Prague, Czech Republic – Wenceslas Square and Mucha Museum

I arrived in Prague, Monday night, September 18 at 10:15 on a British Airway flight from London. Since I was arriving so late, I had a reservation at the Holiday Inn near the airport.  Fortunately, they had a shuttle to the hotel and by 11:00 PM, I was in my room.

The next day, I returned back to the airport to buy an adapter – the one I brought over with me is good only for the United Kingdom…bummer!  Also, to catch the bus into the downtown area.  Getting to the city was real easy….I hopped on bus 119 that ended at the metro, took the A train for four stops and walked up the stairs to Vaclavske namesti (Wenceslas Square) Street.  My apartment is right near the square.  The bus and metro ticket cost only $1.60 and allowed me 90 minutes to travel from the airport to the city center.

My apartment is fine.  You walk into a foyer.  Straight ahead are two long rooms side by side and to the right is the bathroom.  One long room is the kitchen/living room area.  The other room is the bedroom…which has two twin beds and one double bed.  The ceilings are high and fortunately, the windows are double plated or it would be a little chilly.  I was able to rent this place for $75/night.  I have been looking for places to stay on Wimdu, Housetrip and Homeaway and have had relatively good luck.  So far, I have places lined up here, Vienna, Salzburg and Bruges.  I like having a small kitchen to prepare easy, healthy meals.

On the way into the city center, I saw a poster for the State Opera House events.  The ballet Giselle was being performed that night (Tuesday, the 19th).  The Opera House is really close to where I am staying, so I walked over to see about getting tickets.  On my way, I walked by Wenceslas Square and the National Museum…a grand building done in the neo-Renaissance style….sadly, it is closed for renovations!  Most of the displays are historical or of natural history.  I would have loved to see the inside of the building!

35 years ago, in 1977, I was in Prague.  I had met Peter and Ike, two Canadians traveling through Europe.  We met in Inverness, Scotland and since they had a car, they offered to give me a ride.  Three months later, we went our separate ways.  Our time took us into the communist “Eastern Block”.  As I walked toward the statue of St Wenceslas in the square, I was reminded of the only picture that Peter and I had taken together.  It was in front of the statue….we are two small specks under the massive statue!

This Square is rich with history.  In 1945 was the Prague Uprising against the Nazi occupation, 1968 the protest against the Soviet invasion of Czechoslovakia was held here.  In 1969 the celebration for the Czech team beating the Soviet hockey team during the World Hockey Championship took place on the square.  Finally, the Velvet Revolution – the non-violent protest against the Soviet rule took place here in 1989 and ultimately, lead to the freedom of the country.

Going left of the square, a five minute walk, is the State Opera House.  Not only was I able to get a ticket for the ballet that night, I got a ticket for the opera, Carmen, for Saturday night!  I am so very excited as I have never seen Carmen performed.  
Right behind the Opera House, is the Railroad Station and I was able to get my train ticket to Vienna, some information about tours of Prague, Irish flavored coffee 🙂 and a sim card for my iphone….a very productive afternoon!  I had just enough time to get back to my apartment, change and walk back to the Opera house for the performance of the ballet.
The ballet was wonderful and the State Opera house is so elegant, very neo-rococo style with lots of ornamentation and gold-leaf.  My favorite part of Giselle was the corp de ballet dancing in the second half. They were supposed to represent ghost and were dancing in the graveyard.  Their costumes were white with skirts of long tulle.  There were 24 in all and together, they were so pretty.  I really enjoyed the whole ballet. The dancers were all so graceful and athletic.  They made the whole performance look so effortless.  It ended all too soon but was a wonderful introduction to Prague!
I walked around Wenceslas Square street. It was busy as there are many stores, restaurants, cafes and even a small street fair at the other end.  There were booths with Czech food, drink and crafts.  
Amazing what a difference a day can make with the weather.  Tuesday was a beautiful, hot day with the temp probably about 75.  During the night, it rained hard and probably brought in a cold front as Wednesday, it was cloudy and much cooler.  I think the temp got no higher than 60 all day!  It decided it was a good day to visit the Alphonse Mucha museum. I hadn’t really heard of him but from the review of Rick Steves, I thought it looked pretty interesting.   One thing I absolutely love about traveling are the variety of things that you are exposed to and can learn from.  I learned so much from this little museum.  If you are every in Prague, I highly recommend you visit it!  
Alphonse Mucha was one of the key figures of the Art Nouveau movement.  Mucha liked to have a theme in his work that he could repeat and decorated with ornamentation of an object.  For this reason, nature was a popular subject of his.  His panels of the Four Seasons, Four Flowers, Four Arts and Four Times of Day are examples of this.

