Beardsley was the greatest black and white artist since Daumier, better in some ways because purer in line. No one came close to him in the Art Nouveau age, without using colour. The best of them was the Czech Alphonse Mucha (1860-1939), another graduate of the Academie Julian, whose first work was in the theatre and who never strayed far from it.
One warms to Mucha because he tried so hard to bring art into the lives of the people – his greatest passion – by designing first class posters, advertisements, labels for soap, toothpaste and butter, mosaic panels for municipal swimming pools, crockery, textiles, jewellery (the snake bracelet and ring he designed for Sarah Bernhardt, executed by Fouquet, is perhaps the finest piece of costume jewellery ever created), postage stamps, calendars, letterheads and every conceivable kind of illustrative work. He loved Byzantine icons, collected them and copied them. He despised Art Nouveau, or said he did; not unfairly because his was really a style of its own. Anyone interested in design should study how ingeniously Mucha weaves into a single pattern frame and content, figures and decoration, lettering and picture.
He formed a commercial love alliance with Sarah Bernhardt, when he designed the poster for the play Gismonda, perhaps the greatest theatre poster ever created – along with Lautrec’s Aristide Bruant dans son Cabaret – and thereafter designed all her posters, together with costumes, sets and personal knick knacks. But Mucha needed the heady airs of Parisian cosmopolitanism: once he retreated to Bohemia in 1910 and became a Czech nationalist he fizzled out wastefully, rather like Sargent when he took up municipal wall decoration in Boston.
From Start to End
Mucha married Maruska (Marie/Maria) Chytilov? on June 10, 1906, in Prague. The couple visited the U.S. from 1906 to 1910, when their daughter, Jaroslava, was born in New York City. They also had a son, Jiri, born on March 12, 1915 in Prague – April 5, 1991 in Prague) who later became a well known journalist, writer, screenwriter, author of autobiographical novels and studies of the works of his father. There he expected to earn money to fund his nationalistic projects to demonstrate to Czechs that he had not “sold out”. He was supported by millionaire Charles R. Crane, who applied his fortune to promote revolutions, and after meeting Thomas Masaryk, Slavic nationalism. The family then returned to the Czech lands and settled in Prague, where he decorated the Theater of Fine Arts, contributed the murals in the Mayor’s Office at the Municipal House, and other landmarks of the city. When Czechoslovakia won its independence after World War I, Mucha designed the new postage stamps, banknotes, and other government documents for the new state.
Mucha considered Le Pater his printed masterpiece, and referred to it in the January 5, 1900 issue of The Sun Newspaper (New York) as the thing he had “put [his] soul into”. Printed on December 20, 1899, Le Pater was Mucha’s occult examination of the themes of The Lord’s Prayer and only 510 copies were produced.
THE SLAV EPIC
He spent many years working on what he considered his fine art masterpiece, The Slav Epic (Slovansk? epopej), a series of twenty huge paintings depicting the history of the Czech and the Slavic peoples in general, bestowed to the city of Prague in 1928. He had dreamt of completing a series such as this, a celebration of Slavic history, since he was young. Since 1963 the series has been on display in the chateau at Moravsky Krumlovat the South Moravian Region in the Czech Republic.
The rising tide of fascism in the late 1930s led to Mucha’s works, as well as his Slavic nationalism, being denounced in the press as ‘reactionary’. When German troops marched into Czechoslovakia in the spring of 1939, Mucha was among the first people to be arrested by the Gestapo. During the course of the interrogation the aging artist fell ill with pneumonia. Though eventually released, he never recovered from the strain of this event, or seeing his home invaded and overcome. He died in Prague on July 14, 1939 of a lung infection, and was interred there in the Vy?ehrad cemetery.
By the time of his death, Mucha’s style was considered outdated. However, his son, author Jiri Mucha, devoted much of his life to writing about him and bringing attention to his art. Interest in Mucha’s distinctive style experienced a strong revival in the 1960s (with a general interest in Art Nouveau) and is particularly evident in the psychedelic posters of Hapshash and the Coloured Coat, the collective name for two British artists, Michael English and Nigel Waymouth, who designed posters for groups such as Pink Floyd and The Incredible String Band.
In his own country, the new authorities were not interested in Mucha. His Slav Epic was rolled and stored for twenty-five years before being shown in Moravsky Krumlov and only recently has a Mucha museum appeared in Prague, run by his grandson, John Mucha.
It has continued to experience periodic revivals of interest for illustrators and artists. It is a strong acknowledged influence for Stuckist painter Paul Harvey whose subjects have included Madonna and whose work was used to promote The Stuckists Punk Victorian show at the Walker Art Gallery during the 2004 Liverpool Biennial. the japanese manga artist Naoko Takeuchi released a series of official posters depicting five of the main characters from her manga series Sailor Moon mimicking Mucha’s style. Another manga artist, the 1962 born Masakazu Katsura has also mimicked Mucha’s style several times. Comic book artist and current Marvel Comics Editor in Chief Joe Quesada also borrowed heavily from Mucha’s techniques for a series of covers, posters, and prints. Grindcore and sludge metal band Soilent Green used a picture by Mucha for the cover of their album Sewn Mouth Secrets.
One of Mucha’s paintings, Quo Vadis or alternately Petronius and Eunice, was the subject of a legal dispute in 1986. The judgment handed down by Richard Posner describes parts of Mucha’s life and work biographically.
Among his many other accomplishments, Mucha was also the founder of Czech Freemasonry.