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.
Est: $60,000-$70,000 (4)
“One of Mucha’s most endearing and enduring sets… Spring is a blonde sylph who seems to be fashioning a makeshift lyre out of a bent green branch and her own hair, with some birds as interested spectators. Summer, a brunette, sits dreamily on the bank of a pond, cooling her feet in the water and resting her head against a bush. Autumn is an auburn lady, making ready to partake of the ripe grape. Winter, her brown hair barely visible as she huddles in a long green cloak, snuggles by the snow-covered tree trying to warm a shivering bird with her breath” (Rennert/Weill, p. 90). It’s not only the passage of time that makes this series rare—they were difficult to find even at the time of their publication. The editor of The Poster couldn’t help a reader locate this set back in 1899, concluding: “they are getting scarce” (January 1899, p. 42). This is the variant before any addition of text.
”Mucha’s tendency to combine the real with the imaginary may be witnessed in this design where the seminude model is a real person whereas the muscular printer is an allegorical figure, representing the printing industry. An unusual border of eyes in the mosaic background probably is meant to indicate the multitude of readers for whom the printing trade works. It is also one of the mystic symbols used by Mucha in several other works” (Rennert/Weill, p. 70). This is the rare, larger two-sheet version.
Est: $25,000-$30,000 (2)
“For the firm of Moët & Chandon… Mucha executed a number of designs which were used on menus, postcards and other publicity. Two of his assignments were for posters; one of them was used to advertise their White Champagne… while the other served to publicize the… Crémant Imperial. [White Star’s] seductive being tempts us with choice grapes in a lovely outdoor setting, with flowers at her feet and vine tendrils and leaves all about her head… [While Crémant Impérial is a] grand design for a grand wine—the serene repose of the classically beautiful face, the gentle flowing garment, the delicate hues, the rich ornamental pattern, and the precise handling of spaces and shapes” (Rennert/Weill, p. 244).
Est: $25,000-$30,000 (2)
“Plume et Primevère”—or, Quill and Primrose. “This series of decorative panels originally sold for 12 francs on paper, or 40 francs on satin. It depicts two rather pensive maidens, one blonde and one brunette, one holding a primrose, the other a goose quill and a leafy branch. Typical Art Nouveau ornamentation prevails in the background patterns and in the jewelry worn by the girls” (Lendl/Prague, p. 218). A recent exhibition catalogue rightly calls this a “masterful” work: “The beauty of this pair of panels lies in the contrast between the geometric mosaic behind the head of Quill and the floral ornamental circle inspired by nature behind the head of Primrose” (Mucha/Art Nouveau, p. 198).
Mucha created this tender drawing for a design executed in 1905 in New York for a dinner given in honor of the Russians at war with Japan. It was presented to the Russian ambassador Count Cassini. A certificate from Jiri Mucha, the artist’s son, is included.
One of the world’s most famous posters, this piece was commissioned to promote the historic breweries of the Meuse River Valley, as competition and corporate consolidation led to closures by the end of the 19th century. Above, our beer-maiden leans in, hops and wheat and poppies in her wild tendrils of hair. Below, on the left, the town of Bar-le-Duc, capital of the Meuse département; on the right, Les Caves du Roi, Sèvres, where a major brewery is located—both in grayscale, as if to define the difference between beer-as-business, and beer as wild-lush-delight-of-the-gods.
For many years, this design was simply known as “Reverie,” the name under which the decorative panel version of the design was widely sold by La Plume without lettering. However, further research appears to establish that its original use was as an in-house poster for a variety of establishments, from printing firms to chocolate manufacturers. Here, however, is the first incarnation of the design, used by F. Champenois to usher in the New Year of 1898. This is the version with text.
This intimate pastel and crayon drawing may not at first evince the layers of meaning that Mucha instilled within it. Mucha created this work at a time when the Czech Republic underwent many sociopolitical changes, including the proclamation of the independence of the Czechoslovak Republic (CSR) in October, 1918. The woman here becomes an allegorical personification of growth and peace—she holds in her hand branches that have symbolized growth and freedom since the middle ages. Alongside Mucha’s consideration for the future, his technical skills here are brilliant: his sensitive pencil strokes and restrained use of color create an incredibly tender and unique image.
Listen up. This poster is “extremely rare, and only two or three copies are known to have survived” (Rennert/Weill, p. 336). Mucha’s visual ode to the Moravian Teacher’s Choir is magnificently colored and detailed, exuding the atmosphere of centuries-old Czech traditions, and the mysteries of the deep Eastern European forests. The choir was well-known throughout Czechoslovakia at the time. This poster is the complete two-sheet, with a photo of the choir below.
In-gallery viewing February 8 to 23 (daily 11am-6pm)