○ Stain-glass Window at Saint Vitus Cathedral (early 1930s).
Mediums: Painting, Illustration, Graphic Arts
Mucha became well known for the commercial side of his art, posters that enchanted many, even though the artist worked in a large range of techniques and medium, not only designing jewelry, backdrop sets and furniture, he also explored painting (where his career in art began).
Alphonse Mucha is known to have worked with a vast range of mediums, from art (painting and sculpture) to design (graphic, interior, jewelry designs). His artistic aesthetic and sensibility (of organic and sinuous shapes that create intricate patterns around mesmerizing and beautiful women) was brought to the American Art Nouveau Style, when he taught at the Art Institute of Chicago, between 1904 and 1910. Led by his talent, he grew from poverty into fame by rejecting the industrial and impersonal standards of what was Art Nouveau at the time, celebrating instead the beauty of natural and winding forms, making his art the most iconic and memorable amongst all Art Nouveau’s work, that continue to mesmerize to this day.
Mucha was born and raised in a time of hope and belief in a country close to independence. As illustrated in the artists Slav Epic (1926), the Slavic nation had long sought independence, in that time particularly, from the Austro-Hungarian Empire. At that time, the Slav population were devout Catholics in a period of great revival of the Czech nation. The artist was born in Ivančice, South Moravian Region, what was once the center of the Great Moravia Empire, something that would be very close to the heart of the nationalist and nostalgic Slavs at the time. All of this contributed to the great sense of pride Mucha felt in his home country, which ultimately drove his artistic goal of celebrating his people and nation. His artistic interest emerged upon seeing a baroque fresco in a local church, something that would make him move to Vienna at the age of 19, in 1880, to learn the skills to become a set painter. It was here that Mucha drew inspiration from the Orientalism of the Autrian academic painter Hans Makart (1840-1884). He later moved to Paris, in 1887, where he freed his art from conventional forms and expanded it to the realms of everyday life and objects.
Belle Époque: It is considered to be a Golden Age, between 1880 and 1914, when Europe was thriving in all aspects, and especially Paris, the European artistic center at that time. This golden period occurred during the French Third Republic, in a time marked by hopefulness, peace, colonial expansion and economical, scientific, technological and cultural prosperity. In the words of the historian R. R. Palmer (1909-2002): “European civilization achieved its greatest power in global politics, and also exerted its maximum influence upon peoples outside Europe.” During this time, culture in France bloomed with an abundance of musical, literary, theater and artistic masterpieces. In the particular case of visual arts in Paris, this is a period characterized by a widespread rejection of Impressionist ideas, when many Post-Impressionist movements emerged such as Symbolism, Fauvism, Expressionism and other Avant-Garde movements like early Cubism and Abstraction. Paris was deeply impacted by foreign influences, especially Japanese art and printmaking, which would lead to the Japonism trend among many artists living in the French capital, such as Aubrey Beardsley (1872-1898) and Mucha himself. Art Nouveau was perhaps the most widespread movement to arise during that time, with its decorative nature of flowing and winding shapes inspired by vegetation, which seduced many artists and by which its works of public art became an intrinsic part of Paris. It was here that Mucha saw the value and the range that art could have, art that would be part of everyone’s life, although he rejected the anonymous character of Art Nouveau, he instead made every single work unique with his very distinctive style. This tendency would expand to places like Belgium, Germany, Austria, Serbia, Spain, Argentina and the United States. The prosperous era came to an end when World War I began in 1914, with horrors that would profoundly contrast with the optimism and vibrancy of the Belle Époque.
After the summer of 1893, Mucha moved in a studio with Paul Gauguin (1848-1903), on the Rue Grande Chaumiere, which they shared for some time. The studio was a reflection of the artists interests in the exotic and the bohemian, visited very often by other artists, musicians and writers to work and play. Mucha engineered a mechanism attached to the door, which played lovely music every time the door opened. The playful environment in the studio is certainly captured in a photograph of Gauguin below. It was here that Mucha met the playwright August Strindberg (1849-1912) – who shared his interest in philosophy and introduced him to the occult of mysticism, something that would be clear in the series of the Slav Epic -, the parapsychologist, writer and military engineer (among other things) Albert de Rochas (1837-1914) and the astronomer Camille Flammarion (1842-1925) – who partnered with Mucha in psychoanalytic experiments.
