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Artists Alphonse Mucha
Alphonse Mucha Photo

Alphonse Mucha

Czech Painter

Movement: Art Nouveau

Born: July 24, 1860 - IvanĨice, Moravia (Czech Republic)

Died: July 14, 1939 - Prague, Czech Republic

Alphonse Mucha Timeline

Quotes

"The purpose of my work was never to destroy but always to create, to construct bridges, because we must live in the hope that humankind will draw together and that the better we understand each other the easier this will become."
Alphonse Mucha
"I was happy to be involved in an art for the people and not for private drawing rooms. It was inexpensive, accessible to the general public, and it found a home in poor families as well as in more affluent circles."
Alphonse Mucha
"Every nation has a palladium of its own embodying past and future history. Ever since my boyhood I felt and saw in the architectural lines of St. Vitus Cathedral built so close to the castle, a powerful interpretation of our national symbol."
Alphonse Mucha
"His art is a sumptuous art, floral, astral, feminine; it reflects with tender nonchalance the fluid beauty of form and the delicately veiled secrets of the soul."
Christian Brinton
"Art exists only to communicate a spiritual message."
Alphonse Mucha

"To talk in my own way to the spirit of the nation, to its eyes which carry thoughts most quickly to the consciousness."

Synopsis

Mucha was famous for his commercial posters, which had a wide audience, but he also worked in a variety of other media, including furniture, jewelry, and theatrical sets. He mostly worked in Vienna and Paris, but was also in Chicago, where he taught at the Art Institute, from 1904 to 1910. There, he introduced his interpretation of the "new art" to a United States audience. The densely patterned posters epitomize the Art Nouveau interest in natural forms, decoration, and a rejection of the anonymity of mechanical production.

Key Ideas

Women were a common theme in Mucha's work (and in Art Nouveau art in general). The femme nouvelle or "new woman" type was a favorite subject, since it served both allegorical and decorative purposes. Indeed, Mucha and his peers celebrated femininity as the antidote to an overly-industrialized, impersonal, "masculine" world.
Mucha worked in a variety of media that were accessible to a wide audience, and so the reach of his art extended beyond the borders of "high art." Everything could be a work of art, encompassing a person's daily experience, from wallpaper to furniture to clothing to promotional posters around the city.
Although Mucha is most associated with his Art Nouveau posters, he spent the latter of half of his career focused on projects of a nationalist character. Stirred by a pride in his country and an interest in its artistic traditions, Mucha sought to celebrate the history and mores of Czech culture.

Most Important Art

Alphonse Mucha Famous Art

Job Cigarette Papers (1896)

This striking poster was created as an advertisement for the Job cigarette company. A beautiful woman with a lighted cigarette dominates Mucha's poster, the rising smoke intertwining with her swirling, Pre-Raphaelite hair and the Job logo. The poster's golden zigzag border, inspired by Byzantine mosaics, combines with the twirling smoke and the rich purple background to create a luxurious and sensual mood. The curving lines of the woman's hair and rising smoke stand out against the rhythmic lines of the zigzag frame.The very fact that this woman is smoking - let alone that she is somewhat eroticized - was scandalous, since no respectable woman of the time would smoke in public. Furthermore, her sensual tangle of cascading hair was daring, because respectable women of the era wore their hair tied up.

These significant breaks from tradition suggest that the smoker may be wanton and wild. She is lost in pleasure - quite possibly in the nude, her closed eyes and half smile suggesting ecstasy. Mucha depicts his smoking woman in the manner of a rapturous saint to advertise an everyday product, thereby revealing his great skill at blending art and commerce. He elevates the ordinary to a realm of mysterious beauty.
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Alphonse Mucha Artworks in Focus:

Biography

Childhood and Education

Mucha was raised in the shadow of two powerful cultural forces: The Catholic Church and the Slav's desire for independence from the Austrian Empire. Excited by light and color, Mucha's earliest memory was of Christmas tree lights. A baroque fresco in his local church piqued his interest in art, and he moved to Vienna, where he took an apprenticeship as a stage set painter. Surrounded by the explosion of art in the Austrian capital, he learned of and greatly admired the work of Hans Makart, among others.

To make a living he executed portrait commissions. This led him to an important mentor, Count Khuen-Belasi, who hired him to paint murals in Emmahof Castle. Mucha's own poverty and popularity was brought into sharper clarity while he worked in the castle. His poverty was such that his one and only pair of trousers grew so shabby that a group of society girls bought him a new pair. Count Khuen-Belasi paid for Mucha's training in fine art in Munich, where he continued to work as an illustrator, most notably for Krokodil magazine, where he developed his distinctive calligraphic style.

