Alphonse Maria Mucha (1860 – 1939), was a Czech Art Nouveau painter and decorative artist who produced a vast array of paintings, posters, advertisements, and book illustrations, as well as designs for jewelry, carpets, wallpaper, and theatre sets. His style was initially termed the Mucha Style but later became known as Art Nouveau, which is french for ‘new art’.
In contrast with contemporary poster makers Mucha used pale pastel colors. His works frequently featured beautiful young women in flowing, vaguely Neoclassical-looking robes, often surrounded by lush flowers which sometimes formed halos behind their heads.
Clockwise from top left: Sarah Bernhardt 1896 / Gismonda 1894 / Waverly Cycles 1898
Alphonse Mucha pioneered a sensuous, ornate style replete in stained glass colors, elaborately curving lines and ethereal women. Realizing that living people created the art he admired in churches, Mucha became inspired to paint as a young man. Moving to Paris 1887, he was initially the archetypical starving artist, until the famous actress Sarah Bernhardt asked him to create a poster for the play, “Gismonda.” Spurning the bright colors and the more squarish shape of the more popular poster artists, the near life-size design was a sensation. Bernhardt signed him to a six year contract to design her posters, stage sets and costumes for her plays. Mucha was an overnight success at the age of 34, after seven years of hard work in Paris.
Biscuits Lefevre Utile 1896 / Chocolat Ideal 1897
Portrait of a Girl 1913 / Mucha’s Daughter / Contemplation
As his popularity grew, largely due to his success in the theatre, mucha began being commissioned for numerous ad campaigns and poster artwork. He designed and published postcards, theatre and advertisement posters, numerous illustrations and decorative panel series, set around central themes inspired by nature. He produced an astonishing amount of drawings, pastel or watercolor studies and designs for interior decorations, cutlery and dinnerware, jewelry and fashion.
Yet at the height of his fame, Mucha left Paris, which he associated with commercial success, to seek a different kind of recognition as a serious painter in the United States and in his native Czechoslovakia, thereby contributing to the ending of the creative phase of Art Nouveau. Within a few years he was totally forgotten. At least one major Paris graphics gallery bought up a vast quantity of his decorative panels, folded them in half, cut a window opening on one side, and used them as mounts or matts in which to display better known works. After all, the panels were cheaper than plain white card.
Clockwise from top left: Slavia 1896 / Cognac Template / Moet Chandon / Biscuits Champagne Lefevre Utile