Paul Gauguin playing the harmonium in Alfonse Mucha’s studio at rue de la Grande-Chaumière, Paris (c. 1895).
Even though Mucha is mostly known for his decorative posters, he was a devout Catholic who dedicated much of his later career to patriotic works, in which he celebrates the history of Slav people, from its origins to modern times. The artist created the illustrated book Le Pater in 1899, his take on the Lord’s prayer, filled with Catholic, Byzantine and Masonic symbology, a reflection of what truly drove him, and a reflection of his religious devotion. The artist became very religious while growing up in a Catholic environment, being part of church choirs as a way to achieve financial aid for his studies, and later wrote: “For me, the notions of painting, going to church, and music are so closely knit that often I cannot decide whether I like church for its music, or music for its place in the mystery which it accompanies.” Upon the creation of those illustrations, the artist came to a realization. For him, art has a political and moral goal, something that he felt was being stolen by his fame, as he saw himself coerced to create works with futile means, “things that are so alien to those I dream about,” as he put it. His dream was utterly achieved when he got the financial support to create his monumental Slav Epic (1912-1926), a series of historical paintings which illustrated all of Slav history through time, in search of independence, later donated by the artist to the State. Czechoslovakia was declared independent in 1918, a dream come true for Czech people and Mucha, in particular, having designed the coat of arms, stamps and banknotes for the newly arising nation.
Portrait of Josephine Crane Bradley as Slavia (1908).
Mucha was initiated in freemasonry in 1898, becoming an apprentice member of the Paris Lodge of Freemasons. He would quickly rise up the ranks, becoming the Grand Master of the newly reestablished Grand Lodge of Czechoslovakia in 1923, and would later become the Sovereign Grand Commander of the Supreme Council of Ancient and Accepted Scottish Rite of Czechoslovakia in 1930. On 1925, he publishes his own book Svobodné zednářství (Freemasonry) to celebrate the 333rd anniversary of the birth of the founder of Masonry (as regarded by most Czechs), Jan Amos Komenský (1592-1670). However, his freemason status made him a target of the Nazis by the end of his life, being arrested by the Gestapo in March 1939. After contracting pneumonia in the previous year, the arrest had a deeper impact on his health even after being released days later, something that would bring him closer to death, dying a few months later on 14 July 1939. After so much time of suppression by the Austro-Hungarian Empire, many attribute the restoration of the movement in Czech territory to Mucha.
Badge of Czech FreeMasons (c. 1920s) by Alphonse Mucha.
Alphonse Mucha was born on 24 July 1860, in Ivančice, a town in the South Moravian Region, under the dominance of the Austro-Hungarian administration, in what is now the Czech Republic. He came from a modest family with low income; he was the second son of Ondřej (Andreas) Mucha, a court usher who had six children in total from two different marriages (all names starting with ‘A’), and the first child of Amálie, daughter of a miller and a governess in Vienna. Alphonse had two half-sisters and a half-brother from his father’s previous marriage and would later have two more sisters with whom he would develop a close relationship, Anna and Anděla (Angela), painting them early in his career.
Portrait of Mucha’s Sister Angela (C. 1880).
Portrait of Mucha’s Sister Anna (1885).
Mucha revealed early on a sensibility for art and music, so much so that a local seller, fascinated by his drawing, offered him free paper, a luxury item at the time. Unable to pursue regular education after elementary school, due to the financial limitations of his family, who was providing for the studies of his step-siblings, his music talents provided an opportunity to be admitted to the choirmaster of St Thomas’s Abbey in Brno, Pavel Křížkovský. However, despite admiring his talents, he was not admitted as they already had filled the vacancy with another young boy, and was sent to the choirmaster of the Cathedral of St. Peter and Paul instead, where he was admitted and his studies funded. He was able to carry on with his musical education at Gymnázium Brno, yet he aspired to become an artist instead.
