Alfons Maria MuchaÂ (Czech: alfons Ëˆmuxa
24 July 1860 â€“ 14 July 1939)Â Â known internationally as Alphonse Mucha, was a Czech painter, illustrator and graphic artist, living in Paris during the Art NouveauÂ period, best known for his distinctly stylized and decorative theatrical posters, particularly that ofSarah Bernhardt.He produced illustrations, advertisements, decorative panels, and designs, which became among the best-known images of the period .
In the second part of his career, at the age of 43, he returned to his homeland of Bohemia-Moravia region in Austria and devoted himself to painting a series of twenty monumental canvases known asÂ The Slav Epic, depicting the history of all the Slavic peoples of the world,which he painted between 1912 and 1926. In 1928, on the 10th anniversary of the independence of Czechoslovakia, he presented the series to the Czech nation. He considered it his most important work. It is now on display in Brno.
Alphonse Mucha was born on 24 July 1860 in the small town of IvanÄice in southern Moravia, then a province of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, (currently a region of the Czech Republic). His family had a very modest income; his father was a court usher, and his mother was a miller’s daughter. He showed an early talent for drawing; a local merchant impressed by his work provided him with paper for free, though it was considered a luxury.In 1871, Mucha became a chorister at the Cathedral of St. Peter and Paul, Brno, where he received his secondary school education.Â Â He became devoutly religious, and wrote later, “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.” He grew up in an environment of intense Czech nationalism in all the arts, from music to literature and painting. He designed flyers and posters for patriotic rallies.
His singing abilities allowed him to continue his musical education at the GymnÃ¡zium Brno in the Moravian capital of Brno, but his true ambition was to become an artist. He found some employment designing theatrical scenery and other decorations. In 1878 he applied without success to the Academy of Fine Arts in Prague, but was rejected and advised “to find a different career”. In 1880, at the age of 19, he traveled to Vienna, the political and cultural capital of the Empire, and found employment as an apprentice scenery painter for a company which made sets for Vienna theaters. While in Vienna, he discovered the museums, churches, palaces and especially theaters, for which he received free tickets from his employer.He also discovered Hans Makart, a very prominent academic painter, who created murals for many of the palaces and government buildings in Vienna, and was a master of portraits and historical paintings in grand format. His style turned Mucha in that artistic direction and influenced his later work.He also began experimenting with photography, which became an important tool in his later work.
The style of Alphonse Mucha is so central to defining the art nouveau movement that his work remains both instantly recognisable and hugely popular today. The first exhibition in Scotland since the major show at the City Art Centre in Edinburgh in 2000 places works from the Mucha Foundation in Prague next to his British and Glasgow contemporaries, including Charles Rennie Mackintosh.
Mucha became an overnight success in Paris in the mid 1890s after an impromptu opportunity to design a poster for the actress Sarah Bernhardt. He built a reputation as a designer for advertising – his curvaceous ladies with flowing hair advertised everything from cigarette papers to bicycles – and ‘decorative panels’, a low-cost option to beautify the home. His later years were devoted to an epic series of paintings supporting the cause of Czech independence.
The show draws interesting parallels with the Pre-Raphaelites, and with Mackintosh: there are similarities in their designs for print, and in the sense that both have a ‘total art’ aesthetic, but the Glasgow Style quickly becomes distinct from the Czech. While Mucha is always easy on the eye, this show lacks the breadth and depth of the Edinburgh show, and leaves the viewer with a sense of superficial beauty, rather than a more muscular interrogation of his ideas and sense of himself as an artist.
The first of Alphonse Mucha’s much-copied decorative panels, The Seasons (1896), shows the harmonious cycles of nature. Four 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, this pannel 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.