Developments in the 19th Century


Art Styles in 19th century - Art Map


Alphonse Mucha



Alfons Maria Mucha

born July 24, 1860, Ivančice, Moravia, Austrian Empire [now in Czech Republic]
died July 14, 1939, Prague, Czechoslovakia

original name Alfons Maria Mucha Art Nouveau illustrator and painter noted for his posters of idealized female figures.

After early education in Brno, Moravia, andwork for a theatre scene-painting firm in Vienna, Mucha studied art in Prague, Munich, and Paris in the 1880s. He first became prominent as the principal advertiser of the actress Sarah Bernhardt in Paris. He designed the posters for several theatrical productions featuring Bernhardt, beginning with Gismonda (1894), and he designed sets and costumes for her as well. Mucha designed many other posters and magazine illustrations, becoming one of the foremost designers in the Art Nouveau style. His supple, fluent draftsmanship is used to great effect in his posters featuring women. His fascination with the sensuous aspects of female beauty—luxuriantly flowing strands of hair, heavy-lidded eyes, and full-lipped mouths—as well as his presentation of the female image as ornamental, reveal the influence of the English Pre-Raphaelite aesthetic on Mucha, particularly the work of Dante Gabriel Rossetti. The sensuous bravura of the draftsmanship, particularly the use of twining, whiplash lines, imparts a strange refinement to his female figures.

Between 1903 and 1922 Mucha made four trips to the United States, where he attracted the patronage of Charles Richard Crane, a Chicago industrialist and Slavophile, who subsidized Mucha's series of 20 large historical paintings illustrating the “Epic of the Slavic People” (1912–30). After 1922 Mucha lived in Czechoslovakia, and he donated his “Slavic Epic” paintings to the city of Prague.







master of art nouveau


Alfons Mucha's is an art of seduction.
His graceful women, delicate colours and

decorative style add up to an unashamed act of temptation.


The Decline of Art Nouveau



The year 1902 saw the publication of Mucha's Documents decoratifs, a loose-leaf collection which at the same time testifies to his rich inventiveness and his success as a teacher of the decorative arts. From newly developed alphabets and minutely detailed studies of plants to designs for ornamental and utilitarian objects as diverse as items of furniture, cutlery, crockery and many more, this collection of patterns, with its typical linear and floral concepts of form and its flowing silhouettes, comes across as the textbook of Art Nouveau.
By 1902, however, Art Nouveau had already passed its zenith, and artistic taste was beginning to change. Yet notwithstanding the vicissitudes of fashion, Mucha clung obstinately to the style he had made his own, and continued to work in it. Perhaps he was aware of his own waning creativity and dwindling fame when in 1904 he took the decision to leave Paris for America, where at first new commissions awaited him. Even so, this sojourn in the United States, at least from the artistic point of view, did not bring the success he had hoped for.

In 1910, Mucha returned to his native country for good. The same year, his late period began with the painting of the Lord Mayor's Hall in the Festival House in Prague (obecni dum). Now able to put into practice the artistic projects formed in his youth, he devoted his energies with great perseverance and patriotic enthusiasm to the depiction of Slavic mythology. In America, he had found a rich patron in the person of the industrialist Charles R. Crane, who was prepared to finance the project. On twenty monumental canvases, Mucha, with idealistic pathos, presented the story of the Czech people. When he donated the completed cycle to the City of Prague in 1928 as the Slav Epic, he was deeply disappointed. The style and presentation were dismissed as reactionary academicism, and the subject matter as a form of nationalism overtaken by the facts of history. Mucha's message was behind the times.

Following decades of almost total oblivion, Mucha was among those rediscovered as interest in the art of the period around 1900 reawakened. His early work was quite rightly accorded a major role in the appearance and development of new areas of art in the modern period. His graphic works, which were published in large editions, represented an early contribution to the movement to bring art into everyday life, as the spirit of the time demanded. As the creator of romantic dream-worlds, he was among those who raised utilitarian art from its second-rank status and on to a level with fine art, and he achieved this by setting the same standards for his posters and decorative compositions as he would for a painting.


The Slav Epic, 1928


Krajinska Vystava v Ivancicich, 1928


The Apotheosis of the Slavs



The Slav Epic
Introduction of the Slavonic Liturgy to Great Moravia


The Slav Epic (detail)
Introduction of the Slavonic Liturgy to Great Moravia







In his realistic book-illustration style, Mucha executed four nature scenes for a soft furnishings business in 1894: Flower, Fruit, Fishing and Hunting. They were offered for sale as inexpensive copies of original works and reproduced using a technique that imitated oil painting. Comparing Flower with Gismonda, one can see the abrupt change in style which Mucha's work underwent at the end of 1894.




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