Mucha entered the world of decoration and theatrical settings, having designed some as a way of income, and later applied to the Academy of Fine Arts in Prague, in 1878, from which he was rejected. In search of something more, 19 year old Mucha moved to Vienna in 1880, where he established an apprenticeship as a scenery painter for a company that produced sets to the city’s theaters. The rich culture of the city, of museums, theaters and churches influenced his earlier aesthetic. It was there Mucha came across the art of the academic painter Hans Makart (1840-1884) known for his historical paintings, portraits, and as the artist who designed many of the city’s buildings and palaces murals, an artist who would be a great influence, especially expressed in his later works. By this time, the artist began playing with photography, something that would become an intrinsic part of Mucha’s creative process. In 1881, after a fire tore down the building of their best client, the Ringtheater, very low on money, Mucha traveled to Mikulov, in southern Moravia, where he painted portraits, and created decorative pieces and lettering designs for gravestones to make a living. His popularity grew locally, and he was later commissioned to create murals for the quarters of Count Eduard Khuen Belasi (1847-1896) at Emmahof Castle, and later for the Gandegg Castle, his ancestral home. At this point Mucha explored the curvilinear shapes of the female form and the vegetation patterns, and also the mythological sphere, something that intrigued the Count, an amateur painter himself, who brought the artist with him in his travels to Italy and put him in contact with several artists, such as Wilhelm Kray (1828-1889), a German romantic artist. It was Belasi who eventually secured Mucha’s training in the Academy of Fine Arts in Munich for two years, to where he moved in September 1885 (although there are no actual records he attended the academy), pursuing illustration in works like the design for the cover of the ‘Krokodil’ magazine in 1885, establishing his very individual calligraphy style. It was there that Mucha met Russian painters David Ossipovitch Widhopff (1867-1933) and Leonid Pasternak (1862-1945), and Czech artists Karel Mašek (1865-1927) and Ludek Marold (1865-1898). He then founded the Skréta Group, a group of art students from central and Eastern Europe staying in Munich, of which he was chairman, and further created political themed illustrations for Prague’s magazines. The artist was very pleased to be working in such a productive environment in Munich, writing the following to his friends: “Here I am in my new element, painting. I cross all sorts of currents, but without effort, and even with joy. Here, for the first time, I can find the objectives to reach which used to seem inaccessible.” While staying in Munich in 1886, Mucha received an important commission: a painting for the newly founded Roman Catholic church by Czech emigrants, in the American town of Pisek, in North Dakota. He proceeded to paint the Portraits of Saints Cyril and Methodius, the Czech patron saints, in 1887, and discovered a few of his relatives living in the community. Despite his growing success in Munich, the artist was forced to move elsewhere upon new restrictions on immigrants. He relocated to Paris that same year with the financial aid of Count Balesi.
Students at the Munich Academy (1886). Seated: Widhopf (center), Mucha (in profile) and Mašek (right). Marold and Pasternak are among those standing.
Portraits of Saints Cyril and Methodius (1887), St. John Nepomucene Catholic Church in Pisek, USA.
Upon moving to Paris, Mucha joined the Académie Julian in 1888, where he took classes of Jules Lefebvre (1836-1911) – an expert on allegorical painting and female nudes – and Jean-Paul Laurens (1838-1921) – an expert in religious and historical paintings, with a realistic and theatrical style. The following year, he enrolled in the Académie Colarossi (where he would later teach too), the same Count Belasi ceased his patronage of Mucha, under the claim that he already had received enough education. Initially, the artist found shelter among a Slavic community, in a pension house at rue de la Grande Chaumière, named Crémerie, owned by Charlotte Caron, known for taking in artists in need, who sometimes accepted drawings and paintings as payment. During this time, Mucha followed in the footsteps of his fellow Czech artist Ludek Marold (1865-1898), a painter who found success in magazine illustrations. He began producing a number of illustrations since 1890 (that would provide a steady income) for magazines like La Vie Populaire, in which his illustration of ‘The Useless Beauty’ by Guy de Maupassant (1850-1893), was featured on the magazine’s cover in the edition of 22 May 1890, and Le Petit Français Illustré, in which the artist contributed with historical and dramatic illustrations. With his profits, Mucha was able to purchase a harmonium to keep a connection to his musical side, and bought his first camera as well, which he used to photograph models for his compositions, besides himself and his friends, something that would become a vital tool in his creative process. It was during this time that he met and became friends with Paul Gauguin (1848-1903), with whom Mucha would share a studio for some time after Gauguin returned from a summer trip to Tahiti in 1893, at No. 8 at rue de la Grande Chaumière. In 1894, four of his illustrations from the Scenes and Episodes of German History by Charles Seignobos (1854-1942) were included in the Paris Salon of Artists, which gifted him with the first proper acknowledgement of his work, by receiving a medal of honor. During this time, Mucha developed a good relationship with an important client, the Central Library of Fine Arts, particularly known for publishing books related to architecture, art and decorative arts, that later created the Art et Decoration magazine in 1897, which would become a crucial part in popularizing Art Nouveau.
