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.
This “comedy by Maurice Donnay starred Maurice Granier and Lucien Guitry, and premiered on November 5, 1895. There is very rich ornamentation… which adroitly divides it into three scenes and thereby harmonizes elements which might otherwise appear quite busy: there is a Punch-and-Judy show in the upper left, a tragic commentary in the upper right, and the entire bottom section is given to the play’s party scene, replete with fashionable guests, strolling violinists, dancers, flowers, champagne, and other indications of a good time had by all” (Rennert/Weill. p. 62). This poster has the finest colors we’ve ever seen!
“Alexander Dumas Jr.’s drama… had been very popular since its premier in 1852. Sarah Bernhardt considered it to be the key drama in her repertoire. This is perhaps Mucha’s most beautiful poster. The story of the tragic love of the great courtesan is portrayed in the poster with shocking impact. The figure of the heroine in a white robe leans against a balustrade with a background of silver stars. Her rich swept-back hair is adorned with her favorite flower, the camellia. This heraldic flower is repeated at the bottom of the poster, held by a mysterious hand… The tragedy is also symbolized by the hearts twined by thorny branches in the corners above the figure’s head… Mucha’s ability to characterize the substance of the play for which he created this poster, as well as his ability to express the most beautiful features of Sarah’s personality, was brought to perfection in this poster” (Mucha/Art Nouveau, p. 146). This is a two-sheet poster.
“Today La Tosca is known to most people only from the opera which Giacomo Puccini composed and introduced in 1900; however, for the 13 years prior to that, it was a romantic tragedy, written especially for Sarah Bernhardt by Victorian Sardou. Mucha’s poster shows Bernhardt in her costume for the first act of the play, dressed in a fashion dating from 1800 when the play takes place” (Rennert/Weill, p. 221).
“It is clear that Mucha understood well the principles of selling not the object itself, but the feeling that is associated with it. Here, he is barely showing a piece of the bicycle… but as to the pleasure of riding, this sylph has it all over any dreary mechanical details. Airily she caresses the machine, her windblown hair embodying motion and a restless spirit, a vision of idle loveliness and a perfect Mucha maiden. Her gaze at us is straight and direct, not flirtatious but inviting and challenging, daring us to take her on in a race… Mucha finally had a perfect subject that justified hair in motion, and he took full advantage of it, giving her the most dizzying configurations of his famous ‘macaroni’ [hair]. The Perfecta was an English brand bicycle, which makes this one of the very few Mucha posters for an English client. It was also sold in France” (Rennert/Weill, p. 294). This is the larger format.
This is Mucha’s single most famous work, though it seems impossible that such flamboyant effort would be devoted to selling cigarette papers. But the exotic tendrils of her hair conjure up the fractal whorls of smoke from an idle cigarette. The image is breathtaking; the beauty intoxicating. Photographs are seldom able to capture the metallic gold paint used for the hair, which gleams and radiates in the light, delivering an experience not unlike a religious icon.
“This poster is sharply divided into two halves, the bottom part devoted to the baby and the sales message, the top half providing a semi-circular mosaic background for the lovely mother. Note the use of the mother birds feeding their young in the decorative corners at top” (Rennert/Weill, p. 124).
This is the rare proof before letters—signed and numbered (#9 of 50) before the addition of bottom text. “This poster is one of the artist’s first works to follow his standard archetype. It advertises the twentieth exhibition of the group of artists who exhibited at the premises of the art journal La Plume. The members were famous Parisian artists: Toulouse-Lautrec, Bonnard, Steinlen, Ensor, Grasset, Rassenfosse, and the American Louis Rhead. Mucha’s ambition was to become a member of the group, and he succeeded with this poster, which attracted the attention of the gallery owner, Léon Deschamps. [He] visited Mucha in his studio while he was designing the poster. Fascinated by what he saw, he persuaded Mucha to print it in this unfinished version, according to the artist. Mucha agreed, and the publisher’s feeling, that this lightly outlined, impressive poster would make Mucha famous, proved to be correct” (Mucha/Art Nouveau, p. 156).
“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 first state before the addition of text and in the larger format. (4)
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.
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.
“In both of Mucha’s posters for Job cigarette papers… he gives us women sensually involved in the act of smoking. Here, the figure is full-length, her abandoned hair an echo of the pale fabric volumes of her gown. As she watches the lazy waft of smoke, even her toes curl deliciously in pleasure. The artist’s meticulous craftsmanship can be seen in such details as the gown’s clasp (of Mucha’s own design), and in the way he worked the product name into the background pattern” (Gold, p. 2).
“The Moravian Teachers’ Choir was a choral ensemble which presented programs of popular and classical choral works. They were quite well known in Czechoslovakia as well as the rest of Europe and America where they toured extensively… The idealized, ultra-elegant and ethereally lovely Mucha maiden of his Paris period has been replaced by a pert, down-to-earth rustic lass in an attitude of listening to a thrush… The poster is extremely rare” (Rennert/Weill, p. 336).