I’m showing three paintings by Mucha today, one of which is in such a different style that it hardly seems accomplished by the same artist. The first of these paintings is called, “The Artist” and it is painted in a romanticized, realistic way. Mucha painted this work later in his life, but the painting still holds to the traditional style that Mucha learned at Académie Julian and Academie Colarossi, where he trained as a young artist. I love this first painting because eyes are always captivating to me. And the way she holds her brush is attractive because it is both feminine and challanging.
Mucha’s life was difficult when he was young, and again much later. As a youth, he did poorly in school, his only proficiency seemed to be in drawing and music. After school Mucha spurned his father’s wishes for him to become a court clerk and instead started painting theatrical sets and freelance decorative and portrait painting. His first big break came when he impressed a local count with his abilities who then agreed to sponsor Mucha’s artistic training in more formal schools.
Mucha first attended the Munich Academy of Fine Arts, but moved to Paris in where he then attended at Académie Julian and Academie Colarossi. Two years after arrival, his patron discontinued Mucha’s support leaving Mucha as a “starving artist” in Paris. Mucha spent the next 5 years taking low paying art assignments, teaching, learning, and finding his own style.
Mucha’s next big break came when he was commissioned to paint an advertising poster of the very popular Parisian actress, Sara Bernhardt, for her play “Gismonda”. Mucha’s new style was tested for the Gismonda poster for the first time, and it became a huge hit. This new art, which the French called Art Nouveau, was an immediate hit and transformed Mucha from a starving artist to acclaimed artist overnight.
Mucha’s style of bold, sensuous lines and bright colors, coupled with natural and idealized decorative elements were a perfect fit for lithography and for the decoration of the rest of the world. The precepts of his art were quickly incorporated with other Art Nouveau concepts for the design of everyday items, from chairs to bus stations. But Mucha disavowed Art Nouveau even as he was acclaimed as its father; Mucha just painted as he pleased.
Here are two paintings done in Mucha’s more distinctive style, the first is titled “Lefevere-Utile“, designed to be a poster it was painted in oils. The second painting is called “Summer” from 1869, it is part of a 4 panel set that represented the four seasons. As usual, all my images are cropped details, click on the image or the link to see it in full.
Mucha’s works were in great demand all over the world for magazine covers, posters and advertisements. One of the reasons why he was shunned by art critics was because his paintings graced the side of consumer items instead of the walls of museums. Even a simple Mucha advertisement for grapes was a minor masterpiece, but consumerism is a black mark against an artist.
In 1909 Mucha started what he considered to be his lifetime’s masterpiece, a series of 20 massive canvas oil paintings, 24 feet by 30 feet in size, to show the major events of his homeland and the Czech people. These paintings, commissioned for the Lord Mayor’s Hall in Prague, took 18 years to paint.
During the time he was creating his masterpiece, Mucha returned to his Czech homeland and continued with more mundane works, including designing postage stamps and paper currency for his homeland, and decorating many of the landmarks of Prague.
He completed the first 11 canvases by 1919, which were exhibited in both Prague and in America. These works were acclaimed in America, but gathered a chilly reception in his homeland due to the changing political climate. He finished the last of the canvases and gave them to the city of Prague in 1928 – where they were reluctantly accepted by leaders who were endorsing fascism more and more.
Two years later Germany took control of Czechoslovakia, and Mucha was arrested by the Gestapo as a “reactionary”. During his long interrogating Mucha became ill with pneumonia. After his release, he never fully recovered; he died in 1939.
Mucha’s works have influenced generations of painters, and his style is still emulated today. His style has found its way from paintings to architecture, from museum walls to calendar illustrations. His newer style is idealized, without being “modern” – a great deal of technical skill and figure drawing is required to pull it off, unlike cubist paintings that became popular during Mucha’s lifetime.
If I ever suddenly become a billionaire, I’ll hang original works from Bougereau, Gerome and Alma-Tadema on my walls. But I’ll make room for a painting by Mucha, and I’ll have the walls themselves painted in Mucha’s style.