Fine Artists: Alphonse Mucha Czech Artist 1860-1939


"Flower" color lithograph by Alphonse Mucha 1897Alphonse Mucha was born in 1860 in Ivancice, Moravia, which is near the city of Brno in the modern Czech Republic. His singing abilities allowed him to continue his education through high-school in the Moravian capital of Brno, however drawing was Alphonse Mucha's first love since childhood. Alphonse Mucha worked at decorative painting jobs in Moravia, mostly painting theatrical scenery, then in 1879 moved to Vienna to work for a leading Viennese theatrical design company, while informally furthering his artistic education. When a fire destroyed his employer's business in 1881 Alphonse Mucha returned to Moravia, doing freelance decorative and portrait painting.

Count Karl Khuen of Mikulov hired Alphonse Mucha to decorate Hrušovany Emmahof Castle with murals, and was impressed enough that he agreed to sponsor Mucha's formal training at the Munich Academy of Fine Arts. Like every aspiring artist of the day, Alphonse Mucha ended up in Paris in 1887. Alphonse Mucha was a little older than many of his fellow artists, but he had come further in both distance and time. A chance encounter in Moravia had provided him with a patron who was willing to fund his studies. After two years in Munich and some time devoted to painting murals for his patron, Alphonse Mucha was sent off to Paris where he studied at the Academie Julian. After two years the supporting funds were discontinued and Alphonse Mucha was set adrift in a Paris that he would soon transform. At the time, however, Alphonse Mucha was a 27 year old with no money and no prospects, the proverbial starving artist.

For five years Alphonse Mucha played the part to perfection. Living above a Cremerie that catered to art students, drawing illustrations for low-paying magazines, getting deathly ill and living on lentils and borrowed money, Mucha met all the criteria. It was everything an artist's life was supposed to be. Some success, some failure. Friends abounded and art flourished. It was the height of Impressionism and the beginnings of the Symbolists and Decadents.
Alphonse Mucha painting "Gismonda" 1894Alphonse Mucha shared a studio with Gauguin for a bit after his first trip to the south seas. Mucha gave impromptu art lessons in the Cremerie and helped start a traditional artists ball, Bal des Quat'z Arts. All the while Alphonse Mucha was formulating his own theories and precepts of what he wanted his art to be. On January 1, 1895, Alphonse Mucha presented his new style to the citizens of Paris. Called upon over the Christmas holidays to created a poster for Sarah Bernhardt's play, Gismonda, (shown here) he put his precepts to the test. The poster was the declaration of his new art. Spurning the bright colors and the more squarish shape of the more popular poster artists, the near life-size design was a sensation. Overnight, Mucha's name became a household word and, though his name is often used synonymously with the new movement in art, he disavowed the connection.

Alphonse Mucha used position, sensuous curves derived from nature, refined decorative elements and natural colors. The Art Nouveau precepts were used, too, but never at the expense of his vision. Bernhardt signed Alphonse Mucha to a six year contract to design her posters and sets and costumes for her plays. Mucha was an overnight success at the age of 34, after seven years of hard work in Paris. Mucha produced a flurry of paintings, posters, advertisements, and book illustrations in what came to be known as the Art Nouveau style. Alphonse Mucha's works frequently featured beautiful healthy young women in flowing vaguely Neoclassical looking robes, often surrounded by lush flowers which sometimes formed haloes behind the women's heads. His style was often imitated. It was at around this time that Mucha began his collaboration with the known Parisian jeweler Georges Fouquet. Together, they created a number of pieces featuring Mucha's trademark style. The painter also designed the fašade and interior of Fouquet's shop, giving the jeweler's boutique an extravagant, almost temple-like setting.

In 1902, with interest in Art Nouveau beginning to wane, Alphonse Mucha travelled to his homeland, visiting Moravia and Prague. To him, his Art Noveau work had been something frivolous and unimportant, so Alphonse Mucha was not particularly disappointed that it had fallen out of fashion. In fact, this was only to be expected, for Alphonse Mucha believed that the only "true" art was academic.

It was during his 1902 trip home that  artist Alphonse Mucha became infected with the idea of painting a series of epic patriotic works, showing the somewhat fictionalized history of the Slavic people in a grand, neo-classical style. Alphonse Mucha visited the USA from 1906 to 1910, then returned to the Czech lands and settled in Prague, where he decorated the Theater of Fine Arts and other landmarks of the city. When Czechoslovakia won its independence after World War I, Alphonse Mucha designed the new postage stamps, banknotes, and other government documents for the new nation.
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Alphonse Mucha
Artist
Czech painter