Friday, February 10, 2012

Arty Farty Friday ~ Alphonse Mucha

A post buried deep in my earliest archives (2006), features Alphonse Mucha. The post is in need of expansion and titivation. Here's a new, and I hope much improved, version.

How could I not adore Alphonse (properly Alfons) Mucha's work? He even acknowledges astrology in his illustration "Zodiac" (left).

His work became very popular very quickly after an early period as the proverbial "starving artist". With 4 planets in Leo (see chart later in this post) he was not destined to starve for long!

Alfons Maria Mucha, now usually referred to as Alphonse Mucha was born in a small rurally situated town in what used to be Moravia, now the Czech Republic, but then part of the Austrian/Austro-Hungarian empire. The young Mucha must have been influenced by Bohemian and Moravian folk lore, a certain spirituality balanced by a more prosaic Slav nationalism.

He was naturally drawn to the arts, and though his acceptance to the cathedral choir in Brno indicates he was no slouch in the music department, his true loves were drawing and painting. Rejected by Prague's Academy of Fine Arts he moved to Vienna and took work as a theatrical scene painter. After his employer went bankrupt Mucha acquired a patron, Count Carl Khen who provided financial help towards formal art training for the young Mucha, while the artist restored portraits and painted murals in the Count's castle.

Mucha went on to further training in Munich and Paris, supplementing his patron's allowance by producing illustrations for use in magazines, books, and the theatre, also designing costumes for theatrical productions. At age 27 Mucha found himself without a patron. The Count's financial assistance dried up. He became the stereotypical starving artist.

The turning point in Mucha's fortunes came at the end of 1894, in Paris, when he volunteered to produce, in two weeks, a poster to advertise a play, Gismonda, starring the illustrious Sarah Bernhardt . The poster caught the imagination of the theatrical star and of the public in general.

To 21st century sensibilities the poster seems attractive but hardly sensational - but in 1894 little of the kind had ever been seen by the genral public: distinctive styling, richly decorative but with deceptively simple draughtsmanship and muted colours. Although Mucha himself never desired his work to be labelled Art Nouveau, it was undeniably in the avant garde of that genre, and much copied later on.

Numerous lucrative commissions followed for poster, designs, jewelery and artwork of all types. His posters are still well-known to all lovers of Art Nouveau.

Mucha's success peaked around 1900. He took part in the Paris World Exposition. In 1904 he travelled to the USA, where he produced wall decorations, stage settings and portraits during a prolonged stay in New York. He also taught drawing and compostition at the Chicago Art Institute.

Shortly before World War I, back in his homeland he spent 16 years creating a series of 20 murals - The Slav Epic. But his Slavic dreams were to be shattered. In a 1933 painting of one of the mural panels, Light of Hope, a maiden shines her lantern on a despondent figure, representing Mucha’s fear of the rising Third Reich. Below: Mucha at work on The Slav Epic

On 14 July 1939 Alfons Mucha died in Prague shortly before the invasion of Czechoslovakia by German troops. He caught pneumonia after having been interrogated by the Gestapo.

During the next era, his work was largely forgotten, but came to the fore once again in the 1960s and 70s.

A detailed biography, from which much of the information above has been culled, is available as the text of an interesting lecture by Ian Johnston available at Kunstpedia:
An Introduction to the Work of Alphonse Mucha and Art Nouveau

Mucha was born on 24 July 1860 in Ivancice in what is now the now Czech Republic. No time of birth is available, so the rising sign as shown will not be accurate, nor will degree of the Moon; but Moon would have been somewhere in Libra whatever his birth time.

Sun, Jupiter, Mercury and Saturn were all in Leo as Mucha came into the world. Moon in Libra, Venus in Cancer - Moon and Venus were in what astrologers term "mutual reception" - that is in each other's sign of rulership, making for a strengthening and blending of sensitivity and artistic talent. Neptune (creativity) in its home sign, Pisces also reflected that delicate, almost spiritual, flowing style of his.

This artist has left us, and generations of the future, his gentle appreciation and celebration of femininity at its best.

This poster for Mucha's first one-man exhibition is an example of symbol-inspired pictorial language. A young girl - probably symbolic of the visual arts is holding a drawing board, upon which are various symbols with hidden meaning:
"... a heart, threatened with thistles by stupidity, with thorns by genius and with blossoms by love", as a contemporary critic put it.

Alphonse Mucha is remembered in our bedroom, where The Four Arts set lives, nicely framed. He produced several sets, or series of 4 related pieces - for instance: The 4 Seasons; The 4 Arts; The Times of Day; Moon and Stars.

Poetry from a set of The Four Arts

Morning Star From the set of 4 Moon and Stars

The Seasons

Mucha sketches

Maud Adams as Joan of Arc, 1909


Part of The Slav Epic exhibited.


Anonymous said...

Hi,I'm from the Czech republic and growing up we had some of Mucha's paintings in our house.I always liked them, and I thought that Alphonse was very talented painter.
Thank you...

Twilight said...

Anonymous ~~~ Hi there! And thank you for stopping by to comment -
I am very pleased to know someone from the Czech republic has seen the post and enjoyed it.