Self-portrait, sketching in his apartment, Paris (late 1880s).
Académie Colarossi (1892).
Photograph of Paul Gauguin, Alphonse Mucha, Ludek Marold and Annah la Javanaise (1896).
It was Mucha’s poster for the ‘Gismonda’ play in 1894, starring Sarah Bernhardt, an internationally known actress. Mucha benefited from the actress’s success, and rapidly reached fame as well. In 1895 the artist signed a 6 year contract with Bernhardt, designing all posters, sets and costumes for her plays. This presented the artist with plenty of commissions, having created designs for many products of several companies, like JOB cigarette papers, Lefevre-Utile biscuits, Idéal Chocolate, Ruinart Champagne, Moët-Chandon champagne, Nestlé baby food, bicycles for Waverly and Perfect, Trappestine brandy and the Beers of the Meuse. In this prosperous period, the artist’s aesthetic was labeled as “Le Style Mucha” and his posters were so popular that collectors were stealing them from billboards. The artist developed a unique decorative panel without any text, an entirely new product, that was launched with The Seasons series, in 1896. These affordable large prints made art reach private homes even more. His tremendous success made possible for Mucha to have his own solo and retrospective exhibitions, invited by the founder of LaPlume, Léon Deschamps (1863-1899), to display his works at the Salon des Cent in 1896 and 1897, respectively (in his retrospective exhibition Mucha showed a total of 448 works and traveled around the Western world – Prague, Munich, Vienna, Brussels, London and New York). La Plume magazine dedicated a special edition to the artist’s work as well, reaching international appraisal in combination with his exhibitions. During this time, Mucha also engaged in sculpture, jewelry and interior design, collaborating with goldsmith Georges Fouquet (1862-1957), who invited him to later design the interior of his new boutique at 6 Rue Royale.
Poster for ‘Job’, cigarette paper (1896).
Poster for Mucha’s solo exhibition at the Salon des Cent (1897).
On the later stage of his career, Mucha engaged in more personal matters (religious and nationalist themes) and made illustrations for the book Le Pater in 1899 (the Lord’s Prayer), coming to a realization and need to make more meaningful art. The artist stated in 1900: “I had not found any real satisfaction in my old kind of work. I saw that my way was to be found elsewhere, a little bit higher. I sought a way to spread the light which reached further into even the darkest corners. I didn’t have to look for very long. The Pater Noster (Lord’s Prayer): why not give the words a pictorial expression?” He then decided to create his epic historical painting about his people, his true dream that the artist felt was being stolen from him by his fame. Mucha had the opportunity to do so in The Paris Universal Exposition of 1900, the first to feature Art Nouveau in a grand scale, drafting his idea for his grand project of the Slav Epic (1912-1926) at the same time, fully accomplished almost three decades later. The artist was also commissioned to design murals for Bosnia and Herzegovina’s Pavilion (regions under Austrian power), showing agricultural, industrial imagery and rural culture of these places, when applying for Austrian citizenship. The quality of Mucha’s work awarded him with the Knight of the Order of Franz Joseph I title by the Austrian government (an order that was extinguished with the dissolution of the Empire in 1918), and the French government’s Legion of Honor. Following this, his works travelled to exhibitions all over Europe (Brussels London, Vienna, Prague, Budapest and Munich), in a time Mucha was praised as the best decorative artist. In order to further take his reputation and show his knowledge, the artist created two books containing many templates for jewelry, panels, figures, wallpaper, furniture, and stained-glass: ‘Documents Decoratifs’ (1902) and ‘Figures Decoratifs’ (1905) – that together would become the bible of Art Nouveau. In the first one in particular, published by the Librairie Centrale des Beaux-arts, Mucha presents watercolour plates of intricate designs showing how floral, vegetal and natural forms could be applied to decorative items, such as brochures, panels and jewelry. By 1900, Mucha also begun teaching decorative arts at Académie Colarossi, as described in the catalog: “The object of the Mucha course is to permit the student to have the necessary knowledge for artistic decoration, applied to decorative panels, windows, porcelain, enamels, furniture, jewelry, posters, etc.” In 1903, Mucha met his future wife while she attended art classes with him in Paris. Maruška (Marie) Chytilová (1882-1959) was an art student at the time, at the School of Applied Arts in Prague, and upon her visit to Paris, she was able to attend classes with the artist with the help of the renowned Dr. Karel Chytil (1857-1934), a Czech art historian who happened to be her uncle. Mucha encourages her to further pursue an artistic career and suggests she also attends classes at the Académie Colarossi, spending every day of her stay in Paris together.
