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Alphonse Mucha Photo

Alphonse Mucha

Czech Painter

Born: July 24, 1860 - Ivančice, Moravia (Czech Republic)
Died: July 14, 1939 - Prague, Czech Republic
Movements and Styles:
Art Nouveau
,
Japonism
"To talk in my own way to the spirit of the nation, to its eyes which carry thoughts most quickly to the consciousness."
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Alphonse Mucha Signature
"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."
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Alphonse Mucha Signature
"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."
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Alphonse Mucha Signature
"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."
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Alphonse Mucha Signature
"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."
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Christian Brinton
"Art exists only to communicate a spiritual message."
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Alphonse Mucha Signature

Summary of Alphonse Mucha

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.

Accomplishments

  • 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.

Biography of Alphonse Mucha

Alphonse Mucha Photo

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.



Progression of Art

Job Cigarette Papers (1896)
1896

Job Cigarette Papers

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.

Color lithograph - Mucha Museum, Prague

The Seasons (1896)
1896

The Seasons

The first of Mucha's much-copied pânneaux décoratifs (decorative panels), The Seasons (1896), shows the harmonious cycles of nature. Four seasonal beauties, each set against a distinct natural backdrop, convey the mood of each season. Innocent Spring stands among white blossoms, charming birds; Summer lounges among red poppies; bountiful Autumn rests with chrysanthemums, gathering fruit; and Winter,in a snowy landscape, huddles under a cloak with a small bird. The decorative style of the images illustrates Mucha's artistic influences and interests. This style reflects his debt to Japanese woodcuts, as well as to Hans Makart's The Five Senses (1879), while his association of women with a subtle undercurrent of death and rebirth speaks to his interest in symbolism. The choice of medium reflects his interest in making art available to all, since the panels were created as affordable art for private homes.

Mucha's desire to see mass-produced art reach the widest possible audience was quickly achieved; his pânneaux were so popular that he soon created other, similar works: The Flowers (1898), The Arts (1898), The Times of the Day (1899), The Precious Stones (1900), and The Moon and the Stars (1902).

Color lithograph - Mucha Museum, Prague

Snake Bracelet with Ring (1899)
1899

Snake Bracelet with Ring

Mucha's interest in expanding the boundaries of art and design led to beautiful collaborations with the Parisian goldsmith Georges Fouquet. The most iconic of these is this sparkling snake bracelet, created for his mentor, the actress Sarah Bernhardt. (Mucha shot to fame when he illustrated Bernhardt's theatre poster Gismonda in 1894.) Thick gold coils twine about the wrist, the tail slithers up the arm, while the winged head and mosaic of opals, rubies and diamonds sits on the hand. Fine gold links and hinges allow movement and connect to a snake-head ring.

Not only is this bracelet an example of Mucha's connection to the world of theater, but it also reveals his interest in bringing together traditions from East and West. The bracelet is also impressively utilitarian: Mucha's son Jiri said that the bracelet was designed to accommodate Bernhardt's arthritic wrist! Mucha and Fouquet worked together for three years, resulting in a treasury of elaborate jewels for Fouquet's display at the 1900 Exposition Universelle.

Gold, enamel, opal, ruby and diamond - Mucha Museum, Prague

Le Pater (1899)
1899

Le Pater

Created at the turn of the century, this illustrated book marks the point when Mucha's own spiritual philosophy entered his work. In his book, Mucha created an image for each line of the Lord's Prayer,with his own symbolic interpretations thereof. This included mysterious motifs ranging from an eight-pointed star to stars, crescent moons, circles and many other esoteric images drawn from the Kabbalah and Masonic philosophy, among other sources. It was a universal call from the human to the divine, a prayer to reach a higher spiritual plane.

Mucha's imagery blended his own Catholic traditions with his interest in the occult, such as Spiritualism (he conducted seances and psychic experiments), and Masonic beliefs (he was a practicing Freemason). He considered the book to be his masterpiece, and said he put his soul into it. Century Magazine called him a "New Mystic" and noted that in Le Pater, Mucha's God was "no longer the benign or wrathful Father, but a mysterious Being whose shadow fills the earth. Nature is personified as a luminous, adolescent giant, and Love descends from heaven in the guise of a woman."

