Master of Art Nouveau: Alphonse Mucha


This week (July 24th) marks the 152nd anniversary of the birth of Alphonse Mucha, Czech Art Nouveau painter and decorative artist.

Mucha is best known for his distinctive style; his use of tender colours and bycantine decorative elements became the trademark of the Art Nouveau movement.

F. Champenois imprimeur-éditeur 66 Boul[evard] St Michel. 1898 : [affiche] (Avec lettre) / Mucha            Sarah Bernhardt. [pour la Journée Sarah Bernhardt du 9 déc. 1896 et pour l'annonce d'un article dans "La Plume" du 15 décembre.] : [affiche] / Mucha

During his life Mucha produced many paintings, posters, illustrations, postcards and advertisements, many of which can be found through Europeana and through a dedicated Art Nouveau Exhibition. The subject of his works were often beautiful young women with long flowing hair and Neoclassical robes, usually surrounded by lush flowers which sometimes formed halos behind their heads. The use of women as his subjects would later develop into a key signature of his style.

Bruyère de falaise et chardon de grève         panneaux décoratifs / Mucha

The 1900 Universal Exhibition in Paris spread the “Mucha style” internationally, of which Mucha said “I think [the Exposition Universelle] made some contribution toward bringing aesthetic values into arts and crafts”. This provided the launch pad for Mucha’s future success and importance as an influential designer of French “Art Nouveau”.

Têtes byzantines : brune, blonde

At the 1900 Universal Exhibition he decorated the Bosnia and Herzegovina Pavilion and collaborated with decorating the Austrian Pavilion. Throughout his life Mucha was unhappy with his style being labeled as ‘Art Nouveau’ and tirelessly tried to disassociate himself from the movement. He always insisted that rather than maintaining any fashionable stylistic form, his paintings were entirely a product of his personal artistic spirit and Czech heritage. He declared that art existed only to communicate a spiritual message, and nothing more; hence his frustration at the fame he gained by his commercial art, when he most wanted to concentrate on more artistic projects.

Images: Courtesy of the French National Library  – Public Domain