Alphonse Mucha and Art Noveau

The man who is responsible for creating Art Noveau began as a commercial artist creating advertisements, magazine illustrations and labels for cookie tins. Maybe some of you are my age and remember the LA Free Paper and others like it that used Mucha-style art work spread across double pages.

Mucha-inspired album cover for Pink Floyd

Born in Moravia in what is now the Czech Republic, Mucha began his career painting theater scenery. He later did decorative painting and was employed by Count Mikulov to paint murals on the walls of Emmahof Castle. Impressed with his work, the Count sponsored Mucha’s education at hte Munich Academy of Art.

Moving to Paris in 1887, he continued his education at the Academie Julian while selling commercial art illustration. In 1894, he happened to visit a printing shop one day when a rush order for a theater poster was received. Alphonse Mucha created a lithograph poster of Parisian actress Sarah Bernhardt within 2 weeks.

Poster for Gismonda featuring
Sarah Bernhardt

This was the turning point in his career as not only did the poster attract wide attention, but Bernhardt contracted him to do her posters for 6 years.

Mucha went on to design carpets, jewelry, and wallpaper as well as his advertising posters, creating what we now call Art Noveau or New Art.

Mucha’s art has  been admired and often imitated but the artist himself tried to distance himself from this style as he wanted to create more “artistic” works.

After a stay in America, Mucha returned to Czechoslovakia and settled in Prague. There he decorated the  Theater of Fine Arts and other landmarks. When Czechoslovakia became independent after WWI, he designed the postage stamps as well as paper currency.

Czech banknote with Mucha art

He is known for his work, The Slav Epic, a series of huge canvases that portray the history of the Slavic people and for La Pater, a series of representing his interpretation of the lord’s Prayer.Arrested by teh Gestapo in 1939, his nationalistic works were condemned. He became ill during interrogation, and died of pneumonia in July 1939.

The work of Alphonse Mucha was revived in the 1960s and influenced psychedelic posters and illustrations such as those by Haphash and the Coloured Coat.

His art has influenced Tiffany lamps, carpets, and all sorts of elegant objects that we enjoy today. I was very excited to visit the museum in Sakai , Osaka in Japan! There I discovered this amazing artist and his life!


1 Comment (+add yours?)

  1. beckynielsen
    Sep 26, 2012 @ 09:59:21

    I had Mucha posters on my walls in the 70’s – and 80’s – love his work! didn’t realize he had designed stamps and money, too, or the Slav work and religious pieces. do those still exist or were they destroyed. will look them up.


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