While a choirboy at the Cathedral of St. Peter & Paul in Brno, the capital of Moravia, Alphonse Mucha had a divine revelation about the nature of the Baroque aesthetic. It took him to Vienna, Munich, and finally to Paris, where the 1900 Universal Exhibition brought him international renown. The spiritual and the commercial appear perfectly wedded in his work, but he was conflicted about this his entire life.
In subdued pastels, this “quartet of barefoot young ladies represents the different times of the day. The borders are decorated in identical patterns… and the crisscross areas at the top have different floral panels. Each girl appears in an outdoor setting, with slender trees or tall flowers emphasizing her slim figure… The borders are worked out in such an exquisite pattern that each picture appears to be mounted in an elaborate frame of its own, or else seen through a decorated window. Quite possibly Mucha’s whole concept for the series was that of gothic stained-glass windows” (Rennert/Weill, p. 232). This is the larger format.
“Mucha went all out with a most opulent design. The shy maiden, kneeling, enraptured with the tranquility of the bay of Monte Carlo, is completely encircled by the curving stalks of lilacs and hydrangeas, featuring some of the most intricate conflorescences ever painted by Mucha. Since the client was a railroad—Chemin de Fer P.L.M.—it is probable that the design is meant to suggest the tracks and wheels that convey the public to Monte Carlo. The maiden is probably Spring herself, enraptured with the beauty of the seascape” (Rennert/Weill, p. 136). This is the variant with the railroad information printed in the lower right.
Sarah Bernhardt adopts the pose of a pensive Lorenzo the Magnificent (1449-1492), the most powerful of the Medicis, in this play by Alfred de Musset. In the drama, Lorenzaccio struggles to save Florence, which had grown rich during his reign, from the grip of a power-hungry conqueror. Mucha represents this tyranny with a dragon menacing the city coat of arms (top left); Lorenzo has closed the book he was reading to ponder his course of action. Bernhardt adapted this 1863 play for herself, and the new version, represented by this poster, opened December 3, 1896. “Never afraid to tackle a male role, Bernhardt made Lorenzaccio one of the regular parts of her repertoire” (Lendl/Prague, p. 47). Anatole France’s review says it all: “In her latest transformation she is astonishing… She has created a living masterpiece by her sureness of gesture, the tragic beauty of her pose and glance, the increased power in the timbre of her voice, and the suppleness and breadth of her diction—through her gifts, in the end, for mystery and terror” (Bernhardt/Gottlieb, p. 140). This is the two-sheet larger format.
“Mucha’s beauteous maiden advertises a spray perfume—apparently something of a novelty at this time, as the fact that the container dispenses the fragrance ‘automatically’ is stressed in the copy. The design is one of the earliest to feature what were to become Mucha’s trademark elements: a girl with buoyant hair, an elegant dress whose every fold is meticulously noted, a circular background with a mosaic pattern and decorative rosettes, well executed lettering which complements the theme of the poster, and gentle pastel colors” (Lendl/Prague, p. 112).
This is the Topaz panel from Mucha’s revered Precious Stones. “One of Mucha’s best sets, and one of the rarest… Each gem is represented by a lovely lady, and its characteristic color, in all its hues, is worked into the entire pattern, including the girl’s dress and the flowers at her feet… This set, done appropriately enough in the period when Mucha was associated with the goldsmith Fouquet and ventured into designing jewelry, is in Mucha’s mature style” (Rennert/Weill, p. 264). The color of topaz—milky-white to reddish-orange, pale green, or the rare pink—is reflected in the maiden’s skin and in the circular background. This is the smaller format.
Est: $40,000-$50,000 (4)
A rare appearance of Mucha’s full Arts quartet: Music, with her songbirds on a branch and the winds of emotion through her skirts; Dance, a blush of toe-point passion and sweeping precision; Painting, with concentric rainbows emanating from a flower, plucked; and Poetry, crowned with laurels, meditating on the poplars upon Mount Olympus. “Practicing an art, no matter how well or badly, is a way to make your soul grow,” wrote Kurt Vonnegut. The portfolio cover is included.
“One of Mucha’s best Czech posters, printed by the firm of V. Neubert in the Smichov quarter of Prague, was for Princezna Hyacinta, a fairy-tale ballet and pantomime with music by Oskar Nedbal and libretto by Ladislav Novák. The portrait of the popular actress Andula Sedlácková as the princess dominates the poster. The plot develops as a dream of a village blacksmith who falls asleep after digging for a buried treasure. In his dreams he becomes lord of a castle, and his daughter Hanicka becomes the Princess Hyacinth. Of her three suitors, one is a sorcerer who abducts her to his underground palace, but she is rescued by a poor knight who looks like her real-life lover. Mucha used the motif of the hyacinth throughout the entire design, from embroideries to silver jewelry, and for an elaborate circle sparkling against the mossy green background. The portrait of the actress is seen against a sky full of stars and encircled with images from the dream: the blacksmith’s tools, a gold crown, hearts speared by arrows of love, the sorcerer’s alchemical vessels, and his strange monsters” (Mucha/Art Nouveau, p. 175).
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In-gallery viewing October 11 to 26 (daily 11am-6pm)