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Author Topic: ALPHONSE MUCHA  (Read 17087 times)
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« Reply #15 on: November 21, 2007, 08:55:33 am »

                                           Alphonse (Alfons) Mucha (1860 - 1939)

Having had his application to study at the Prague Academy of Arts rejected, the Czech born Mucha journeyed to Vienna, where he attended an evening class in drawing, and later to Munich, where between 1885 - 87 he studied at the Academy of Fine Arts. He moved to Paris in the late 1880s. When in 1890 he held his first Paris one-man show, he was able to display well over 400 works. For a while in Paris Mucha shared a studio with another of our favourite painters, Paul Gauguin. Though the two artists had a great deal in common (for instance the desire to explore some of the darker corners of human psyche through attending spiritualistic séances), it very soon became obvious that Mucha’s art was going to develop quite differently to that of his older companion. While Paris was at the grip of Impressionism and the budding Expressionism, Mucha remained oblivious to such potential influences, as he obviously always saw himself more a designer rather than artist of the avant guard. Viewed from the distance of more than a century, in many ways his art was perhaps even more innovative. Mucha's originality lies in the way he was able to marry the ornamental design, such as can be seen on many works of art from the antiquity to the present times, and occurring in many parts of the world, with the the kind of figurative painting that is almost touching on the naive art, creating something that in his time was referred to as “Le Style Mucha”, before it became known as Art Nouveau. Mucha himself did not like the term "art nouveau", quite rightfully pointing out that art was eternal and therefore could not be new.


Mucha's art, particularly when he was at the peak of his creative powers around 1900, above all else is an apotheoses of womanhood. While his women are always strikingly beautiful and often quite voluptuous, one would hesitate to say that the artist saw them as “sex objects”, to use the present-day terminology. While their femininity is always strongly accentuated, there is something about them, perhaps their innocence, that reminds one more of the idealistic Pre-Raphaelite painters than of Mucha's contemporaries, such as the Viennese painter Gustav Klimt, whose portraits, while equally glamorous, are far more sensuous.

There is something else that lies underneath Mucha’s art. While not looking much for inspiration in the works of his contemporaries, nevertheless he could not escape the influence of the occult revival that had hit Paris just before his arrival. It was to profoundly inspire not only the visual artists of his and the next generation (such as Wassily Kandinsky and many other abstract painters, and later also the surrealists), but perhaps even more so people in the other fields of art, musical composers (Debussy, Stravinsky), sculptors (Brancusi), architects, etc. If one looks carefully, particularly on Mucha's ornamental panels, which are usually loaded with symbols, and which he seems to have painted mainly for his own pleasure, it is hard not to admit that almost everything in Mucha’s art points to his preoccupation with the more esoteric aspects of life. This somehow comes through even when the subject is something as mundane as an advertisement for a particular brand of biscuits, beverages or pushbikes. Mucha does that mainly through a skilful employment of sensually pleasing images embodied in geometrically correct and elaborately designed ornamental frames. One suspects that he must have seriously studied not only the works of some old masters, such as Leonardo or Rembrandt, architects such as Vitruvius, but also the teachings of the ancient philosophers, such as Pythagoras, and his principles of sacred geometry and numerology. Almost everything in the latter's philosophical treatises that have come to us through his disciples, is about cycles of nature, which to him are closely associated with the evolution of the human spirit. So it is with Mucha. 
The big breakthrough for the artist came with the theatre posters that Mucha designed for Sara Bernhardt for the play Gismonda became a sensation in Paris in December 1894. The diva declared that she would not use any other designer for posters advertising the plays in which she starred. Posters, before the more modern ways of advertising became available, such as TV and radio, were extremely important ways of attracting audiences, cities like Paris were full of them, and hard to overlook. Virtually overnight, Mucha found himself famous.

In 1900, when the World Fair was held in Paris, Mucha received the prestigious commission to decorate the Austrian pavilion. Mucha stayed in Paris till 1906, after that he went to America, where he stayed for several year while teaching art at New York and Chicago. After 1910 he lived more or less permanently in and around Prague, but frequently travelled to America.

Mucha was a very busy and versatile artist. He worked on advertisements for various products and on ornamental panels, he had his hand in architectural design, he made a large number of book illustrations, he designed jewellery, he even made some sculptures. From the age of 50 or so, after returning to his homeland, he became much preoccupied with an enormous project he named the Slav Epic, a cycle of monumental paintings illustrating the history of the Slavs, on which he worked intermittently until his death.

Incidentally, the name Mucha, which is the Moravian version of the Czech "moucha", means fly. A fly on the wall... these pictures, being sometimes a little voyeuristic, certainly could evoke such an image in one's mind...

One more thing: Mucha's name is nearly always mispronounced. The French were initially to blame for this, but the English speakers don't fall far behind. Properly pronounced, the "CH" in his name should sound approximately as the "ch" in the name of the famous lake Loch Ness in Scotland, as pronounced by a native.
« Last Edit: November 21, 2007, 09:38:42 am by Bianca2001 » Report Spam   Logged

Your mind understands what you have been taught; your heart what is true.
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