Thursday, August 19, 2010

The Father of Art Nouveau

You’ve seen pictures like this before: gorgeous artwork featuring beautiful women with flowing hair advertising beer, liquors and cigarettes. What you may not know is many of these were designed by the Czech Art Nouveau painter Alphonse Mucha.

Mucha, who has been called “the father of Art Nouveau,” spent most of his life painting and learning to paint until his big break came in his mid-thirties, when he happened to stumble into a print shop in Paris. The print shop desperately needed a poster for a play starring Sarah Bernhardt, who was the most well-known actress in Paris at the time. Mucha volunteered his services, and in two weeks, the advertisement premiered and was an overnight sensation. Bernhardt herself loved the poster so much she went on to do many other projects with Mucha.

Mucha became synonymous with the Art Nouveau style, really helping to pioneer it. (Ironically, Mucha often tried to distance himself from what he felt was his “commercial” work, opposed to the more “artistic” works he longed to create.) Mucha’s paintings featured strong, beautiful women in flowing robes with lush flowers encircling their heads. His paintings used pastel colors, a sharp contrast to the bold colors that were in style at the time. Mucha’s popularity was so great that when Czechoslovakia won its independence after World War I, Mucha designed the new postage stamps, banknotes, and other government documents. However, his paintings began considered “reactionary,” and when Germany invaded Czechoslovakia, Mucha was arrested by the Gestapo and fell ill with pneumonia during his interrogation. He died shortly after his release.

Despite being known for his advertisements, Mucha spent more than a decade working on The Slav Epic (Slovanská epopej), a series of 20 immense paintings depicting the history of the Czech and the Slavic people. (See them here.) Mucha considered them his life’s greatest achievement and they were on display for a number of years, until they were buried to hide them from Nazi art thieves during World War II. The pictures remained in hiding during Czechoslovakia's communist occupation, and has only recently been on display in a château in the small town of Ivanice. Prague is currently working on bringing the work to the capital. (Read more here...)

From other artists to architecture to jewelry to CD covers, the father of Art Nouveau’s contribution to the art world is immeasurable, and his style has influenced almost every area of the visual arts. His legacy continues to live on, and he was honored with a Google Doodle in memory of his 150th birthday in July of this year.

-Heather Tinley, Opera Colorado Marketing Coordinator

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