A painter, illustrator and muralist whose name is prominently
associated with Art Nouveau*, Alphonse Mucha created work with strong
composition and color and sensuous curves derived from nature.
Using this style, he began earning widespread attention in the 1890s
for his illustration work including posters of actress Sarah Bernhardt.
Although his name is linked to Art Nouveau, a style meaning
'new art' in French, he avoided that discussion by saying he was merely
painting in a way that was unique and natural to him.
Mucha was born in 1860 in Ivancice, Moravia, which is near the city of
Brno in the modern Czech Republic. When he finished high school,
he became determined to become a painter, despite his father's efforts
in securing him "respectable" employment as a clerk in the local court.
went to Paris in 1887, thanks to a patron in Moravia who paid for his
studies. After two years in Munich and some time devoted to painting
murals for his patron, he went to Paris where he studied at the
Academie Julian*. After two years the patron stopped supporting him,
and Alphonse Mucha was a 27 year old with no money and seemingly little
future in Paris.
For five years he lived the 'Bohemian'
lifestyle of a struggling artist. He borrowed money, got a few
low-paying commissions for artwork, and became deathly ill from an
unhealthy diet. For a period he shared a studio with Paul Gaughin
and traveled to the South Seas. He also gave a few art lessons
and strove to find his own unique style in an era dominated by the new
styles of Impressionism* and Symbolism*.
Beginning 1895, he
presented his revolutionary approach to poster stylistic design, which
was flowing lines and soft colors as opposed to traditional bright
colors and sharp, geometric delineation. Commissioned in December
1895 to create a poster for Sarah Bernhardt's play, Gismonda
he did a near life-size image of her that was a design sensation.
Pleased with Mucha's work, Bernhardt signed him to a six-year contract
to design her promotional posters.
From that time, his
reputation and financial success were insured. By 1898, he had a
new studio, had his first one-man show and had numerous illustration
commissions. He worked with a printmaker, who enthusiastically promoted
his postcards, posters, etc.
In 1900, Mucha designed the
Bosnia-Hercegovina Pavilion for the Paris World's Fair and also
partnered with goldsmith Georges Fouquet in jewelry design. He
published writing with accompanying illustrations about his art
theories, and many took advantage of these visuals by copying his
His popularity and increasing name association with Art
Nouveau led to international travel including several extended trips to
the United States where he did magazine illustration work, portrait
commissions and teaching. In the spring of 1904, he made his
first trip to America, visiting New York, Philadelphia, Boston and
Chicago, and the next year he had one-man exhibition tours of New York,
Philadelphia, Chicago and Boston. In 1907, he married Maruska
Chytilová in Prague, and he and his wife went to America where he gave
art lessons in New York, Chicago and Philadelphia, and in 1908 filled a
decoration commission for the new German Theatre in New York. In 1909,
the couple's daughter, Jaroslava, was born in New York City.
Alphonse Mucha ever remained the committed citizen of his homeland of
Czechoslovakia, and did a series of murals for the Lord Mayor's Hall in
Prague and also a series of paintings of the country's history, The Slav Epic
financed by Charles Crane, a wealthy man from Chicago whom he had met
in 1904 through introduction by Baroness Rothchild. This project,
a gift to the city of Prague, took eighteen years to complete and was
composed of twenty paintings on canvas, each about 24 x 30 feet.
In 1919, the paintings were also exhibited in America, where it was
said they were more warmly received than in their homeland. Before returning to Prague, that year, Mucha spent time as a teacher
at the New York School of Applied Design for Women* and was included in
the American Art Annual
, the predecessor to Who's Who in American
The life of Alphonse Mucha, like so many Europeans and
Americans of his era, was greatly affected by the World Wars.
When Czechoslovakia was invaded by the Germans at the beginning of
World War II, he was one of the first citizens arrested because of his
strong nationalistic expressions. He died on July 14, 1939,
shortly after being released from intense Gestapo questioning.
by Mucha is permanently exhibited at the castle at Morovsky Krumlov,
and his estate collection is in the Bibliotheque Forney, Paris.
Peter Hastings Falk, Editor, Who Was Who in American Art
* For more
in-depth information about these terms and others, see AskART.com Glossary
Alphonse Mucha was born in Czechoslovakia in 1860 and emigrated to Paris when he was twenty-nine years old. It was there that he achieved great fame as one of the most important exponents of the Art Nouveau movement.
He created prints, posters (many featuring the legendary actress Sarah Bernhardt), illustrations for books and magazines, and jewelry. Almost all of his designs were centered on romanticized female figures, highlighted by great flourishes. It has been said that his popularity came too quickly and he saturated his market with too many products, thereby causing a decline in quality and, eventually, demand.
His early prints, in mint condition, are considered valuable today because they are some of the better representational art of his era and because Mucha earned an important place in European art history.