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.
Herein lies a tale. Lygie was a character in Henryk Sienkiewicz’s novel Quo Vadis: A Narrative of the Time of Nero, published in 1895-6, which quickly became famous throughout Europe. Lygie, the princess of a barbarian tribe, was enslaved by the Roman Senate, and secretly converted to Christianity before falling in love with Marcus, a patrician military leader. Jack Rennert picks up the story from there: “A young Paris dancer, using the stage name of Lygie, made her reputation at the Folies-Bergere staging most of Mucha’s posters and decorative panels as tableaux vivants … Who this Lygie was is not quite clear, but the fact that Mucha designed a poster for her gives us reason to assume that he might have been involved in the venture more than just as a poster artist … Whatever the relation between Mucha and Lygie, her show, opening March 7, 1901, at the Folies-Beregere under the direction of M. Marchand, was a great success … It is one of Mucha’s finest creations in his favorite vertical format, incorporating the usual circular elements and decorative borders, with stylized irises as the dominant motif for the girl’s hair and for the background hues” (Rennert/Weill, p. 284).
One of Mucha’s most spare and dignified designs, this thoughtful muse presents American-made Waverley Cycles to a French audience. The laurels in her hand represent the many awards won by the brand, while the anvil signifies strength of craftsmanship. With nothing but the stalk and handlebars of the cycle on display, it’s radically different than virtually every other bicycle ad of the period. Its success depends upon the strength of its colors, the immediate impact of its symbolism, Mucha’s artistry, and, of course, the semi-nude woman out in front.
A standalone Summer stunner from Mucha’s 1900 “Seasons” set. The exquisite line of the maiden, and the rich sunny amber of the wheat fields, are both set off by an ornamental border which extends around three sides. In this version, the Champenois identification in the bottom panel is omitted, as is the ode to eaach season: “Summer covers the ripening harvest with its salutary rays,” which occurs in the full set (Lot 400).
Heather from Brittany; Holly from Normandy. Both the flora and the costumes of the two women symbolize these seaside provinces of northwestern France, which look across to one another, both in these pictures and on the map. “Mucha himself, according to his son Jiri, always referred to the pictures as ‘La Bretonne’ and ‘La Normande.’ Their official names are Chardon de Greves (Thistle of the Beach) and Bruyere de Falaise (Heather of the Cliffs). The thistle depicted here, however, is a common European plant of the eryngo family named Sea Holly – the real thistle would be too prickly” for the pose (Rennert/Weill, p. 290). Note the superb decoration at the bottom margin, which appears to anticipate the most elaborate interior design flourishes of the Art Deco period.