(1860–1939) Czech Illustrator, Designer, Painter
The essential Art Nouveau illustrator and decorative artist, best known for his dense style and lovely women, active in Paris from the late 1880s. Moravian by birth, devoted to celebrating Slavic history, he nonetheless came to fame as a designer of posters and advertisements in Belle Epoque Paris, associated with the style of Art Nouveau and often credited with its invention. He worked in Vienna and studied in Munich, later continuing at Académie Colaross and Académie Julian in Paris.
“Mucha moved to Paris in 1887…[and] worked at producing magazine and advertising illustrations. Around Christmas 1894, Mucha happened to drop into a print shop where there was a sudden and unexpected need for a new advertising poster for a play starring Sarah Bernhardt, the most famous actress in Paris, at the Théâtre de la Renaissance on the Boulevard Saint-Martin. Mucha volunteered to produce a lithographed poster within two weeks, and on 1 January 1895, the advertisement for the play Gismonda by Victorien Sardou appeared on the streets of the city. It was an overnight sensation and announced the new artistic style and its creator to the citizens of Paris. Bernhardt was so satisfied with the success of this first poster that she entered into a 6 year contract with Mucha.” (The preceding [and a few facts to follow] from a biographical sketch at RO Gallery, a Long Island City auctioneer. See here.)
Mucha worked on print design projects (books, posters, advertisements), furnishings, and adornments. Unlike the shape-driven juxtapositions of mass and color that characterize the postered designs Chéret and especially Toulouse-Lautrec, Mucha’s tendrils and decorations are defined primarily through linear key drawings, often printed in dark value browns over light- and mid-value color masses. Mucha’s representations of women—who might be selling bicycles, biscuits or tobacco papers—are typically dense with cascading drapery, flowers, and hair.
A stylistic innovator, Mucha also helped to pioneer the self-loathing “commercial” type. Later in life he spoke disparagingly of his best work in favor of the real stuff (a painting cycle titled “The Slav Epic”) which while skillfully wrought, suffered from a certain bombast. He was a genuine Czech patriot, however, and was among the first rounded up by the Nazis after the Werhmacht invaded Czechoslovakia in 1939. Months later Mucha died at home, of pneumonia.