Alfons Maria Mucha (1860-1939) was born in Moravia, today a part of the Czech Republic. He went to high school at the "Gymnázium Brno" while he pursued his passion for drawing. He made money by singing in the Cathedral of Saints Peter and Paul (in Brno) where he was artistically inspired by the church's Baroque interiors and he befriended the great (future) Czech composer, Leoš Janáček. He took jobs as a decorative painter, mostly painting theatrical scenery. Eventually he was hired-away to paint stage scenery in Vienna—the cultural center of the Austro-Hungarian Empire.
Mucha studied in Munich and Paris—where he stumbled upon a lucky break. While visiting a Paris print shop in 1894, he learned that the play Gismonda, staring the famous actress Sarah Bernhardt, was in need of an advertising poster—quick! Mucha agreed to create the artwork for the lithograph within two weeks. His Art Nouveau poster design made quite a splash when they were plastered throughout the city. Future work was ensured, including a six year contract to work for Sarah Bernhardt herself. Mucha was hired to design advertising, interior murals, postage stamps and pavilions for expositions.
Mucha was a Slavic Nationalist and he promoted his heritage's culture and history in his distinctive works. This put him in the crosshairs of Twentieth Century fascists and the Nazis, when they came to power. Arrested by the Gestapo in 1939, the aging artist developed pneumonia and died later that year.
Mucha's influence over the decorative arts was considerable—though he sought to separate himself from the larger Art Nouveau movement. He considered the genesis of his artwork to be his Slavic heritage and his own imagination—not the broader Art Nouveau trends in decorative arts. Unfortunately, his success as a commercial artist cemented his legacy more than his private "fine art" creations.
The sliding metal bookrack, shown above, was made in America in the 1910's. The two Art Nouveau maidens were clearly inspired by the Czech artist. Please click on the photo above to learn more about them.
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