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Alphonse Mucha with his decorative posters has become a kind of trademark and synonym for the Art Nouveau movement. In the sixties his poster reproductions had a revival and were popular again among the flower-power and hippie generation.
Alfons Maria Mucha was born in Ivancice, a small provincial town in the Czech Republic.
He started his artistic career as an autodidact. Alfons Mucha had a vocational training in stage decorations in Vienna from 1879 to 1881. In the evening he attended a class in drawing. After a few occasional commissions for decorative paintings, he went to Munich in Southern Bavaria. Here he studied at the Munich Academy of Fine Arts from 1885 until 1887.
After Munich, Mucha moved to the "mecca" of arts, Paris. Here he studied with different teachers. He lived in modest conditions and could survive with small commissions for book and newspaper illustrations. For a short period he shared a studio with Paul Gauguin.
In December 1894 Mucha became famous with a commission for a poster for the actress Sarah Bernard. Sarah Bernard was a celebrity of her time. His poster design for the play Gismonda became a sensation in Paris. Sarah Bernhard was delighted. He received an exclusive contract for six consecutive years by the actress. In the following years, he not only designed all her posters, but her theater decorations and costumes as well. From now on the artist was swamped with commissions for all kind of commercial print advertising.
By this time Mucha had developed his own personal style - characterized by art nouveau elements, tender colors and bycantine decorative elements. And all these elements were ranked around images of fairy like young women with long hair and splendid, refined costumes. In the coming years, this type of female images should become his trademark.
Mucha used lithography as the printing technique for his posters. The posters are usually signed in the block. Some of his posters were produced as sets like The Four Seasons. Complete sets count among the most searched for of his works.
In 1890 the artist had his first one man show in Paris with 448 works on display. His art work was not confined to the printing media. He designed tissues, stamps and even bank bills. In 1900 he received a commission by the Austrian government to decorate the Austrian pavilion for the World Fair in Paris of 1900. He became also active in designing jewelry.
Between 1904 and 1921 Mucha traveled frequently to the United States. He took commissions in the US and taught art at art academies in New York and Chicago.
In 1939 the German Nazis occupied Czechoslovakia. The popularity of the artist made him a number one target for the Gestapo, the Nazi secret police. He was arrested, interrogated and realeased. Shortly afterwards, Alphonse Maria Mucha died on July 14, 1939 in Prague.
The city of Prague has dedicated an Alphonse Mucha Museum to the artist.
Author: Dieter Wanczura
.. more about Dieter Wanczura
, August 2001, updated September 2009.
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