By 1887 he was in Paris studying at the Academie Julian and Academie Colarossi. Here, artists such as Vuillard and Bonnard were becoming prominent. Along with these artists came new ideas about what art could do. Art came to be seen as a pursuit that that could reveal greater mysteries, and as something to incorporate into everyday life and objects. These ideas began to develop into what would become the Art Nouveau conception of art in daily life.

Early Training

Alphonse Mucha Biography

Mucha scraped together a living illustrating magazines and advertisements. He and Paul Gauguin shared a studio on the Rue Grande Chaumiere. Mucha rigged the studio so that when the door opened beautiful music played. An interviewer in 1900 called the studio, "simply marvelous." It was full of exotic objects and bohemian writers, artists, and musicians who came to work and play. An infamous photograph of Gauguin playing the Harmonium with no trousers on captures the playful and free-spirited mood of their studio. It was here that Mucha first explored his interest in the occult with August Strindberg, and engaged in hypnotic and psychic experiments with Albert de Rochas and the astronomer Camille Flammarion.

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Alphonse Mucha Biography Continues

Mucha shot to fame in 1894 with his theatre poster for Gismonda. The leading actress, Sarah Bernhardt was an internationally famous, and by association with her, Mucha quickly became famous as well. Bernhardt put him under contract, and Mucha created many promotional posters for her, as well as costumes and stage sets.

Amid the Belle Epoque posters Mucha's style was a hit. Collectors stole his posters from billboards, dubbing his style "Le Style Mucha." But he felt art must do more than be visually pleasing; it must communicate a spiritual message and uplift its viewers. Mass-produced art appealed to him, since it could reach and inspire more people. In posters for perfume, beer, biscuits, bicycles, and Job Cigarettes (1896) he blurred the barrier between fine art and commercial art, between commerce and philosophy.

Drawing from the influences of the Pre-Raphelites, Hans Makart, and Japanese wood cuts Mucha developed his unique style. His style was organic and ornate, graceful and dynamic, with curving, swooping lines and Byzantine borders, lettering, and frames. His iconic 'Mucha woman' had curves, flowing hair, pastel robes, and often a halo of light or flowers, which recall the haloes from the religious icons he saw throughout his boyhood. Mucha's women burst with life; in stark contrast to the Symbolist femme fatales, (such as Edvard Munch's Madonna) Mucha's women are not a dangerous temptation to be resisted.

His innovative decorative panels, The Seasons (1896), further pushed art into private homes. Inspired by friends such as Auguste Rodin, Mucha experimented with sculpture and partnered with the goldsmith Fouquet to produce fantastic jewels from gold, ivory, and precious stones. He even created a radiant "Mucha world" in Fouquet's Rue Royale boutique where his statues, stained glass, fountains, mosaics, sculpture, and lighting turned shopping into a theatrical experience.

After exhibitions in Vienna, Prague, Budapest, Munich, Brussels, and London, he was hailed as the world's greatest decorative artist. To spread his ideas he issued two template books Documents Decoratifs (1902) and Figures Decoratifs (1905). These books were filled with designs for jewelry, wallpaper, stained glass, furniture, and figures, and together they became the Art Nouveau bible. In spite of his association with Art Nouveau, Mucha rejected the label, insisting that art was eternal.

At the turn of the century Mucha explored his spiritual beliefs in his illustrated book Le Pater (1899), which was a reinterpretation of the Lord's Prayer decorated with Byzantine, Catholic, and Masonic symbols. The book reflects Mucha's belief that art had moral and political purpose. It was meaningless if, as he put it, "my homeland was left to quench its thirst on ditch water." He felt crushed by fame, which he described as "robbing me of my time and forcing me to do things that are so alien to those I dream about." His artistic dream was to create an epic painting cycle that would serve as a beautiful illustration of Slav history and that would inspire the Slavic quest for freedom.