Documents Décoratifs (1901).
Portrait of Mucha’s wife, Maruška (1908-1917).
With the intention of obtaining financial support for his master painting cycle, the Slav Epic, Mucha travelled to New York in 1904, the first of his visits to the United States at this time. In between trips, Mucha marries Maruška in Prague, on 10 June 1906, and then goes back to America to spend their honeymoon with his wife, where they remained until 1909. During his time in the United States, he became a professor at New York School of Applied Design for Women, Philadelphia School of Illustration and Design, and a visiting professor at the Art Institute of Chicago. On 15 March 1909, Jaroslava was born, the couple’s first child. During this period, Mucha painted portraits of high society individuals as a means to find a patron to fund his project. It was through this that the artist finally found a patron in 1909, after executing a portrait for Josephine Crane Bradley (1886-1952) – Portrait of Josephine Crane Bradley as Slavia (1908), his best known portrait of that particular time -, the daughter of Charles Crane (1858-1939), his patron for following twenty years, officially accepting to support him in the beginning of 1910.
Maria and Alphonse Mucha on their wedding day (1906).
Portrait of Mucha’s Daughter, Jaroslava (c. 1927-1935).
In 1909, Mucha received a commission for the new city hall of Prague, to design murals and decorate the reception room of the mayor, a commission he would fulfill in the following year upon his return to his home country, and after finishing his drafts for the Slav Epic, in Paris. Mucha wrote to his wife about his return: “I will be able to do something really good, not just for the art critic but for our Slav souls.” The artist began officially working on the Slav Epic canvases in 1912 and finally finished the ambitious work in 1926, painting the monumental canvases in a studio in Zbiroh Castle. Meanwhile, Mucha’s second child is born on 15 March 1912, Jiří, and the artist ventured in field trips to the Balkans and other Slav regions in order to accurately portray the story of his people; and Czechoslovakia finally achieved independent status in 1918, to much of the Slav people’s (and Mucha’s) joy. For the 10th anniversary of the young nation, the artist donated his twenty monumental canvases to the city of Prague and contributed with a design for a stained-glass window (1931) in St. Vitus Cathedral as well.
Mucha at work on the Slav Epic (1920).
In 1930s Nazi pression grew on East Europe, however Mucha believed in the lifting power of art and proceeded to paint a triptych personifying reason, wisdom and love, The Three Ages in 1936, representing the path for peace. Even though his enthusiasm was great, it remained unfinished, interrupted by Mucha’s pneumonia in 1838 and the occupation of Czechoslovakia by Nazi forces in the following year. The artist’s masonic status captured their attention, which had him arrested by the Gestapo on 15 march 1939 and released several days later. Weakened by his previous illness and by the arrest, Mucha succumbed to death on 14 July 1939, just a few weeks from the outbreak of World War II.
Mucha has engaged with art since he was a child, and his earliest known drawing, Crucifixion (1868), dates back to when he was 8 years old, reflecting the religious impact even early in his life. Early in his adult life, Alphonse started exploring the art of theater settings, lettering and portraiture, and after joining the Academy of Fine Arts in Munich in 1885, the young artist began making illustrations and developed his own style of calligraphy, beyond the classical training. After his move to Paris in 1887, Mucha’s illustration gained some popularity and produced quite a number of them for several magazines and books. The artist ultimately achieved success with his poster for ‘Gismonda’ in 1894, for the famous actress, Sarah Bernhardt’s play. This particular poster asserted Mucha’s distinctive style and made him the forerunner of French Art Nouveau. In 1896, Mucha was invited to collaborate with the magazine La Plume, including designing the poster for their 20th exhibition of the Salon des Cent. From this point on, Mucha received plenty of commissions for illustrations, posters and decorative panels.
Study of a Male Nude (c. 1885-1887).
Poster for ‘Gismonda’ (1894)
Cover composed by Mucha for the french literary and artistic Review La Plume (1898).
