Photo: © MCAD Library/Flickr
Known for its seductive muses, ornate flowers, sharp lines and distinctive features, Art Nouveau is recognised and loved – even a century on from its heyday.
Somewhat short-lived, Art Nouveau blossomed within a couple of years throughout the 1890s and the early 1900s and has made an appearance in all major European capitals. Nevertheless, despite its incredible popularity, very few cities come close to Prague with regards to ‘anything Art Nouveau’.
A handy beginner’s trick to recognising this particular movement is to look out for pieces that are as beautiful as they are flamboyant. Keep an eye out for pastel colours, heavy outlines, curved shapes, and over-the-top flowers being held by scantily dressed maidens and seductive nymphs.
For those who have a more in-depth interest in the epoch, the name Alphonse Mucha should be familiar. Dubbed ‘the father of Prague Art Nouveau’, Mucha was Czech by birth, however he spent his working life living between Paris and Prague. Made famous by his iconic poster artworks, many of which may be spotted till this day in cafés, and have inspired tattoo sleeves around the world, Mucha progressed in his career by partnering up with the infamous French starlet Miss Sarah Bernhardt.
Despite spending a considerable amount of time in bohemian Paris throughout the peak of his career, a number of his works are currently exhibited throughout the Czech Republic, offering the ideal setting for an Art Nouveau tour in the capital.
Your first stop should definitely be the Mucha Museum open daily from 10:00 to 18:00, Sundays included. This small but closely curated collection brings together photos, drawings, prints, and a number of personal mementos including never-seen-before sketchbooks from the time he spent in Paris. Interestingly, today, Prague’s principal cathedral, St Vitus Cathedral, displays a superb Mucha-designed multi-coloured stained glass windows on its northern walls – needless to say, there are significantly fewer temptresses here!
As you may know, Mucha remained in fashion even when Art Nouveau didn’t, and this is confirmed by the renowned Slav Epic that was unveiled in 1928 after 20 years of work. It’s currently being displayed at the Veletržní Palace till December 2016, so do make a note to drop by if you happen to be visiting before then. Considered to be Mucha’s greatest work by the artist himself, this collection includes 20 extremely large canvases, each of which run into several meters.
Nevertheless, Prague’s scene isn’t made up entirely of blockbuster works. In fact, there were a large number of other members of the Art Nouveau movement who were creating masterpieces at the turn of the century. A number of grand buildings and hotels reflect the decadent elegance of this era, and are admired for their ornate scrolls, twirling vines, embellished writing and statues depicting female beauties amongst others.
The Municipal House for instance, provides a stylish overview into the city’s past, and invites visitors to peer into at its stunning exterior, and intricately decorated interiors designed a number of famous artists including Alphonse Mucha.
Needless to say, if Art Nouveau is your thing, this tour is definitely one you wouldn’t want to miss out on during your next stay in Prague.