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Alfons Mucha - The Road to Glory | Galéria mesta Bratislavy | Allowance organisation of the City of Bratislava, capital of the Slovak Republic


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Alfons Mucha - The Road to Glory

Mirbach Palace (show Contact)
31. 1. 2014 - 11. 5. 2014
Curator: Jan Kukal

Alfons Mucha – The road to glory 


Afons Mucha saw the light of day on 24 July 1860 in a small town of Ivancice, Moravia. As a child he was very keen on painting; he is supposed to have started drawing before he was walking. Yet his academic beginnings were not very promising as he failed to finish the gymnasium in Brno. In 1879 he was denied admission to the Academy of fine arts for the lack of talent. What a mistake of Prague professors! 

His long path to fame and recognition started in 1879 in Vienna. Nineteen-year-old Mucha sent examples of his work to a reputable Viennese company making stage set and was accepted as a designer. Two years later the company got into financial difficulties after a devastating fire at Ringtheater. After being made redundant he left for Mikulov, where he earned living painting portraits of important local figures. His works captivated interest of count Eduard Khuen-Belassi who commissioned him to decorate Emmahof castle in Hrušovany nad Jevišovkou and Gandegg castle in Tyrol. Mucha painted mainly historic frescoes and pictures with figural subjects. Unfortunately, Emmahof was destroyed by fire in 1948. Among the decorations that survived the fire was the screen titled Zephyr and Chloris. Count Khuen was so impressed with Mucha´s work that he agreed to sponsor his studies at the Academy of fine arts in Munich in 1885 and 1886 and later at the Akadémie Julian and the Académie Colarossi in Paris. His paintings from that period were dominated
by historic motifs. Our exhibition presents the painting titled “Nero watching the burning of Rome”. 

His decision to leave for Paris was the right step as Paris later enabled him to become a world-famous artist. But he got nothing on a platter. In 1889 count Khuen stopped his financial support and Mucha was left to fend as a freelance illustrator. Commissions were sparse and he struggled along. The competition in Paris was so stiff that Mucha was only short remove from fading into obscurity like many other good artists. The breakthrough came at Christmas 1894. An accidental opportunity to work for a famous actress Sarah Bernhardt changed his life. Our exhibition presents the original design of the first poster advertising the play “Gismonda”. 

Between 1895 and 1904 poster commissions poured in and Mucha tried to satisfy everyone. He worked fourteen to sixteen hours a day. He made preparatory studies for every panel and poster, initially pencil and charcoal studies and then final design in watercolour. Some preparatory studies can also be seen in our exhibition. They are characterised by mastery in drawing and originality of ornaments.

In 1900 Mucha took part in the Paris World´s Fair, he decorated the Pavilion of Bosnia and Herzegovina with mural paintings, monumental canvases and statues. His design of the Pavilion of Mankind, an architectural monument to humanity, was received with enthusiasm, however, the realisation was denied as too expensive. 

In the spring of 1904, at the height of his fame and success, Mucha unexpectedly left Paris for the United States. At the time of 1900 Paris World´s Fair he started to dream about a deeper and higher mission of his work. He made his dream come true in the cycle of twenty large-format canvases titled Slavonian epopee, which he painted at Zbiroh castle in Bohemia between 1910 and 1928.

But we are jumping the gun. It is 1904 and he is greeted by a thousand of fans at New York harbour as the greatest decorative artist of all time In the US he focused mainly on portrait painting and teaching. In 1906 he returned to his homeland for a short period of time to marry Marie Chytilova from Chrudim. During his honeymoon he painted an amazing cycle of watercolours titled The Blessed, which is also presented in our exhibition. 

After returning to the US, during intensive work on the decoration of the German theatre in New York in 1908, he established his relationship with a magnate Charles R. Crane who asked him to portray his two daughters and at 1909 Christmas promised to fund Mucha´s Slavonian epopee In 1910, at Zbiroh castle,
the artist started working on the decoration of Mayor´s office in the Municipal house in Prague. The preparatory oil paintings are included in our exhibition.

We have to remember another significant Mucha´s success in the US: eleven giant canvases from
the cycle Slavonian epopee displayed at Brooklyn museum in New York attracted around 600,000 visitors. Before handing over the cycle Slavonian epopee (20 canvases) to the City of Prague in 1928 Mucha did not have time to take other commissions. Yet he managed to design the first Czechoslovak notes, stamps, national emblem and even the emblem for police uniforms. He also designed some Czech posters. They are much appreciated today.

In the period of 1920 – 1935 he also painted many portraits of girls, which he often composed into large-format canvases from the cycle Slavonian epopee. Incredibly hardworking Mucha also managed to design
a beautiful window for the Archbishop´s chapel in St Vitus cathedral in 1931.  

In 1936 he made a triumphant return to Paris at the occasion of the joint exhibition with Frantisek Kupka at the Musée du Jeau de Paume. He died in Prague on 14 July 1939 as a result of interrogation by Gestapo.

After WWII Mucha´s ingenious work almost fell into oblivion. His memory was revived by his son Jiří Mucha (1915 – 1991), who wrote a book on father´s life and work tiled “Cancan with aureole”. It is him to whom this exhibition is dedicated.

Jan Kukal

Project author and exhibition manager 





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