Mucha, Alphonse

Alfonse Maria Mucha was born in 1860 in Ivancice, a small provincial town in the Czech Republic. He started his artistic career as an autodidact and from 1879 to 1881 was trained in stage decoration in Vienna. In the evenings, he attended a class in drawing. After a few occasional commissions for decorative paintings, he travelled to Munich in Southern Bavaria. Here he studied at the Munich Academy of Fine Arts from 1885 until 1887.

After Munich, Mucha moved to the Mecca of art at the time, Paris. Here he studied with different teachers. He lived modestly and survived on small commissions for book and newspaper illustrations. For a short period he shared a studio with Paul Gauguin.

In December 1894, Mucha became instantly famous after completing a commission for a poster of the actress Sarah Bernard. Bernard was a major celebrity and his poster design for the play Gismonda became a sensation in Paris.

Sarah Bernhard was delighted and she contracted Mucha to work for her exclusively for the next six years. During this time, he designed all of her posters thereby creating her public image, as well as her theater decorations and costumes as well. As a result, his services as an illustrator and designer were in great demand, with requests for commissions for all kind of commercial print advertising, stage sets, costume design and theatre sets.

Mucha’s signature style emerged during this period — characterized by art nouveau elements, tender colors and byzantine decorative elements. And all these elements were typically centered around images of fairy-like young women with long hair and in splendid, refined costumes. In the coming years, this type of female images became his trademark.

In 1890, the artist had his first one man show in Paris, displaying 448 original works. In 1900, he received a highly prized commission by the Austrian government and was asked to decorate the Austrian pavilion for the 1900 World’s Fair in Paris.

Between 1904 and 1921, Mucha traveled to the United States frequently and began accepting commissions in the US while teaching art at academies in New York and Chicago.

In 1939, the German Nazis occupied Czechoslovakia. The popularity of the artist made him a high profile target for the Nazi secret police and he was subsequently arrested, interrogated and released. Shortly afterwards, Alphonse Mucha died on July 14, 1939 in Prague.