The Mucha Museum brings together many works by the man who succeeded in erecting the advertising poster into art: Alfons Mucha. Born in 1860 in Moravia, the one his father saw as a court clerk would experience tremendous success in Paris, in the Art Nouveau movement. Although his application was rejected by the Academy of Fine Arts in Prague (“choose another profession where you will be more useful”), Mucha emigrated to Vienna in order to work with the largest company of theater sets in the city. He met his greatest patron, Count Khuen Belasi, who placed several orders with him for his castle at Emmahof, then his brother, Egon Khuen Belasi.

Mucha then went to Paris in 1887, where fortune awaited him. Illustrator for magazines, he was hired by the first Parisian publishing house, Armand Colin.

But its success is due to the greatest of chances.

Mucha, who is visiting a printer friend, hears Sarah Bernhardt ask said printer for a poster for her new show “Gismonda”. The only artist present in Paris during the Christmas holidays, Mucha took up the challenge on December 24, 1894 to create a poster for the famous French artist, to cover Paris as soon as January 1, 1895 with posters representing her life-size. Mucha’s fame is made.

Gismonda poster for Sarah Bernhardt

The posters are torn off, in the literal sense of the word because people steal the sensational pieces of urban art. And Sarah Bernhardt, who has good taste, hires him for six years.

The one who will be considered the founder of advertising art represents idealized women with long flowing hair, surrounded by flowers and plants, on narrow and life-size formats that bring together halos and curvatures.

Alfons Much creates a decorative style that takes inspiration from a wide variety of ornamental motifs – Japanese, Celtic, Islamic, Greek, Gothic and Rococo – but his Slavic roots remain inseparable from his work. Some traditional elements of his homeland appear, be it dresses, flowers or botanical designs inspired by Moravian folk art and crafts. The halos, very present, recall Byzantine icons (Byzantine art is for Alfons Mucha at the heart of Slavic civilization).

His life’s work is the “Slavic Epic”, a monumental project of twenty paintings illustrating episodes in the history of the Slavic world, including ten scenes from Czech history. He needs money and struggles to find a sponsor. It is finally in the US that he finds in Charles Richard Crane, a Slavophile businessman, his patron.

Returning to his country in 1910, he works for fifteen years on these monumental canvases of 8 meters by 6. In his Czech phase, Mucha’ style becomes more sober, less luminous. The great famine in Russia in 1921 inspires him with a tragic painting where a mother carries her dying child. The rise of Nazism worries him. With good reasons.

The cantor of Art Nouveau, who remains devoted to his homeland and to Slavic identity, enters the sights of the Gestapo. When German troops enter Prague in 1939, the illustrator is quickly arrested by the Gestapo. He is released due to poor health but dies some time later of pneumonia.

He will have left an indelible mark of Art Nouveau in Europe. Everyone knows Mucha, even without knowing him. His female figures are airy, poetic. Harmony reigns everywhere.

Only Mucha was able to turn advertising posters into art.

April 21, 2023