Alphonse Mucha (1860-1939)

Waverly Cycles – Mucha, Alphonse

Alphonse Mucha was a Czechoslovakian artist who epitomized the Art Nouveau movement which flourished in Europe around the turn of Twentieth Century and took its name from a shop, L’Art Nouveau, opened in Paris by Siegfried Bing in 1895. One of the characteristics of this movement is the attempt to make everything art and erase the division between art and life.

He went to Paris in 1887 and studied at the Academie Julian while realistically living the life of the impoverished and starving artist. However, in 1895 he designed a poster for actress Sarah Bernhardt’s appearance in the the theatre production Gismonda and it was so well received he almost became an overnight success. He worked with her for many years and designed posters for her stage appearances and jewelry for her to wear in her stage roles.

He later designed jewelry for the famous Parisian jeweler Georges Fouquet (1862-1957). The rather austere and repressive Victorian attitude of the time towards women and sexuality was gradually giving way to a more liberal attitude and Mucha’s admiration of the female form and natural artistic talent harmonized perfectly with the changing spirit of the times. His paintings and drawings emphasize the flowing, sinuous curves of the natural female shape.

Femme aux Coquelicots Mucha, Alphonse

In the nineteenth century corsets were worn by women in America and England. The ‘typical’ Victorian woman showed off the higher social state of her husband through her fragility, paleness, and a tight, corseted waist giving the popular ‘hourglass’ figure. Some feminists feel that the corset, which uncomfortably distorted the natural shape of a woman, signified male control over women by restricting their mobility. Mucha’s paintings of women in flowing robes with a clear freedom of movement, as exemplified in the advertisement for Waverley cycles, suggest a very different view of female beauty from the rigidly bound and corseted body of the typical Victorian female ideal. Here is freedom riding on a bicycle and hair which can blow free in the wind.

The decades around the turn of the century marked the beginning of the consumer society and the mass production of art and household objects with decorative design. Mucha encouraged the use of his free flowing style in which, nonetheless, great attention is paid to detail.

When the Germans invaded Czechoslavkia in 1939 Mucha was picked up by the Gestapo and questioned. He died on July 14, 1939.

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