Illustrated Book - Mucha Museum, Prague

Slavia (1908)
1908

Slavia

Commissioned by the millionaire and philanthropist Charles Crane upon the marriage of his daughter Josephine, this painting is a portrait of Josephine as the Slav goddess, Slavia. The work says more about Mucha's use of the image of Slavia as a symbol of his homeland than it does about Josephine herself. Mucha painted Slavia/Josephine as his ultimate 'Mucha woman,' with her hair, body, and clothing creating graceful forms in front of a richly ornamented background. Presumably, Charles Crane was pleased with this painting, since he would later go on to finance Mucha's most ambitious project, the Slav Epic (1911-26).

The goddess Slavia was a recurring icon both in Mucha's commercial and fine art work, and on posters and logos for the Slavia Bank. Slavia, a symbol of the unified Slav nation, was a well-known allegory in Slavic culture, appearing in epic songs as well as legends. Mucha revisited the subject matter ten years later, when hewas commissioned to design banknotes for the newly founded Czechoslovakia. He used the image of Slavia on the 100 korun banknote. Mucha also planned to use the image of Slavia in his stained glass window in St Vitus Cathedral, but was ultimately persuaded to replace her with the Christian St. Wenceslas instead.

The Slavs in Their Original Homeland (1912)
1912

The Slavs in Their Original Homeland

This is the first of the twenty massive canvasses (some measuring 6x8 meters) that made up Mucha's life-long project - The Slav Epic (1911 - 1926), in which he sought to create a national iconography for the much-persecuted Slav people while also uniting them with spiritual virtue. In the painting, innocent medieval farmers are menaced by Huns invading from the East as well as by Germanic tribes from the West. Mucha's colors are imbued with a symbolic significance that enhances the painting's power and beauty. The dominant blue represents a spiritual realm, with the contrasting white of the Slavs suggests purity. Both the spiritual blue and the pure white contrast with the reds and oranges of the burning flames of a torched village in the background. The godlike figure hovering at the upper right is flanked by a young man and woman, symbols of war and peace. The message seems to be one of hope for the Slavs - hope that they may have peace and prosperity even in the shadow of their many struggles and wars.

Mucha toiled for two decades to complete the twenty canvases that comprized this series. Drawing on his extensive experience working with stage sets and theater, he used photographs of costumed models to compose his images. The first eleven canvases were publicly exhibited in Prague in 1919. Although the canvases received a positive reception from the general public, critics were unimpressed and were wary of the overtly nationalistic subject matter. The last canvas, The Apotheosis of the Slavs, which depicts the joy of Slav independence, was completed in 1926. Mucha gave his series to the city of Prague and the series was also exhibited around the United States, to much acclaim.

Tempura and oil on canvas - Prague, Czech Republic

Stained Glass Window (1931)
1931

Stained Glass Window

This stunning stained glass window casts brilliant light into the north nave of St Vitus' Cathedral in Prague. It creates incredible bursting light, color, and activity - with the central flaming gold and red colors fading into the cool blues and greens on the outer scenes. At the center is the boy Saint Wenceslas (the Czech patron saint) with his grandmother, Saint Ludmila. They are in prayer, the red hues around them perhaps foreshadowing the martyrdom to come. 36 episodes from the lives of the ninth Century Saints Cyril and Methodius, famous for baptizing the Slavs into Christianity, surround the central scene.

Wenceslas personifies the free Czechoslovakian nation. Christ looks down from above, while the 'Mucha women' represent the young people of the new nation. The secular world intrudes into this religious scene, as the window bears the logo of the new Slavia Bank who had funded the project. Not only is Mucha's window an achievement for its colorful exuberance and dynamic design, but it is also emotionally and psychologically deep. The profound humanity and emotion of the figures comes through in their facial expressions and body language.

Stained glass - St Vitus Church, Prague


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Content compiled and written by Jen Farren

Edited and revised, with Summary and Accomplishments added by Ellen Hurst

"Alphonse Mucha Artist Overview and Analysis". [Internet]. . TheArtStory.org
Content compiled and written by Jen Farren
Edited and revised, with Summary and Accomplishments added by Ellen Hurst
Available from:
First published on 06 Feb 2016. Updated and modified regularly
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