Friday, June 29, 2012

Designer of the Month: Alphonse Mucha

Week 4: advertisements, the Exposition Universelle and the Slav Epic

Alphonse Mucha, Poster for 'Job' cigarette paper, 1896. Color lithograph. © Mucha Trust.

Advertising, and in particular, the artistic quality of advertising posters, was of extremely high importance within Paris during the 1890s, and Alphonse Mucha, who achieved fame during this time, was perfectly positioned to become one of the major artists creating these works.[1]As the Mucha Foundation explains:
By the 1890s posters had taken centre stage in the visual culture of the French capital. Thanks to the advancement of printing technology, the standard of colour lithography was improving and the material opulence of Belle Époque Paris provided talented artists with great opportunities to design advertising posters. The Paris hoardings had been the official posting places for advertising posters since the implementation of the Law on the Freedom of the Press in 1881; by then they had become ‘street galleries’, influencing the commercial success of both the advertisers and the artists designing the posters. In this competitive environment the artistic quality of the posters became increasingly important.[2]
In addition to art posters, Mucha's contract with the Imprimerie Champenois provided him with as much steady work - both artistic and commercial - as he desired, affording him not only fame, but financial security as well.[3] And like much of Mucha's work, many of these illustrations had numerous editions that were published in a variety of formats for both Parisian and international markets, giving them a life well beyond their intended purpose.[4]

Alphonse Mucha, Official Banquet of the Paris Exhibition 1900: design for the menu featuring a fashionable woman wearing a Mucha-style jewellery, 1900. Pencil, gouache and wash on grey paper. © Mucha Trust

Mucha's fame was further solidified with Paris' Exposition Universelle in 1900. As the first World's Fair of the new century, the Exposition Universelle was a celebration of the best that the world had to offer, with Art Nouveau front and center as the international style du jour. And as the master of Art Nouveau, Mucha was particularly well-represented at the fair through a wide variety of commissions. These included a poster for the Austrian pavilion, the decorations for the pavilion of Bosnia-Herzegovina, the selection of an exhibition of Austrian artifacts, and yet another major retrospective of his own work.[5]

Alphonse Mucha, 'The Slavic Epic' cycle No.1: The Slavs in Their Original Homeland, 1912. Egg tempera on canvas. © Mucha Trust.

It was the large-scale paintings that Mucha created for the Bosnia-Herzegovina pavilion, in particular, that would have a lasting impact on his life. Not only did these win the silver prize at the exhibition, Mucha was made a Knight of the Order of Franz Josef I for his contributions to the empire.[6] In addition to these accolades, these paintings, which had the effect of transforming the pavilion into a celebration of the history and the cultural diversity of Bosnia and Herzegovina, forced upon Mucha the life-changing decision.[7] In 1904, in order to raise funds for what would come to be his masterpiece, the Slav Epic (1911-1926), Mucha gave up Parisian life to go on a working tour of the United States.[8] While his trip did not go quite as expected, Mucha was to return to the U.S. five times over the next few years as part of his fundraising efforts, finally securing financing for the series in 1910 from the wealthy American Charles R. Crane.[9] A series of large-scale canvases (the largest measuring over 26 feet) depicting the history of the Slav people and civilization, Mucha would devote the entire latter half of his artistic career to the realization of these monumental works:
With the Slav Epic Mucha wished to unite all the Slavs through their common history and their mutual reverence for peace and learning and eventually to inspire them to work for humanity using their experience and virtue. In 1928, Mucha and Crane officially presented the complete series of the Slav Epic to the City of Prague as a gift to the nation, coinciding with the 10th Anniversary of its independence.[10]

[1] Mucha Foundation online, "Gallery: Advertising Posters,", (accessed June 28, 2012).

[2] Ibid.

[3] Ibid.

[4] Ibid.

[5] Victor Arwas, Alphonse Mucha: Master of Art Nouveau (New York: St. Martin's Press, 1985), 15.

[6] Mucha Foundation online, "Timeline,"!/timeline/alphonse-mucha-timeline/timeline_period/breakthrough-in-paris/event/mucha-is-well-represented-at-the-exposition-universelle, (accessed June 28, 2012).

[7] Victor Arwas, Alphonse Mucha: Master of Art Nouveau (New York: St. Martin's Press, 1985), 15.

[8] Ibid., 15.

[9] Ibid., 16.

[10] Mucha Foundation online, "Gallery: Slav Epic,", (accessed June 28, 2012).

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