Czech Republic

States of the Arts


The Slav Epic

by Alphonse Mucha

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Although Alphonse Mucha is best known abroad for his decorative art nouveau designs, his most famous work within the Czech Republic is a vast project that spans twenty gargantuan canvases. One scene of persecution is rendered in noxious purples, with a theatrical spotlight thrown on two cowering figures. A deity is suspended in space alongside, seemingly oblivious to their presence. As a whole, the work endeavours to tell the complete history of the Slavic people, intertwining mythology and imagery with period detail.

Words by Lewis Coenen-Rowe

Closely Watched Trains

directed by Jiri Menzel
Feature film

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Miloš prepares for his first day as a signalman, the camera observing his new uniform while he marvels at it with his mother. As he tells the story of his family, images of his ancestors’ peculiar lives flash up onscreen to embellish his narrative. We learn of his forebears’ lethargy, and of his own desire to avoid hard labour by working at the railway station. Closely Watched Trains may be set in Nazi­-occupied Czechoslovakia, but it opts not to probe its historical context too deeply. Instead, the film focuses on Miloš, and on the small, pastoral bubble in which its events unfold.

Words by Hugh Maloney

The Good Soldier Švejk

by Jaroslav Hašek

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Švejk is a fictional celebrity in his home nation, his instantly recognisable figure found on countless street corners. For many, he is considered to personify the Czech character. The novel in which he is introduced is a subversive study of war, one that sets out its radically anti-bellicose agenda through the medium of black comedy. Švejk is unsure why he has to fight, and confounds his superiors at every turn to avoid doing so. The comic moments that arise from his amusing ruses reveal that life on the frontline can be absurd as well as tragic.

Words by Lewis Coenen-Rowe


by Leoš Janáček

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Written by a composer nearing the end of his life, Janáček’s suite for wind quintet attempts to capture the spirit of ‘youth’, a rough translation of the work’s title. The music leaps with boundless energy and inexhaustible invention, frequently and abruptly changing its course. Each passage is dense with musical ideas, but motifs rarely recur; instead, they are cast aside as new ones appear. Avoiding any temptation to lapse into sentimentality, Mládi channels the liveliness of our early years, reimagining childhood from the bittersweet perspective of an old man.

Words by Lewis Coenen-Rowe

More to discover

The Slav Epic: You can read articles about The Slav Epic on the Mucha Foundation website (here) and the A Journey Through Slavic Culture blog (here). Erin Dusza has written an academic article on Pan-Slavism in The Slav Epic, which can be found here

Closely Watched Trains: You can view the trailer here. Richard Schickel has written about the film for The Criterion Collection, as has Derek Malcolm for The Guardian.

The Good Soldier Švejk: You can read an excerpt from the novel here. Articles about Jaroslav Hašek and The Good Soldier Švejk  include those by Martin Chilton for The Telegraph, Tracy A. Burns for Private Prague Guide, and Jan Velinger for Radio Prague.

Mládi: You can listen to Mládi here, and download a score from the IMSLP / Petrucci Music Library website here.

Question of the day

Which Czech artworks would you recommend, and why?
Let us know on Facebook, Patreon, or Twitter.

The Žižkov TV Tower, designed by Václav Aulický and Jiří Kozák. The artist David Černý added ten fibreglass sculptures of crawling babies to the side of the tower in 2000, making it doubly surreal. (→)

– Lusine, electronic musician and film composer (via The Brief →)

'Thank you for your momentary stay in my solitude', a poem by Tereza Riedlbauchová. In the vivid zoomorphism of Riedlbauchová’s poem, the body is ‘a clam’ and eyes are ‘wild bees’. (→)

– Elizabeth Brown, Silent Frame's Deputy Editor (via Patreon →)

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