Our Alphonse Mucha prints showcase the best of Alphonse Mucha's work, with a focus on his Art Nouveau pieces. It features his best-known works (theatrical posters) and includes some lesser-known, yet irreverent images that show the detail of his work and is especially great for anyone who likes his style. These pictures and paintings are of high quality, rich colour, and beautiful detail.
Mucha was born in 1860 in Ivančice, a town in Moravia, now part of the Czech Republic. The Catholic church and music had a deep influence on Mucha. He was no stranger to hard work. After being rejected from Prague’s Academy of Fine Arts, he worked as an apprentice painter in Vienna, then as a portrait painter in the town of Mikulov. A couple of locals seemed interested enough in Mucha’s work that provided him with patronage. He then went on to study in Munich and, then at age 27, in Paris.
When Mucha moved to Paris, the city was under the influence of the Impressionists and Modernists. Mucha’s influences were the Pre-Raphaelites, Japanese designs, and Byzantine art. Mucha’s print art was a reaction against the Germanization of Czech culture. His art acted as a means to respond to and represent his nation’s culture. In 1904, he sought to raise money for a new artist project centring Slavic unity in The Slav Epic, which would consist of 20 paintings.
Alphonse Mucha is known for creating those lush, sensual posters of beautiful women with long flowing hair, which would be framed by flowers, gold, and fruit. It’s believed Japanese art influenced the work of Mucha. At the time, Japanese scrolls were being imported into France and one, or many, may have landed at Mucha’s feet.
Mucha received a commission to create posters for Ferdinand Champenois, a printer in Paris. He illustrated posters for JOB cigarette papers (1869), Moet and Chandon (1899), among other products. These posters included an ethereal woman, known as the “Mucha woman”. He was the poster artist between 1895 and 1900.
Alphonse Mucha created art in many mediums and would be best known for his poster designs. He worked with high-profile brands such as Nestle, Moet-Chandon, and the production company of the Parisian actress Sarah Bernhardt. Mucha helped revolutionise printmaking with his designs of beautiful women, soft, natural lines, floral arrangements, and mosaics. Before his designs came into public consciousness, printmaking consisted of woodcuts, engravings, and etchings. Having been involved at length in the commercial side of art, Mucha came to understand that “art exist only to communicate a spiritual message.”
In 1896, Mucha showed his work in the Salon des Cent, and the following year he was given his own major retrospective. This was great publicity for Mucha, whose work then travelled across the globe to countries such as Vienna, Prague, Munich, London, Brussels, and New York.
Mucha was commissioned by the stage actress Sarah Bernhardt to design a poster for a play she was to star in and direct. This moment was also a breakthrough for him and opened many doors for the talented artist. Bernhardt was portrayed in character whilst wearing a gorgeous costume: an embroidered gown and headdress. They were intended to promote Bernhardt’s new play and so were plastered around the city of Paris for citizens to view the posters on New Year’s Day in 1895. But by lunch, Bernhardt fanatics and appreciators of good art had removed the posters and taken them home. The overnight success brought Mucha celebrity, and he would create posters for Bernhardt for another six years.
Le Pater (1899)
While in New York, Mucha began working on his masterpiece. In Le Pater, a book designed in opulence, Mucha explored the Biblical themes of The Lord’s Prayer. Although they could have produced an infinite number of copies, only 510 were produced. The Czech artist intended to create a piece of art that reached a little bit higher (spiritually) than his beloved posters were capable of and did so by tackling a holy subject.
Slav Epic (1910-1928)
Slav Epic was an immensely personal subject to Mucha, who spent 18 years creating a series of 20 large-scale paintings that would have an impact on his soul. While working on the Pavilion of Bosnia-Herzegovina, and subsequently travelling through the Balkans for further research, Mucha realised the annexation of the Slav tradition in his home country. The Slav Epic depicted the history of the Slav people and civilisation. With an aim to unite the Slavs through their shared history, he considered this series of paintings as his most important yet.
Job Cigarette Paper (1896)
One of Mucha’s best-known posters is an advertisement for Job cigarette papers. The poster shows the ‘Mucha woman’, identified by her long, flowing hair filled with swirls. As she smokes a cigarette, smoke rises like tendrils around her. The poster is elevated from commercial art to fine art thanks to Mucha’s inclusion of a Byzantine-inspired border. This poster is daring in its depiction of women because, at the time, women didn’t smoke in public, and they certainly didn’t wear their hair down. The poster was such a success that some people purchased copies of the lithograph to display.
Art Nouveau swept through Europe at the end of the nineteenth century. It encompassed mediums like painting, sculpture, architecture, and decorative arts. However, it’s recognised in the posters made during the time, especially those created by Alphonse Mucha.
Although Mucha is considered an artist of Art Nouveau, he was dismissive of the movement, believing it wasn’t possible of longevity, but rather a phase. He also didn’t believe art could be new. His was the belief that art should be timeless or universal. Mucha’s art is filled with natural motifs and flowing lines, key elements of Art Nouveau, so it’s hard to avoid describing him as an artist of said movement. Mass production made a movement like Art Nouveau easily accessible to everyone.
In the 1930s, fascism was on the rise in Europe. His ties to Slavic nationalism were quickly being denounced in the media as ‘reactionary’. When German troops invaded Czechoslovakia in 1939, many were arrested. One of the first was Alphonse Mucha. Even though Mucha was released by the Gestapo, he was left to battle pneumonia.