More than Nouveau

Think of your perfect day. Perhaps you fly to Paris where you sip red wine and eat pastries and cheese and other good things until you are fit to burst. As the sun sets and twilight falls, you walk along the River Seine and a chill wind comes off the water. Pulling your warm but light jacket around you, you snuggle into the collar and rush back to your hotel where a bottle of the finest true champagne awaits you. As you walk out onto the balcony and sip bubbles from a crystal glass, you look out over the city lights and sigh. This is how I feel when I look at the work of Alfons Maria Mucha. I don’t know why, but I can attest that it is a wonderful feeling. His work is divine, with splashes of pastel colour, burnt oranges and reds, muted earth tones; like the perfect cocktail delivered to you balanced inside a posy of spring flowers.

Alfons Mucha’s life makes for an interesting tale in itself. Born in the town of Ivančice, Moravia, in the Czech Republic, in 1879 he moved to Vienna to work for a major Viennese theatrical design company. After a fire destroyed the business he returned to his place of birth and worked freelance. Hired by Count Karl Khuen to paint his castle, the Count was so delighted with the murals that he decided to sponsor Alfons so that he could complete his formal training at the Munich Academy of Fine Arts.

Nearly a decade later Alfons relocated to continue his study, and he also began producing magazine and advertising illustrations. Hi big break came in 1895 when he created an advertising poster for a play starring the famous actress Sarah Bernhardt. She too fell in love with his work and signed him up to a 6 year contract. In 1900 his work was given International exposure when he decorated several pavilions for the Universal Exhibition in Paris. Often associated with the creation of the Art Nouveau style, Alfons chose to try and distance himself from this label preferring to see his work as a representation of his soul rather than a fashionable statement.

When Czechoslovakia won its independence after the First World War, Alfons was called on to designed the new postage stamps, banknotes, and other government documents for the new state. How beautiful these must have been! But all too soon, World War II began and it was to have devastating effects on Alfons’ life and health. When Germany invaded Czechoslovakia in the Spring of 1939, one of the first persons to be captured by the Gestapo was Alfons. His work was considered reactionary, and his Slavis devotion only compelled his guilt in Nazi eyes. While being interrogated he developed pneumonia, and though he survived and was eventually released, he was never quite the same man. He died in Prague later that year and is interred there in the Vyšehrad cemetery.

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