Friday, June 15, 2012

Designer of the Month: Alphonse Mucha

Week 2: Early career and Sarah Bernhardt

Alphonse Mucha, Poster for 'Cours Mucha' at the Académie Colarossi, 1892. © Mucha Trust.

Born in 1860 in Ivančice, a South Moravian town in the Eastern part of the Czech Republic, Alphonse Maria Mucha was a poor student, but showed an interest in art from a young age, devoting much of his spare time to drawing and designing stage sets.[1] After working in Vienna as a scene painter, Mucha studied at the Academy of Fine Arts in Munich before joining the Académie Julian and then the Académie Colarossi in Paris.[2] After school, Mucha began working as a professional illustrator, securing commissions for everything from covers for magazines, lottery tickets, school manuels, and theatrical costumes and stage sets.[3] In addition to becoming known for his illustrations, Mucha also begins teaching during this time. In 1892, he begins giving drawing lessons in his studio, called "Cours Mucha," which proved so successful that he was later asked to teach at the Académie Colarossi.[4]

Alphonse Mucha, Poster for ’Gismonda’, 1894. Color lithograph. © Mucha Trust.

But it was 1894 that marks the start of Mucha's Art Nouveau period and subsequent fame. According to the legend, which was created by Mucha himself and elaborated over the years, he was alone at the offices of Lemercier, a well-known printer, over Christmas Day and St. Stephan's Day, proofing lithographs for a friend:
Just as he was completing the work, Monsieur de Brunoff, Lemercier's manager, rushed in and informed him that Sarah Bernhardt had just telephoned to say she needed a poster to be ready by New Year's Day. It was for Sardou's play Gismonda; attendances had been flagging and a boost was needed to revive it in the New Year. As it was a holiday period, all Lemercier's regular poster artists - including Georges de Feure and Fernand Gottlob - were away. Could Mucha do it? Mucha was willing to try...On the manager's return on December 30th the poster was printed and hanging up to dry. De Brunoff was horrified. He was certain Sarah would reject the poster and felt his own situation at risk, but there was no time left to change it...Mucha, thoroughly unnerved by De Brunoff, sank into depression in the Lemercier studio until roused by a telephone call summoning him to the theater. Feeling like a condemned man on his way to the scaffold, Mucha went, only to find Sarah entranced by her image in the poster. She loved the work, welcomed Mucha, and soon tied him into a contract with her to design not only posters, theater cards and programmes, but also costumes and stage sets - a collaboration that often extended to the whole production.[5] 
While this may have been a bit of a dramatic version of the events, the poster caused an immediate sensation.[6] Crowds of people gathered around them; collectors either tried to bribe or steal them.[7] The poster's design - the long narrow shape, subtle pastel colors, intricate, linear pattern, and the stillness of the near life-size figure - were startling in their novelty, and became the pattern for the additional six posters that Mucha would go on to produce for Bernhardt's productions: La Dame aux Camélias (1896), Lorenzaccio (1896), La Samaritaine (1897), Médée (1898), La Tosca (1898) and Hamlet (1899).[7]

Alphonse Mucha, Poster for 'Medée,' 1898. Color lithograph. © Mucha Trust.

[1] Mucha Foundation online, "Timeline,", (accessed June 12, 2012).

[2] Ibid.

[3] Ibid.

[4] Ibid.

[5] Victor Arwas, Alphonse Mucha: Master of Art Nouveau (New York: St. Martin's Press, 1985), 10.

[6] Ibid., 11.

[7] Ibid., 11.

[8] Mucha Foundation online, "Gallery: Themes, Sarah Bernhardt,", (accessed June 12, 2012).

No comments:

Post a Comment

Thanks for your comments - they mean the world to me!