Alphonse Mucha

Today’s Artist Birthday: Alphonse Mucha

Alfons Maria Mucha (24 July 1860 – 14 July 1939), often known in English and French as Alphonse Mucha, was a Czech Art Nouveau painter and decorative artist, known best for his distinct style. He produced many paintings, illustrations, advertisements, postcards, and designs.

alphonsemucha
Alphonse Maria Mucha was born in the town of Ivančice, Moravia (currently a region of the Czech Republic). In 1871, Mucha became a chorister at the Saint-Peter’s Cathedral in Brno, where he received his secondary school education. It is there that he had his first revelation, in front of the richness of Baroque art. During the four years of studying there, he formed a friendship with Leoš Janáček who would become the greatest Czech composer of his generation.

Mucha and Janacek were lifelong friends
The friendship between artist Alphonse Mucha (seen here on the left) and the great composer Leoš Janáček (on right), lasted a lifetime. (photo from 1922)

Although his singing abilities allowed him to continue his education through high school in the Moravian capital of Brno, drawing had been his main hobby since childhood. He worked at decorative painting jobs in Moravia, mostly painting theatrical scenery.

The Mucha family (Alphonse, standing on right), 1878
The Mucha family (Alphonse, standing on right), 1878

In 1879, he relocated to Vienna to work for a major Viennese theatrical design company, while informally augmenting his artistic education. When a fire destroyed his employer’s business during 1881 he returned to Moravia, to do freelance decorative and portrait painting.

Remains of the Ring Theatre after the fire that cost at least 400 people their lives.
Remains of Vienna’s Ring Theatre, after the fire that cost at least 400 people their lives, 1881.
"Portrait of Marie-Louise Gagneur" c. 1882
“Portrait of Marie-Louise Gagneur” c. 1882

Count Karl Khuen of Mikulov hired him to decorate Hrušovany Emmahof Castle with murals, and was impressed enough that he agreed to sponsor Mucha’s formal training at the Munich Academy of Fine Arts.

Window by Mucha, Hrušovany Emmahof Castle
Window by Mucha, Hrušovany Emmahof Castle

Mucha moved to Paris in 1887, and continued his studies at Académie Julian and Académie Colarossi. In addition to his studies, he worked at producing magazine and advertising illustrations, as well as other commercial endeavors.

Poster, 1892
1892

In December of 1894, he happened to go into a print shop where there was a sudden and unexpected need for a new advertising poster for a play featuring Sarah Bernhardt, the most famous actress in Paris, at the Théâtre de la Renaissance on the Boulevard Saint-Martin. Mucha volunteered to produce a lithographed poster within two weeks, and on 1 January 1895, the advertisement for the play Gismonda by Victorien Sardou was posted in the city, where it attracted much attention.

Poster for "Gismonda," starring Sarah Bernhardt, 1894 - a work that would change the course of Mucha's life
Poster for “Gismonda,” starring Sarah Bernhardt, 1894 – a work that would change the course of Mucha’s life

Bernhardt was so satisfied with the success of this first poster that she began a six-year contract with Mucha.
He produced a flurry of paintings, posters, advertisements, and book illustrations, as well as designs for jewelry, carpets, wallpaper, and theatre sets in what was termed initially The Mucha Style but became known as Art Nouveau (French for “new art”).

1896
1896

1896
1896

1898
1898

Detail from the publicity poster for Sarah Bernhardt's "Medee," 1898
Detail from the publicity poster for Sarah Bernhardt’s “Medee,” 1898

1899
1899

Mucha’s work frequently featured beautiful young women in flowing, vaguely Neoclassical-looking robes, often surrounded by lush flowers which sometimes formed halos behind their heads. In contrast with the strong palette of contemporary poster makers, he used pale pastel colors.

"Four Gems - Ruby, Amethyst, Emerald, Topaz," 1900
“Four Gems – Ruby, Amethyst, Emerald, Topaz,” 1900

Mucha’s style was given international exposure by the 1900 Universal Exhibition in Paris, of which Mucha said, “I think [the Exposition Universelle] made some contribution toward bringing aesthetic values into arts and crafts.” He decorated the Bosnia and Herzegovina Pavilion and collaborated with decorating the Austrian Pavilion. His Art Nouveau style was often imitated.

Official Guide of the Exposition Universelle, Paris 1900
Official Guide of the Exposition Universelle, Paris 1900

Poster for the Austrian exhibition at the Exposition Universelle, Paris 1900
Poster for the Austrian exhibition at the Exposition Universelle, Paris 1900

The Art Nouveau style however, was one that Mucha attempted to disassociate himself from throughout his life; he always insisted that rather than maintaining any fashionable stylistic form, his paintings were entirely a product of himself and Czech art. He declared that art existed only to communicate a spiritual message, and nothing more; hence his frustration at the fame he gained by his commercial art, when he most wanted to concentrate on more artistic projects.

"Madonna Of The Lillies," 1905
“Madonna Of The Lillies,” 1905

Though 22 years his junior, Mucha married art student and model Maruška (Marie/Maria) Chytilová on 10 June 1906, in Prague. The couple visited the U.S. from 1906 to 1910, during which time their daughter, Jaroslava (March 15, 1909 – November 9, 1986), was born in New York City. They also had a son, Jiří, (born 12 March 1915 in Prague; died 5 April 1991 in Prague) who later became a journalist, writer, screenwriter, author of autobiographical novels and studies of the works of his father.