He was born on July 24, 1860 in the town of Ivancice in the district of Southern Moravia in the Czech Republic.  He was drawing before he could walk and dreamed of becoming a great artist.  In 1879, he went to Vienna to work as a theatrical painter for the Burg Theater.  Sadly, the theater burned and along with it, all of Mucha’s early works.  In 1883, he was commissioned by the Count Karl Khuen-Belassi to decorate the interior of the castle Emmahof that he had built for his wife.  The castle had the same fate as the Ring Theater and burned, again taking with it all of Mucha’s work.

After this sad event, Mucha went to work for the Count’s brother, Count Egon, who was an amature artist.  He saw Mucha’s potential and in 1885, the Count sponsored Mucha to study at the Munich Academy of Arts.  He completed his studies in two years and by 1887, he moved to Paris.  He was still being sponsored by the count and continued his studies at the Académie Julian, then later at the Académie Colarossi.  For whatever reason, he was cut off by the count in 1889 and Mucha looked for employment as an illustrator.  He got various jobs illustrating books, magazines, designing costumes for the theater.

It was in 1894 that he got his big break and was asked to design a poster for the famous actress of that day, Sandra Bernhardt.  She was performing in the play Gismonda.  Mucha’s poster was long and narrow, utilizing pastel colors and was a real change from the traditional theater posters.  The public loved the new art and started taking the poster.  Sandra Bernhardt was very pleased with the design and offered Mucha to a six year contract.

Thanks to the success of the posters, he was considered the leading art nouveau designer of this era. In 1900, he was hired to design jewelry for Forquet’s Jewelry, a well known store in Paris.  The son, George, wanted to introduce a new design for the Paris exhibition and enlisted Mucha for this. When the decision was made to move the shop to a new location, Forquet called on Mucha to design all aspects of the new boutique.  Mucha designed the store front, interior right down to the lamp fixtures.

It was during this time, that Mucha met his future wife.  Maruska (Marie) Chytilova was an art student at the Prague School of Applied Arts.  While visiting relatives in Paris, she arranges to have a class with Mucha and as they say, the rest is history.  Although she was 22 years his junior, they were married in 1906.  They had two children together; a daughter, Jaroslava and a son, Jiri.

In 1904, Mucha moved to the US where he is warmly received.  In the states he paints portraits and teaches.

Mucha was very patriotic and for a long time, wanted to give back to his country of Czechoslovakia with his art. In 1910, he returned to Prague to work on decorates the Municipal House with frescos and murals of the glorious history of the Czechs and the unity of the Slavic nations.  1918 was when  the country of Czechoslovakia became a country.  Mucha gave his support of the new country by designing the money, postage stamps and medals.

His greatest gift to his country was his work, Slavic Epic.  It was 20 larger than life canvases of the heroic history of the Czech and Slavs.  He wanted to inspire the people to have integrity, bravery and most of all, faith.  It took him 18 years to complete and on the 10th anniversary of Czechoslovakia becoming a country, Mucha and his sponsor, Charles Richard Crane give the Slavic Epic to the city of Prague.

St Vitus Cathedral is located in within Prague castle complex.  It is the largest and most important church in the country.  In 1931, Mucha designed a stain glass window during the restoration.

Mucha was a member of the Masons and much of his art was inspired by the symbolism of the Masonic themes.  Some examples of this symbolism were a girl holding a circle of the sun with spikes representing hope for the future; a heart with three garlands of fruit, flowers and thorns over it representing the complexity of love and the Linden tree representing the friendship, love and loyalty to the Czech people.

Mucha died on July 14, 1939 just days before his 79th birthday.

The rest of the day was spent walking around the Old City of Prague. I have tons of pictures of the architecture and since I took a tour today, much to write about.  That will have to be tomorrow…I am tired for writing!

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