Alphons Mucha “The Slav Epic” Paintings

October 24, 2016


These are a few high resolution photos from a set that my friend, Jim Vadeboncoeur Jr., took recently on his trip to Prague. They are three of a group of twenty paintings made by Alphons Mucha, called the Slav Epic.


The paintings are huge canvases, reaching up to about 20 feet wide. The medium is described as egg tempera mixed with oil, which is also known as “tempera grassa.” This medium works best with the technique he used to apply the paint.


One of the surprising revelations to me from these was how he painted large gradient areas as dabs of broken color. In reproductions I have seen of them, I’d always assumed that to be the texture of the paint, but the paint is actually quite thin. Instead he mixed the different shades and tones by hand, and applied them as thin brush strokes of dappled paint, most notable in the large skies. Coincidentally, I’ve found that when painting with an oil and casein emulsion, this is often the best way to work with the paint, rather than trying to blend large areas together. If you want it to look smoother, you can go back over it with a fatter oily layer.


Jim photographed all of the paintings and placed them on his Facebook page. There you can also see close up details.



  1. Very informative and interesting re dabs of paint, thanks. Speaking of oil paint, Ralph Mayer suggests that since it’s minimally flexible, one way to minimise cracking on canvas, would be to apply the paint in dabs rather than continuous films, but that this is rarely done because of the limitation it imposes on style. The larger the expanse of canvas, the greater the potential stresses on the paint film, due to changes in atmospheric moisture. Flexibility is an even greater problem with tempera grassa on canvas, and I imagine that Mucha knew that very well, when he painted these enormous canvases.

  2. Thanks for reminding me about the Mayer statement. I’ve not read any other support on that, but it seems reasonable. That’s one reason why you don’t see a sidewalk poured in one long sheet of concrete; you want to minimize damage of an inflexible surface on top of a flexible one.
    Those Mucha canvases are mounted to firm supports, so there won’t be much movement in the fibers to be concerned about. Also, the paint vehicle being thin helps to avoid cracking.

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