Maria Chytilova models for Mucha, 1905 - the next year she would become his wife
Maria Chytilova models for Mucha, 1905 – the next year she would become his wife

Maria and Alphonse Mucha on their wedding day, 1906
Maria and Alphonse Mucha on their wedding day, 1906

Mucha's daughter, Jaroslava, in 1929, posing for one of her father's photographic studies
Mucha’s daughter, Jaroslava, in 1929, posing for one of her father’s photographic studies

Jiri Mucha, 1925, models for one of his father's photographic studies
Jiří Mucha, 1925, models for one of his father’s photographic studies

In the U.S., Mucha expected to earn money to fund his nationalistic projects to demonstrate to Czechs that he had not “sold out”. He was assisted by millionaire Charles R. Crane, who used his fortune to help promote revolutions and, after meeting Thomas Masaryk, Slavic nationalism.

Portrait of Josephine Crane Bradley as "Slavia," 1908
Portrait of Josephine Crane Bradley as “Slavia,” 1908

Alphonse and his family returned to the Czech lands and settled in Prague, where he decorated the Theater of Fine Arts, contributed his time and talent to create the murals in the Mayor’s Office at the Municipal House, and other landmarks around the city. When Czechoslovakia won its independence after World War I, Mucha designed the new postage stamps, banknotes, and other government documents for the new state.

Mucha stamp web mucha-money-1
Mucha considered his publication Le Pater to be his printed masterpiece, and referred to it in the New York Sun of 5 January 1900 as what he had “put [his] soul into it”. Printed on 20 December 1899, Le Pater was Mucha’s occult examination of the themes of The Lord’s Prayer and only 510 copies were produced.

003_Le_Pater1
Mucha spent many years working on what he considered his life’s fine art masterpiece, The Slav Epic (Slovanská epopej), a series of twenty huge paintings depicting the history of the Czech and the Slavic people in general, bestowed to the city of Prague in 1928. He had wanted to complete a series such as this, a celebration of Slavic history, since he was young. From 1963 until 2012 the series was on display in the chateau in Moravský Krumlov in the South Moravian Region in the Czech Republic. Since 2012 the series has been on display at the National Gallery’s Veletržní Palace in Prague.

Alphonse_slav-epic
Mucha working on his masterpiece series, “Slave Epic”

Slovane_v_pravlasti_81x61m
Scene from “Slav Epic,” series completed 1928

slavnost_svatovitova_na_rujane_81x61m
Scene from “Slav Epic,” series completed 1928

Maruška and Alphonse Mucha, at the Roman Forum, Italy, 1930's
Maruška and Alphonse Mucha, at the Roman Forum, Italy, 1930’s

The rising tide of fascism during the late 1930s resulted in Mucha’s works and his Slavic nationalism being denounced in the press as ‘reactionary’. When German troops moved into Czechoslovakia during the spring of 1939, Mucha was among the first persons to be arrested by the Gestapo. During his interrogation, the aging artist became ill with pneumonia. Though released eventually, his health was severely weakened by this event. He died in Prague on 14 July 1939, due to lung infection, and was interred there in the Vyšehrad cemetery.

mucha grave 9426038_109480104846

Mucha’s Legacy

Although it enjoys great popularity today, at the time when he died, Mucha’s style was considered outdated. His son, author Jiří, devoted much of his life to writing about him and bringing attention to his artwork. In his own country, the new authorities were not interested in Mucha. The Slav Epic was rolled and stored for twenty-five years before being shown in Moravský Krumlov, and a Mucha museum opened in Prague, managed by his grandson John Mucha.

7167781215_2bca76726d_b

Mucha’s work has continued to experience periodic revivals of interest for illustrators and artists. Interest in his distinctive style experienced a strong revival during the 1960s (with a general interest in Art Nouveau) and is particularly evident in the psychedelic posters of Hapshash and the Coloured Coat, the collective name for British artists Michael English and Nigel Waymouth, and Bob Masse.

Design by Hapsash and The Coloured Coat, for the band The Grateful Dead, c. 1967
Design by Hapsash and The Coloured Coat, for the band The Grateful Dead, c. 1967
Hapsash and The Coloured Coat, and friend, c. 1968
Hapsash and The Coloured Coat, and friend, c. 1968

One of the largest collections of the artist’s works is in the possession of former world no. 1 professional tennis player Ivan Lendl, who started collecting his works upon meeting Jiří Mucha in 1982. His collection was exhibited publicly for the first time in 2013 in Prague.

Ivan Lendl,
Ivan Lendl, at the exhibition of his collection, 2013

Edited from:

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Alphonse_Mucha


TML Arts aims for accuracy in content and functionality in posts.
Click the button below to let us know about typos, incorrect information, broken links, erroneous attribution,
or additional relative information.

See something? Say something.



Special thanks to: Daily Artfixx, On This Day, Wikipedia,
Find-A-Grave, A&E Bio, The Smithsonian American Art Museum Renwick Gallery, Famous Birthdays, Encyclopedia Brittanica, and all the art history buffs that keep the internet full of
wonderful information and images. 


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Are you a humanoid life form? *