Poster for the 20th Salon des Cent (1886).
During his prime, the artist developed his own unique and entirely new product, a decorative panel without any text, that was launched with The Seasons series, in 1896, four panels of swirly vegetation and beautiful women personifying nature’s seasons. Influenced by some of his friends, Mucha also dared to explore other artistic paths, including sculpture, jewelry and interior design. Sculptor Auguste Rodin (1840-1917) and goldsmith Georges Fouquet (1862-1957) were the ones that inspired and encouraged him to pursue these paths, creating sculptures with ornamental and bright jewels. In 1899, they partnered up again to design a bracelet for Sarah Bernhardt, a serpent of enamel and gold, in the same aesthetic as the jewelry she wore in the Medée play. He went on to design jewelry, their display cases and the interior of their room, having even created his own “Mucha World” in Fouquet’s boutique at 6 Rue Royale, a fantastical shopping experience made possible by a room filled with his sculptures, fountains, mosaics stained-glass and lighting. By the turn of the century, the artist pursued further spiritual themes in his illustrations for Le Pater book (1899), a unique take on the Lord’s Prayer filled with ornamental Catholic, Byzantine and masonic iconography, regarded by him as his printed masterpiece. This work made him turn to more spiritual and patriotic themes, exploring those in historical paintings and murals shown at the 1900 Paris Exposition. Here, the artist had the chance to exhibit the vast range of his work, showing posters, restaurant menus, and jewelry and perfume display cases with statuettes and panels (for Georges Fouquet and Houbigant, respectively). His artistic dream finally came true when he traveled to the United States and obtained financial support for the creation of his ambitious cycle of historical and monumental paintings about the downfalls and victories of Slav people, in 1909. In 1912, he went on to create twenty canvas over 6 meters wide and high, finalizing the Slav Epic project more than a decade later, in 1926.
The Seasons (1896).
Jewelry designs by Mucha (1901).
Fouquet boutique, musée carnavalet, Paris (1901, reconstructed in 1923 at the museum). (CC BY-SA 3.0, by O.Taris)
Stained-glass Window at Saint Vitus Cathedral, Prague (1931).
Mucha believed in making art accessible to everyone, independently of social status or nationality. This is why he pursued other arts of illustration, jewelry and graphic and interior design, to get art closer to people and make it part of their lives. However, by the later half of his career, art takes on a more meaningful purpose, a fundamental political and moral role in society. Mucha switches direction from decorative and superfluous themes and projects, and moves beyond the mere visually pleasing to create his lifelong dream of celebrating his people and history in his own magnificent style.
Slavs in their Original Homeland (N. 1, The Slav Epic, 1912).
Although Mucha worked in a variety of different mediums and arts, his style is transversal to all. The organic, swirling and winding shapes contoured by semi-bold lines made the floral, arabesque and byzantine patterns of his posters, paintings, jewelry, wallpaper and sculptures. Most of his compositions feature beautiful curvaceous women in pastel colours, a staple in his work and Art Nouveau in general, adorned with flowers and vegetation. The Femme Nouvelle (“new woman”) is a classic feature in his work, a way of celebrating femininity as symbol of uniqueness, acting against the impersonal and masculine world of the industrial era. The artist often relied on photography to design his compositions, photographing the models and then drawing and synthesizing their shapes. This would prove to be a vital tool in his development of the compositions for the Slav Epic (1912-1926). When it comes to Mucha’s historical paintings, accuracy is key. He went on several trips around the southern Slav regions in order to collect testimonies and accurately portray every battle scene and every costume.
The Nature (1899-1900).
Model posing in Alphonse Mucha’s studio, Rue du Val de Grâce, Paris (1902-1903).
Mucha was and continues to be mostly known for his poster art, deeply associated with Art Nouveau, although the artist profoundly rejected this association, who mocked the movement by stating: “What is it, Art Nouveau? … Art can never be new,” according to his son. The artist, although he pursued the same realms of artistic endeavours, he created unique and organic patterned works which differed from what he taught about Art Nouveau, an industrialised and anonymous art, by blurring the line between fine art and commercial art. Instead, the artist considered himself as being in a much higher position, as a history painter. After his death, the Mucha style began to fade and so did his fame. His most precious works, the Slav Epic, among athers, were hidden underground during the Nazi occupation, and after, under Communism influence, his works did not regained popularity, as they were seen as too decadent for public display. It was his son and biographer, Jiří Mucha (1915-1991) who continuously devoted himself in order to restore his father’s legacy and reputation. The Mucha Style would eventually gain popularity again in the 1960s, when it was being referenced in British band’s poster for The Incredible String Band and Pink Floyd. Mucha’s most popular works would also shape contemporary cartoon, fantasy art, and Japanese Manga in particular.
