Friday, June 22, 2012

Designer of the Month: Alphonse Mucha

Week 3: Le Plume, Salon des Cents and the Imprimerie Champenois

Alphonse Mucha, Poster for 'Salon des Cent Mucha Exhibition June 1897', 1897. Color lithograph. © Mucha Trust.

After his poster for Gismonda caused a fuss in 1894 and Sarah Bernhardt locked him down with a six year contract, Alphonse Mucha quickly became Paris' poster designer superstar. The editor of Le Plume, a monthly publication that championed the art and writing of the avant-garde, invited Mucha to contribute to the magazine and design of a poster for its art gallery, Salon des Cent.[1] According to the Mucha Foundation, the poster he designed (above) "depicts a woman with distinctly Slavonic features wearing a Moravian bonnet and a wreath of daisies. She holds up a panel with a heart encircled by three decorative garlands. Composed of daisies, thorns and fruits, this motif symbolizes the complexity of life."[2] This relationship led to a major exhibition at the Salon des Cent in 1897 that showcased 448 of Mucha's works - a tremendous figure - with the invitation for the associated private viewing reproducing this work.[3] So, how does one know that they've become a superstar? By the legends surrounding you, of course, with "some asserting he was a Hungarian or even Spanish and one particularly charming one claiming that Sarah Bernhardt had stolen him away from a gypsy camp."[4]

Alphonse Mucha, The Seasons (series), 1896. Color lithograph. © Mucha Trust.

It was during this time, in 1896, that Mucha signed a contract with the Imprimerie Champenois, one of the most important printers of the period, who would further help spread his reputation by inventing a new genre: decorative panels (‘panneaux décoratifs’).[5] Mucha ended up producing several sets of these decorative panels including the above work, The Seasons (1896), in addition to The Flowers (1898), The Arts (1898), The Times of the Day (1899), The Precious Stones (1900), and The Moon and the Stars (1902).[6]  In this way, by releasing Mucha's designs in multiple editions, the Imprimerie Champenois maximized their business while Mucha transformed his work into a novel art form that was both affordable and available to a wider public than ever before, bringing him even wider fame and recognition.[7]

Alphonse Mucha, Zodiac, 1896. Color lithograph. © Mucha Trust.

In response to the popularity of his posters, the Imprimerie Champenois introduced Mucha’s work not only on decorative panels, but calendars, postcards, theatre programs, and menus as well, licensing his designs and illustrations to companies and publications throughout Europe and North America and turning Mucha into a household name.[8] Before his designs for decorative panels, Mucha's first work for the Imprimerie Champenois was Zodiac (1896). Originally designed as an in-house calendar for the company, it would quickly attract wider attention, including that of Léon Deschamps, chief editor of La Plume, who was so taken by Zodiac that bought the rights to distribute it as the magazine's 1897 calendar.[9] From there, the work went on to become one of Mucha's most popular designs, with at least nine variants of the lithograph that are known, including the one above, which was printed without text to serve as a decorative panel.[10]

[1] Victor Arwas, Alphonse Mucha: Master of Art Nouveau (New York: St. Martin's Press, 1985), 14.

[2] Mucha Foundation online, "Gallery,", (accessed June 21, 2012).

[3] Victor Arwas,
Alphonse Mucha: Master of Art Nouveau (New York: St. Martin's Press, 1985), 14.

[4] Ibid., 14.

[5] Mucha Foundation online, "Gallery: Art Posters,", (accessed June 21, 2012).

[6] Ibid.

[7] Ibid.

[8] Victor Arwas, Alphonse Mucha: Master of Art Nouveau (New York: St. Martin's Press, 1985), 14.

[9] Much Foundation online, "Gallery,", (accessed June 21, 2012).

[10] Ibid.

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