The Artist who created (and rejected) Art Nouveau

Alphonse Maria Mucha (1860 – 1939) was the artist at the forefront of the Art Nouveau movement.

Alphonse Mucha the founder of Art Nouveau
Alphonse Mucha 1860 ~1939

Art Nouveau was very popular during the 1920’s and had a revival in the 1960’s and Alphonse Mucha pictures are still popular today.

Art Nouveau came into being to modernise design from the historical style that up to this time had been popular.  Mucha drew inspiration from geometric forms and elegant designs that often resembled the stems and blossoms of plants.

The design and pattern often took precedence over colour and it wasn’t unusual for the work to be done in muted colours of greens, blues, yellows and brown.

Alphonse Mucha was famous for his commercial posters which had a wide audience and are still very popular today.  Women were often depicted in his work in a decorative form surrounded with floral or design elements and hand-crafted typefaces.

Art Nouveau went against the prevailing trend

At the time Mucha was producing his art, the world was a very masculine place so his work went against the trend.  All his females were shown in very soft poses with soft lines that were in complete contrast to the art of the day.

Art Nouveau advertising poster
Advertising Poster

 

This style of work came into being by chance when he was given a last minute commission in 1894 to design a poster for a production of Gismonda starring the world-famous actress, Sarah Bernhart.  The resulting image caused a stir and resulted in Mucha becoming an overnight sensation.

Art Nouveau Lady of the Camellias
The Lady of the Camellias 1896

From then on Poster designs and this form of art became Mucha’s remit and he produced many designs for company’s and for the public at large.  He didn’t just concentrate on posters but also turned his hand to jewellery, set design, photography, interiors and sculptures.

Art Nouveau Mucha Poster
Alphonse Mucha Poster

It is rather ironic that the poster for Gismonda was to define his work for the future.  A style that he spent his career trying to distance himself from.

A Passion for his homeland

His real passion was for his homeland Czechoslovakia.  His devotion to his homeland was conveyed through pieces like The Slav Epic (which took him over 15 years to complete) and his dedication in portraying what he believed were the cornerstones of humanity – Reason, Wisdom & Love.  These three things were depicted in a triptych named after the three which sadly was never finished.

This body of work was more important to him than the posters he became famous for, but he could never shrug off this mantle and will always be remembered for his Art Nouveau posters.

At the time of his death, his style was considered outdated and even in his own country, the authorities were not interested in Mucha.  His son, Jiri, devoted much of his life in promoting his father’s work but it wasn’t until fairly recently that an Alphonse Mucha museum appeared in Prague, run by his grandson, John Mucha.

studio 18

 

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