In Praise of Women
Alphonse Mucha, Czech Master of the Art Nouveau
21 March 2009 - 21 April 2009
Many important cultural events will take place in EU member states to accompany the Czech presidency of the EU in 2009. Among the most remarkable of them will be an exhibition of the very best of the lifetime work of Alphonse Mucha at the Museum of Fine Arts during the Budapest Spring Festival. The exhibition, prepared by curators Marta Sylvestrová of the Moravian Gallery in Brno and Petr Štembera of the Museum of Decorative Arts in Prague, will introduce and analyze the best of the posters, paintings, drawings and photographs from the artist's Parisian, American and Czech periods and will highlight the inspiration and creativity Mucha found in the motif of women in much of his art.
Mucha achieved his first success around the mid-1890's and a worldwide fame later with his poster work. The majority of his posters and his purely advertising output came from the Imprimerie Champenois, including all of his Sarah Bernhardt posters. Sarah Bernhardt was worshipped as one of the most spellbinding Paris celebrities in the second half of the 19th century and on into the early 20th. She was also generally considered the best actress ever to walk the stage. Mucha designed most of her posters between the years of 1895 and 1901. The first poster Gismonda already proved a revelation. Mucha turned Sarah Bernhardt into a Byzantine icon. The viewer, rather than being given a scene from the play, is expected to see, hear and feel a totality, an overall effect. Such an effect, just like the splendid costume, jewellery, hairstyle, posture, inclination of the head, glancing eyes, and so on, is a trademark fixture of all Mucha's great posters for Sarah Bernhardt. Almost all of Mucha's posters are based on the central figure of a woman. The Bernhardt posters and his advertising work feature young, attractive, vivacious, joyful and unambiguously sexy woman with long golden hair, directly associated with the product advertised.
Special and distinctive within Mucha's lifework are his pastel and charcoal drawings, created during his Parisian period. Mucha's Paris drawings from 1898-1903 comprise a unique body of work. They communicate his personal feelings and elucidate the "dark" side of the soul of an artist who was at the height of international fame and success.
At the end of February 1904, Mucha embarked for the United States. This marked the beginning of an American period that was to last until 1910, when he and his family moved back to Bohemia. At the time of his arrival on the American continent, Mucha was heralded as the leading exponent of Art Nouveau, a style made famous in the USA by his theatre posters for Sarah Bernhardt, promoting her many American tours. Moreover, large numbers of young American artists had privately studied in Mucha's Paris studio, and welcomed their tutor warmly and proudly. Mucha started to work on portraits of the high-society ladies of New York. However, the oil paintings lacked both the spontaneity and vividness of his pastel portraits, fading in the course of long sessions.
Female personifications with Slavic features first appeared in Alphonse Mucha´s posters and paintings in 1897. On the poster promoting his second solo exhibition in Paris, Mucha chose to depict a girl with distinctly Slavic features and a Moravian crown of daisies, to be followed by number of similar female motifs. Women with a Slavic cast to their features played a key role in Mucha´s work whenever he was later commissioned to design posters for clients in his native country. Mucha subordinated the appearance of the girl to the requirements of the religiously zealous Czech and Moravian countryside without, however, depriving "his" village girls of their natural charm. Mucha received the commission to design the symbol for the Slavia insurance company during his stay in the USA. Slavia, the Slavic goddess in a white festive gown, appeared later on Mucha´s Czech poster designs and other Slavic festivities in Prague.
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