Prague (Part 2): Photo focus – An ode to Art Nouveau
Yesterday I had a good old moan about Prague – its lack of customer service; the hideous proliferation of British loutish stag parties (for which all of England should be ashamed); and the general state of decline which much of its treasures have been left to fall into. And yet, while I stand by everything I said in that post, the fact remains that Prague is an unusually beautiful city, unusual to the extent that its architectural treasures are consistently spread, and barely interrupted by even the slightest hint of modernity. Indeed, unlike so many European cities which have been rendered patchy or obliterated in their entirety by the ravages of 20th century warfare, Prague is a city of architectural constancy, with street after street boasting beautifully intact period architecture full of embellished details, pointed roofs, gold leaf and pastel coloured facades.
Of the many architectural styles on offer, one of the most prominent and surely most beautiful is Prague’s wealth of art nouveau. It’s everywhere: up the grand central boulevard comprising Wenceslas Square; adorning the outside of the Hotel Central and the central railway station; in the elegant tiled and painted frescoes on apartment block facades; and of course in the artwork of the much famed Czech-born artist Mucha, whose flamboyantly graceful posters of theatre stars and society icons were the very quintessence of the art nouveau style. According to my guidebook, the reason why there is such a proliferation of art nouveau in Prague is for the simple reason that whole swathes of the city were demolished and rebuilt at the very time when the style was in its ascendancy, and the result is streets crammed full of the elegant curved lines and aesthetically perfect adornments which characterise the period.
As if it weren’t obvious already, Prague’s art nouveau and similar architectural embellishments are the subject of this first photo-focus post arising out of my recent Prague trip, and should give you an excellent idea of the variety and extent of art nouveau offerings in the Czech capital. And these are only the features I noticed. For in the course of concentrating on finding my way around the city, I would so often forget to look up to note the detailed embellishments which pepper the buildings, especially further up near the top of the elegantly crafted facades, and consequently I have surely missed many of the city’s great gems. But those I did see proved highly satisfying, along with a visit to the Mucha museum featuring some 100 or so posters, paintings and sketches by the great artist. His work is not to all tastes – it’s surely the height of chocolate box prettiness – but it remains, in my view, the very archetype of an era when beauty and elegance were at the forefront of everyone’s imaginations. If only the same could be said of today.
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