Progression of Art
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 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
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
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
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
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
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