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.
“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.
This original, unsigned, framed crayon-on-paper drawing appears to be the original life study of “Dusk” for Mucha’s 1899 Dawn and Dusk diptych. In the completed work, the composition of the background is virtually identical; however, the female figure is drawing up a sheet around her, with her hands slightly altered in position, folded upon her solar plexus. Not only is this a beautiful, romantic and erotic nude; it’s a superb example of an artist ensuring that the folds of fabric are true to the shape of the living form underneath. Sticker verso indicates it was in an exhibition in Reims. Artist’s name is misspelled as “Muscha.”
Est: $20,000-$25,000 (2).
“The mastery evident in creating two archetypes of the female form against a decorative background confirms Mucha’s artistic maturity. Both women, portrayed in profile, have their heads decorated with beautiful jewelry, the richness and oriental nature of which suggested the name Byzantine Heads for the series. The subtle differences in details between the paintings are worth noticing. For the first time, there appears the perfect form of Mucha’s often-used motif, circle framing each head interrupted by a strand of hair. With this device, it is as if Mucha’s unreachable beauties have broken the magic border between themselves and their admirers and suggest the possibility that they might, perhaps, meet.” (Mucha/Art Nouveau, p. 192). In this version, Mucha added corners filigreed with curves to the original circular designs in order to create the standard rectangular shape of decorative panels. This is the rarest of all variants.
Est: $25,000-$30,000 (2).
Mucha and Moët were always meant to be together – he created menus, postcards and other publicity for the Champagne house founded in 1743 – but this diptych is a pure transubstantiation of Moët & Chandon Champagne into artistic form. It has the most pleasing balance of colors and textures of all the versions we’ve featured in previous years. The Crémant Impérial becomes a Byzantine empress, with a seriousness matched only by her sumptuousness; the White Star, a woodland goddess blushing with the fecundity of the season, bearing grapes as if they’re a violin she’s about to play. A masterpiece by any measure.
Zodiac “turned out to be one of [Mucha’s] most successful designs . . . The editor of La Plume liked it so much that he bought it for his magazine almost immediately and started giving it wide publicity . . . Mucha’s customary circular background here serves the functional role of carrying the symbols of the zodiac. The ornamental shapes and patterns around the perimeter are worked out with a precision and attention to detail unusual even for a meticulous artist like Mucha” (Rennert/Weill, p. 100). This is the original version before the addition of any advertising text or calendarium.