Mucha’s unique style is a combination of four main influences: the Pre-Raphaelites portrayal of beautiful women, the Monumentality of the historical paintings of Hans Makart (1840-1884), the overall style of Japanese wood cuts (which would lead him into printmaking), and the Byzantine and Arabesque styles. The style of Makart, an academic painter who designed several murals and a master of portraiture and historical paintings, had a big impact on the artist early on in his career, showing a profound influence in his final paintings. On the other hand, Orientalism is one of Mucha’s distinctive characteristics, scattered across the intricate Byzantine and Arabesque patterns present in his works, enhancing their decorative nature, for example in his Byzantine Heads (1897). All of these influences can be clearly spotted in his murals (1910-1912) for the municipal hall of Prague. Furthermore, his friend Auguste Rodin (1840-1917) spiked Mucha’s interest in sculpture as well.
Byzantine Heads: The Brunette (1897).
Byzantine Heads: The Blonde (1897).
Murals and ceiling (1910-1912), the Lord Mayor’s Hall, Obecní Dum (Municipal House, Prague). (CC BY-SA 3.0, by Jorge Royan)
His two books containing templates for designs in several forms (from jewelry to figures), Documents Decoratifs (1902) and Figures Decoratifs (1905), ultimately became the manual for Art Nouveau. His particular style has influenced the worlds of cartoon and fantasy art, especially Naoko Takeuchi (1967-), a Japanese Manga artist. Mucha is also listed among the influences on Stuckist artist Paul Harvey (1960-).
Charles Masson, one of the Imprimerie Champenois’s directors and the director of the Musée Luxembourg as well, wrote about Mucha’s Le Pater (1899) on his review for ‘Art et Decoration’: “There is in that man a visionary; it is the work of an imagination not suspected by those who only know his talent for the agreeable and charming.”
Mucha’s foreign name raised quite some speculation upon the 1900 Paris Exposition in French press, making the actress Sarah Bernhardt come forward to support his friend and employee, stating that Mucha was “a Czech from Moravia not only by birth and origin, but also by feeling, by conviction and by patriotism.”
When he attended preschool, he mostly drew with his left hand. During this time, he also developed a talent for music, becoming an alto singer and a violin player.
In 1948, a fire destroyed his murals at Emmahof Castle. However, smaller versions of the paintings surfaced and are now housed at Moravska Galerie in Brno.
The artist created more that one hundred different poster designs between 1896 and 1904, for the printing company Champenois, designs that were sold in a range of forms, from less expensive calendars and postcards to the most exquisite and luxurious items printed in vellum.
Mucha was friend’s with Auguste Rodin (1840-1917) with whom he usually travelled. In 1902, he accompanied Rodin to the sculptor’s exhibition at Mánes Pavilion designed by Jan Kotera, in Prague. Rodin later gifts Mucha with a small bronze cast of Les Damnées (“Damned Women”).
At the time of the Paris Universal Exposition, as the French government was planning to remove the Eiffel Tower by the end of it, constructed for the sole purpose of the Exposition, Mucha submitted a design to replace it, featuring a sculpture at the of the tower symbolizing humanity. However, the original tower was never replaced, as it became beloved by many.
At the time of Mucha’s death, public gatherings were not allowed. However, many attended his funeral at the Slavín Monument of Vyšehrad cemetery, a space specially reserved for distinguished Czech individuals.
Today, the Czech-American ex tennis player, Ivan Lendl (1960-), detains the major collection of Mucha’s works, which he started collecting in 1982, after meeting his son Jiří. In 2013, the works in the collection were publicly shown in an exhibition in Prague.
“To talk in my own way to the spirit of the nation, to its eyes which carry thoughts most quickly to the consciousness.”
“Art exists only to communicate a spiritual message.”
“The purpose of my work was never to destroy but always to create, to construct bridges, because we must live in hope that humankind will draw together and that the better we understand each other the easier this will become.”