Mature Period

Alphonse Mucha Photo

To fund his monumental painting epic, Mucha made multiple trips to the USA to find a patron. By executing society portraits in 1909 Mucha finally found his man, the philanthropist Charles Crane, who would finance him for the next twenty years. Mucha returned to Prague in 1910 and dedicated himself to his Slav Epic, while simultaneously executing projects such as the Lord Mayor's Hall ceiling which bore the inscription: "Though humiliated and tortured you will live again, my country!" In 1918 Mucha's dream was realized when Czechoslovakia was recognised as an independent nation. Delighted, he set about designing the new nation's postage stamps, banknotes, and coat of arms. In a studio in Zbiroh Castle he toiled at his giant canvases, some of which measured 6x8 meters, and were rigged like ship's sails to haul them up and down. His work required research, and he made regular field trips throughout the Balkans and to consult with historians to ensure that every battle and costume was depicted accurately. His works began to give the Pan-Slavic vision international attention. In 1919 the first phase of his epic work was on tour in the USA, attracting 50,000 visitors per week.

Later Period

Alphonse Mucha Portrait

In 1926 Mucha completed his final canvas, No.20, The Apotheosis of the Slavs, showing the new republic protected by Christ, under a rainbow of peace. In 1928 at the nation's 10th anniversary celebrations he donated the Slav Epic to the City of Prague and proceeded to execute a stunning stained glass window in St. Vitus Cathedral (1931). As the decade progressed his hope of security was threatened by the Nazis but, still a believer in the power or art, he began a triptych The Three Ages (1936-38) to argue for reason, wisdom, and love as the paths to peace. The Nazi invasion of Czechoslovakia in 1939 put an end to Mucha's hopes, work, and ultimately his life. Classed as a 'reactionary' he was interrogated by the Gestapo, and, already weak with a lung infection he died in 1939.


Legacy

Under Nazi occupation the Slav Epic was hidden underground, and under Communism his art continued to be viewed as decadent and bourgeois and did not receive public display. His son Jiri Mucha, devoted much of his life to reviving his father's reputation. The 1960s Art Nouveau revival saw Mucha's style much-copied on British posters for Pink Floyd and The Incredible String Band. And in the USA, one poster for a 1966 San Francisco 'happening' was a direct copy of Mucha's Job Cigarette Paper (1896). Mucha has also been acknowledged as an influence by the Stuckist painter Paul Harvey and also on cartoon and fantasy art such as that of Japanese Manga artists likesuch as Naoko Takeuchi.

Influences and Connections

Influences on artist

Artists, Friends, Movements

Influenced by artist

Artists, Friends, Movements

Alphonse Mucha
Interactive chart with Alphonse Mucha's main influences, and the people and ideas that the artist influenced in turn.
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View Influences Chart

Artists

Hans MakartHans Makart
William MorrisWilliam Morris
Dante Gabriel RossettiDante Gabriel Rossetti

Friends

Paul GauguinPaul Gauguin
August StrindbergAugust Strindberg
Auguste RodinAuguste Rodin

Movements

The Pre-RaphaelitesThe Pre-Raphaelites
Arts and Crafts MovementArts and Crafts Movement
SymbolismSymbolism
ImpressionismImpressionism
Alphonse Mucha
Alphonse Mucha
Years Worked: 1879-1939

Artists

Bob MasseBob Masse
Naoko TakeuchiNaoko Takeuchi
Paul HarveyPaul Harvey

Friends

Movements

Art NouveauArt Nouveau

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Cite this page

Content compiled and written by Jen Farren

Edited and revised by Ellen Hurst

" Artist Overview and Analysis". [Internet]. . TheArtStory.org
Content compiled and written by Jen Farren
Edited and revised by Ellen Hurst
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Useful Resources on Alphonse Mucha

Books

Websites

Articles

Videos

The books and articles below constitute a bibliography of the sources used in the writing of this page. These also suggest some accessible resources for further research, especially ones that can be found and purchased via the internet.

biography

Mucha Recomended resource

By Sarah Mucha

Alphonse Maria Mucha Recomended resource

By Jiri Mucha

The Graphic Work of Alphonse Mucha

By Jiri Mucha

Alphonse Mucha: Masterworks

By Rosalind Ormiston

More Interesting Books about Alphonse Mucha
Alphonse Mucha's Documents Decoratifs Style Book - Plates 1-12

December 11 2012

How Alphonse Mucha Designed the Nation State of Czechoslovakia Recomended resource

By Jimmy Stamp
Smithsonian Magazine
August 21, 2012

Alphonse Mucha and the New Mysticism

By Christian Brinton
Century Magazine
1904

Alphonse Mucha's Impact on 60s Rock Posters Recomended resource

By Mary Manion
November 6, 2012

More Interesting Articles about Alphonse Mucha
Alphonse Mucha - Art Nouveau Recomended resource

Wonderful inside view of the objects and interior of his Paris Studio

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