Alfons Maria Mucha (1860 - 1939) was a painter and decorative artist born in Moravia, now Czech Republic. His works are an integral part of the Art Nouveau art movement, popular at the turn of the twentieth century. This style of art was most prominent from 1890 to 1910, inspired by natural forms and structures and is often regarded as a reaction to the academic art of the 19th century.
Mucha was probably the single most famous and influential artist of the whole Art Nouveau movement in Europe and he is best known for his luxurious poster and product designs, which encapsulate the Art Nouveau style.
The leading Parisian actress, Sarah Bernhardt was the single most influential figure in Mucha’s life as an artist. It was his first poster for her, Gismonda, that made him famous and he grew both as a man and an artist through his professional collaboration and friendship with the greatest stage personality of the era.
His works were to revolutionise poster design. The long narrow shape, the subtle pastel colours and the stillness of the near life-size figure introduced a note of dignity and sobriety, which were quite startling in their novelty. The posters immediately became objects of desire to collectors, many of whom used clandestine methods to obtain them, either bribing bill stickers or simply going out at night and cutting them down from the hoardings.
Here in Mucha’s gorgeous rendering of Gustave Flaubert’s Salammbô (1896), the artist takes the incense, flowers and peacock feathers of the Carthaginian heroine, with her female servant, and renders them in the bold-lined, glowing, graphic style that assured his fame as a master Art Nouveau confectioner.
Mucha died in Prague on 14 July 1939, due to lung infection, shortly after he was released from interrogation by the Nazis who had moved into Czechoslovakia earlier that year.
He considered The Slav Epic - a series of 20 really huge paintings depicting the history of the Czech and the Slavic people - his life’s fine art masterpiece.
After a prolonged period of official neglect, contemporary interest in his work was revived in 1980 after an exhibition of his art at the Grand Palais in Paris.