Alphonse Mucha was an artist whose work epitomises the style of “Belle Epoch” Paris. But he was actually a Czech, born in the town of Ivančice, Moravia. His breakthrough came when studying in Paris he was working in a print shop to earn some cash and volunteered for a rush job to produce a lithographed poster for Gismonda, a play featuring Sarah Bernhardt, who was then the most famous actress in Paris. His design was unusual being long and thin and the style was distinctive and novel. The poster was a hit and became very collectable. Bernhardt was so satisfied with the success of this first poster that she began a six-year contract with Mucha.
This was the start of a lucrative career producing paintings, posters, advertisements, and book illustrations, as well as designs for jewelry, carpets, wallpaper, and theatre sets. His distinctive style became synonymous with “Art Nouveau” which was becoming all the rage during the late 1800’s and early 1900’s. Although Mucha himself wasn’t happy with this, insisting that he wasn’t following any fads or fashions but that his work reflected his own approach and was influenced by Czech art.
Mucha’s work typically featured beautiful young women in flowing robes, or in various states of undress, surrounded by flowers which sometimes formed halos behind their heads. He used pale pastel colours, quite different from other graphic artists at the time.
He later returned to his native land, settling in Prague, and created works including murals and stained glass for the Municipal House and stained glass windows for the St Vitus Cathedral. After the First World War, when Czechoslovakia won it’s independence from the Hapsburg Empire, he produced designs for stamps, banknotes and government documents for the new Republic.
Here’s some photos taken in the room he designed in the Municipal House
And his stained glass window in the nave at the cathedral.
There’s a small museum devoted to his life and work (the Mucha Museum) in Prague which we visited during our recent holiday in the city. It featured copies of some of his most well known posters, some paintings, drawings, sketchbooks, decorative objects and information on his life and family. There was also a film, in English, on his life and work.
One interesting aspect of the poster exhibits was that it was possible to see how they were printed. The long narrow portrait format was unusual and distinctive and had to be printed in two halves side by side. They were joined together when they were posted
Pictures of his work can be found all over the web, but there’s a particularly good collection of over 300 posters, painting and photographs on the Mucha Foundation website. You can even print out and colour in a number of examples of his work here.