Alphonse Mucha: 1860-1939

Born on July 24, 1860 in Ivančice, Moravia (now Czech Republic), Alphonse Maria Mucha was a painter and decorative artist who played a major role in shaping the French Art Nouveau movement.  Though Mucha’s hobby as a child was drawing, he studied on a choral scholarship at the Church of St Peter in Brno, the capital of Moravia.  In 1875, Mucha returned to Ivančice where he worked as a court clerk.

After his rejection from the Prague Academy of Fine Arts in 1878, Mucha traveled to Vienna to work as a scene painter for the firm of Kautsky-Brioschi-Burghardt.  In 1881, he left Vienna and moved to Mikulov (Czech Republic) where he paintied portraits. It was there that he met Count Khuen Belasi who commissioned him to decorate his castle at Emmahof and where the Count’s brother became his patron, enabling him to study at the Munich Academy of Art in 1885 and at the Acadamie Julian and the Academie Colarossi in Paris from 1887 to 1889.

Between 1890 and 1896, Mucha lived in a studio above Madame Charlotte’s cremerie and began illustrating for the theatre magazine “Le Costume au Theatre”. He met Paul Gauguin (who later shared his studio), and also began working for publisher Armand Colin.  In 1894, Mucha designed a poster for actress Sarah Bernhardt for the play “Gismonda” which led to a five year contract to create more posters and stage and costume designs for her as well as designs for magazines, book covers, jewellery and furniture for others.

Mucha’s illustrations are characterized by their mosaic backgrounds and influenced by Byzantine art. In contrast with poster makers of the time, he used paler pastel colours. His romantic female figures wore garments that were decorated with precious gems and are often flamboyantly posed and surrounded by lush flowers.

Mucha moved to a new studio in 1896 at rue du Val-de-Grace and his decorative panels “Les Saisons” were published by the Champenois firm, who he would sign an exclusive contract with around 1897.  Between 1897 and 1899, he had several solo exhibitions including shows at the Bodiniere Gallery and the Salon des Cent, in Paris, the Topic Gallery in Prague. As well, Mucha participated in the first exhibition of the Vienna Secession.

From 1904 – 1910 Mucha traveled and lived in America visiting New York, Boston, Chicago, and Philadelphia.  While there, he painted society portraits and met Charles Crane, who would later sponsor his work on the Slav Epic project. From 1905 – 1907, he worked on commissions and taught at art schools in New York, Chicago and Philadelphia.  In June 1906, he married Maruška Chytilová (a former art student in Prague), with whom he had daughter Jaroslava, and  son Jiri.

Mucha, Maruška, and their daughter returned to Prague in 1910 where he would spend the next 18 years working on his Slav Epic project – a series of twenty paintings depicting the history of the Slav people.  In 1928, the completed series was officially presented to the Czech people and the City of Prague and was shown at the city’s Trade Fair Palace.  In 1931, Mucha was commissioned to design a stained glass window for the St. Vitus Cathedral, in Prague, donated by the Slavia Bank.

With the German invasion of Czechoslovakia in 1939, Mucha was immediately arrested and questioned by the Gestapo.  He was eventually released, but, having suffered from pneumonia in the Autumn of 1938, his health was weakened by the ordeal.  Alphonse Mucha died on July 14, 1939 and is buried at Vysehrad cemetery.  Over 100,000 Czechs attended the funeral despite the Nazi ban.

Sources: Mucha Foundation, Mucha Museum, Wikipedia, Artchive