Decorative Arts in Prague

Most of the ‘antiques’ shops in the centre of Prague close over the weekend, with the exception of the higher priced shops, and those in the Old City. That makes it the perfect time to go museum hopping and enjoy the fantastic and unparalleled array of Art Nouveau architecture that the city has to offer. By the time you board your plane home, your neck will be grateful for the headrest on the seat as you’ll spend most of your time looking upwards at the incredible architecture above the shops, all now fully restored after the fall of Communism in 1989. Act like a local, and just walk around stopping periodically for coffee or their delicious light Pilsner beer.
First stop has to be the Municipal House, an Art Nouveau and Secessionist palace for the people. Selected rooms are open for a ‘walk-in-and-see’ experience, but there’s also a guided tour at 1pm which came highly recommended. Book early in the day on the day as, by the time we arrived at midday, it was fully booked. Paying a (much smaller) entrance fee to one of the exhibitions in the building allows a sneaky light preview, however. Our journey through the building to see the Art Nouveau ceramics exhibition on last weekend was wonderful – and crowd-free! If nothing catches your fancy, then make sure you go down the stairs to see the wonderful green hallway with its repeated ladybird motifs, and enjoy a restorative drink in the American bar.
The UPM, or Decorative Arts Museum, on Listopadu opposite the Rudolfinium, is well worth a quick visit. But don’t expect a Czech V&A – there are only around half a dozen rooms. However, the 3000+ objects on display cover everything from fashion, to clocks, (superb) scientific instruments to ceramics, and glass to objets de vertu from the 16th century to today. This time span means that only a few objects have been chosen to represent each era. Postwar Czech glass is represented by a super optical sculpture by Vaclav Cigler, and two pieces by the legendary duo Stanislav Libensky and Jaroslava Brychtova. Their ‘Head’ bowl, designed in 1954, above is a landmark masterpiece that can’t easily be seen anywhere else in the world. A vast dining table in the middle of the room showcases dining across the centuries, and easily absorbs and entertains as you imagine who may have eaten and drunk (and what they may have eaten and drunk) with the objects displayed.
Blog entries like this aren’t the forum for listing all the many places to visit – pick up a guidebook, or go and see for yourself, as you won’t be disappointed. Two other museums are a must, however – the new Czech Cubism Museum and the Alphonse Mucha Museum. Together with the two above, these four will satisfy your eyes and mind, before a visit to the riverside Kampa restaurant satisfies your tastebuds. Go in the early evening to watch the sun go down over the historic Charles Bridge.

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