all his experience and work, which had so far been widely successful across the world, to serve his nation. His intention was condemned by some critics before he even began work on The Epic. The idea was obsolete, stubborn, inappropriate .... (Miloš Jiránek) The Epic was admired by the public, but by many artists and politicians it was referred to as false mythology and error, it was a "true Trojan horse" (Josef Capek) and "a false gift" (Štěpán Jež). Most controversy exalted Mucha's bold request to establish a dignified exhibition space for the Slav Epic, at a time when the National Gallery had no permanent premises.
At the time when The Slav Epic came into being, and shortly after it was completed, there was muted appreciation for Mucha's individuality, the diversity of his work and the devotion he showed towards for his nation. In the 1920s, when some of the canvases were finished, they were already traveling to the United States of America, where over 600,000 visitors came to see them. The Epic was named one of the greatest paintings of the 20th century. It wasn’t until 2010 that the works were declared a National Monument.
Although opinions on it have have changed in the past 100 years, since its first exposure, and now the Slav Epic is perceived as a monumental work, some people in the public sphere (Jiří X Doležal or Václav Klaus) consider the cycle of 20 large-format paintings, devoted to the key moments of Slavic history, as something inappropriate.
Meanwhile, an exhibition in Tokyo in 2017 saw over 650,000 admirers, and the exhibition became the third most visited exhibition of the year.