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Sunday, September 13, 2015

Alfons Mucha


Autumn
1896
oil on panel
Private collection

Alfons Maria Mucha (1860 - 1939), known in English as Alphonse Mucha, was born in the town of Moravia, now in the Czech Republic, then part of the Austro-Hungary Empirer.
His father was a court usher, and the family had but modest means. The future painter was raised in an atmosphere of strict Roman Catholicism, and this would later be reflected in the symbolism he employed in his work. He joined the choir at St. Peter's Cathedral and pursued singing seriously for a while, but was forced to abandon it after his voice started cracking.

He was a prolific and prominent painter and decorative artist of the late 19th and early 20th Centuries, known best for his distinct style what was termed Mucha Style but became known as Art Nouveau. He applied his considerable talents to a wide variety of pursuits ranging from painting and sculpture to poster, magazine, and calendar illustration, and product and architectural design, as well as designs for jewelery, wallpaper, theater sets, etc. His style of painting influenced an entire generation of painters, graphic artists, draughtsmen and designers and in the minds of many.

His works frequently featured beautiful healthy young women in flowing vaguely Neoclassical looking robes, surrounded by lush flowers which formed halos behind the women's heads. In contrast with contemporary poster makers he used pale pastel colors. The Art Nouveau style, however, was one that he attempted to disassociate himself from throughout his life; he always insisted that rather than maintaining any fashionable stylistic form, his paintings were entirely a product of himself and Czech art. He declared that art existed only to communicate a spiritual message, and nothing more.

Mucha worked on his most famous work, The Slav Epic, which consisted of 20 paintings that featured major points in Czech history and of other Slavic countries, but the rising tide of fascism during the late 1930s resulted in Mucha's works, as well as his Slavic nationalism, being denounced in the press as 'reactionary'.

In 1938, Czechoslovakia was taken over by Nazi Germany and, in 1939, since the suppression of nationalism was high on the agenda of the conquerors, Mucha, with his history of patriotism and Pan-Slavism, was among the first persons to be arrested and incarcerated by the Gestapo at the onset of World War II. During his interrogation, the aging artist became ill with pneumonia. Though released eventually, he died in Prague on 14 July 1939, of a lung infection, and was interred there in the Vy?ehrad cemetery. His son, author, 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 1960's with a general interest in Art Nouveau.