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Finally, we arrive at the last installment of the iconic Slav Epic series! Alphonse Mucha had spent two decades putting together this series of twenty artworks which collectively tell the story of the Slavic people since around the 6th century.
Apotheosis of the Slavs delivers the concluding part to this intriguing and thought-provoking narrative over which the artist had obsessed for so many years. He had kept to a consistent approach of using egg tempera to construct various historical events, though normally appending more precise detail over the top through the use of more conventional oils. Having initially planned this project many years ago it would take much work to even obtain the necessary funds to carry out the work, even before the sheer scale of this ambitious body of work was commenced. The style of these artworks was very different to the illustrative posters for which Mucha is most famous, but within his native Czech homeland, most will be well aware of the Slav Epic, and probably particularly proud of it too.
What we find within this composition is an attempt by the artist to summarise everything that had gone before and provide an adequate conclusion to the entire series. The mood is upbear, ultimately celebrating the independence of the people, just as had been fought for so bravely and for so many centuries. It was in 1926 that this final piece was produced, by which time most of the rest was finished and so all of the themes would have been entirely fresh in his mind. The order of the series is not entirely the order of how he worked, but he left this piece close to the end in order to make sure that it could accurately summarise the previous installments and without having to guess what he might later put into them. The entire body of work was truly an artistic achievement of enormous proportions, but it is perhaps the pride that it gave his fellow Slavs which was the most important factor to the Slav Epic series.
There are four main sections to this final work, each one representing a different phase in the overall series, and marked out by different colours. One can immediately see figures from previous paintings appearing here and there is a beautiful rounding of this path in how this final piece concludes the journey. It is almost as if we are being greeted by the stars of a show, just before the curtain falls for the final time. Perhaps that is how Mucha viewed this series, as a number of episodes in a play that was devoted to the history of his people. It is fair to say that all the ingredients were here for an emotional and gripping tale, with love, death, wisdom, bravery and stoic determination all represented at different points in the chain of events.