Saturday, March 21, 2015

Artist's Profile

Marie-Therese Wisniowski

Mucha – Fine-Art Prints[1]
On Christmas Eve 1894, while correcting proofs for his friend Kadár in the offices of Lemercier in Paris, Alphonse Marie Mucha was asked by the director of the company, Maurice de Brunhoff, through want of any artist, to design a poster featuring Sarah Bernhardt for Sardou’s play Gismonda. That same night Mucha made studies of Bernhardt at the Theatre de la Renaissance and afterwards sketched the first design on a marble top in a nearby café. All elements that made the poster an instant success – accentuated contours, curves and circles, the decorative use of natural features, and formalize stars and mosaic motifs – were all present in the crude sketch. When the full scale designs were shown to Bernhardt she was delighted and it was a tribute to Mucha, in an age of great poster artists like Cherét and Toulouse-Lautrec, that Bernhardt felt her dramatis persona had been successfully captured in graphic form for the first time by him.

Because of the great urgency for the poster Mucha drew the design directly onto a lithographic plate and it was produced quickly between 24th December 1894 and 1st January 1895.

Gismonda seemed to herald a new style, its strength lying in the restrained use of color – rose, violet, green, brown and gold (the colors of autumn) and in the sensuous and sensitive line of the drawing. Berhardt is portrayed holding a palm-leaf, her head framed by a Byzantine mosaic frieze containing Bernhardt’s name and above the title of the play. Mucha denied any influence of the dress and drape of the work - other than the traditions of folk-ornamentation of his native Czech.

Gismonda ca. 1894.
Size: 217 x 75 cm.

He had little in common with the contemporary Realists and Impressionists Schools in Paris, being primarily a stylist and linearist and so not concerned with textural and tonal relationships. To this end Mucha employed photography to assist him in his designs, not to inform him about the detail of his subject, but to capture broad outlines of pose, drapery and how it informed a continuous sweeping movement of the subject's clothes. To this end there exists in hindsight a familiarity to the ancient Greek customs - devoid of pleats - being replaced with folds that drape the body form.

Princess Hyacinth ca. 1911.
Size: 117 x 78 cm.

The recognition which the Gismonda poster brought was followed by years of hard work. The period from 1895 to 1897, when he was working for Bernhardt and under contract fro the printing firm Champenois, was especially prolific. It was during this time that he produced many of the panneaux decoraifs, calendars, advertisements and menu cards.

Cycles Perfects ca. 1897.
Size: 150 x 105 cm.

Each of the panneaux - small posters printed on stiff paper or silk and used as decorative wall panels or screens – were originated through a series of studies until the final design was executed in pencil, crayon, pastel or watercolour. This was traced on lithographic stone, and Mucha himself, in the early days, would color the monochrome proofs.

Monaco – Monte Carlo 1897.
Size: 110 x 76 cm.

Mucha’s posters were usually an elongated rectangular shape and often extending to seven feet in height, which in turn lent to his invariably female subject a form of svelte elegance, which we now associate with fashion photography. However, it should be noted Mucha’s subjects were not coat hangers in form, which in recent years has become the staple look, due to designers believing that clothes drape so much more elegantly on coat hangers. Mucha showed that it is not the body form but the posture and how the clothes fold and drape that yield a sensuous substance to the shape.

Moet & Chandon Imperial, 1899.
Size: 58 x 19 cm.

Mucha’s women were inevitably young, beautiful, sensuous and provocative. Their voluptuous poses were accentuated by the natural curves of the feminine figure. This inevitably led to accusations that he was corrupting the youth, which was absurd in the context of such artists that were surrounding the youth in his time (e.g. Post Impressionist Gauguin). Perhaps it rather reflects the disconnect of the Victorian Era from any sensual and overtly sexual activity.

Nectar, 1899.
Size: 64 x 26 cm.

Between 1895 and 1905 his major published works were distinguished by a unity of conception and execution, which led to the description in France of all work in the Art Nouveau style as being in "le style Mucha" (even though Mucha argued that the term "Art Nouveau" was not valid since “Art is eternal, it cannot be new”).

Tete Byzantine-Brunette, panneau ca. 1897.
Size: 34 x 28 cm.

Mucha’s oeuvre extended with time from mixed media of theatre design – scenery, costumes and publicity material – to architecture, bank notes and even policemen’s uniforms. But it was his graphic work, which he is primarily known for and remembered.

Lierre, panneau 1901.
Size: 53 x 39 cm.

The rising tide of fascism during the late 1930s resulted in Mucha's works and his Slavic nationalism being denounced in the press as "reactionary". When German troops moved into Czechoslovakia during the spring of 1939, Mucha was among the first persons to be arrested by the Gestapo. During his interrogation, the aging artist became ill with pneumonia. Though released eventually, he may have been weakened by this event. He died in Prague on 14th of July 1939, due to lung infection, and was interned in the Vysehraf cemetery.

Automne, panneau ca. 1900.
Size: 70 x 30 cm.

For further information about Mucha and his work - please purchase reference [1]. It will be a wonderful addition to your library.

La Lune, panneau, 1902.
Size: 59 x 23 cm.

[1] Mucha, Academy Additions, London (1976).

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