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.
“The advertised product was made by Kingstown Rum and distributed by Goodridge & Wood of Kingston, in business since 1831. This is one of Mucha’s rarest posters; only one [other] copy is known to have survived. It has many of the characteristic Mucha elements—the flowing lines of the dress, the circular aureole, and rich decoration; only the girl’s hair is unusually tame” (Rennert/Weill, p. 130). Rare!!
“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.
In 1729, Nicolas Ruinart decided to start a champagne company, much like that of his uncle’s dear friend Dom Pérignon. It remained a family business out of Reims until it was taken over by the Braon Philippe de Rothschild in 1950, and then again by Moët & Chandon in 1963. It remains one of the largest champagne houses in Europe. In this brilliant design by Mucha, “the lady’s face appears to be in perfect repose, and the hand holding the glass seems steady; but her hair betrays her, scampering off in wild abandon and thus conveying the notion of the effervescent effect of the champagne. Here, the hair actually has the function of subtly conveying a quality of the product, a rather novel use of a physical attribute in advertising in its day” (Rennert/Weill, p. 86). This is a two-sheet poster.
This is the never-before-seen image announcing Sarah Bernhardt’s 1910-1911 American tour. She often reused previous designs by Mucha when announcing these overseas excursions. “As was the case with all these versions, it mentioned no name of the play, nor did it mean that the plays for which the design was originally used were presented on this tour. By the time, Sarah’s appearances were more of a personality event than a regular staging of plays: more often than not, she now gave a show consisting of a number of her favorite scenes from various plays in her repertory, and on some of these so-called farewell tours, such as the one in 1913, she actually appeared on the vaudeville circuit, where she might give just a single scene in a succession of variety acts” (Rennert/Weill, p. 108). This is a two-sheet poster and rare!
This is one of Mucha’s best sets, and one of the rarest, with only three or four known to have survived among collectors. 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. Perhaps the most unusual exotic flavor is given to the green-eyed Emerald vixen who is wearing a green snake ornament in her hair. Note that she is also leaning on an arm rest in the shape of a ferocious beast with open jaws. The lady of the Amethyst appears to have been originally bare from the waist up, because there is a letter in Mucha’s correspondence from Champenois about the subject—the printer is asking him to cover up the lady’s breast, otherwise there might be objections on moral grounds. “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. There is still a circular motif in the background, but otherwise the design is virtually bare of adornments and ornamental borders. The name of each precious stone appears in plain print in the lower margin” (Rennert/Weill, p. 264). This is in the impressive larger format. (4)
In 1896, Mucha was flush with success after his work for Sarah Bernhardt. But he was about to be exhibited alongside the stars of French fin-de-siècle lithography—Toulouse-Lautrec, Bonnard, Steinlen, Grasset—in the Salon des Cent (the Salon of the One Hundred), a new series of exhibitions hosted by the literary magazine La Plume, which championed the art of lithography. “Mucha’s ambition was to become a member of this group,” wrote Victor Arwas. The artist succeeded by attracting the attention of the gallery’s owner, Deschamps. “Deschamps visited Mucha in his studio while he was designing the poster. Fascinated by what he saw, he persuaded Mucha to print it… 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).
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.
“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).
“These two rather somber faced ladies are presented to us in a simple, straightforward design with a minimum of embellishments, which in this early period is a departure from Mucha’s usual style. There is, however, a great delicacy and tenderness in the way he pays tribute to nature’s bounty—the flowers at their fullest bloom, the fruit at its ripest, the maidens themselves representing the finest flowering of womanhood” (Rennert/Weill, p. 179). (2)
“Reminiscent in concept to the Byzantine Heads, this is a coupling of two girls’ profiles in cameos. Since they represent leafy garden plants, they are framed in pale green decorative oblongs of rich foliage. The backgrounds behind the girls in their respective cameos feature mosaic patterns. The decorative use of foliage of this sort was characteristic of many of the designs which appeared in Mucha’s Documents Décoratifs portfolio, published at the same time” (Rennert/Weill, p. 280). (2)
With text, this image advertised the sale of works by Mucha at the offices of La Plume magazine. Without text, it was offered under the title of “Femme aux Coquelicots” (Woman with Poppies) as a print. “It is a good example of Mucha’s quintessential ingredients: a languid girl, a long garment descending in graceful folds to the ground, a circular motif like a halo, plentiful flowers, and a carefully executed ornamental pattern… An unusual feature is that all known copies have hand coloring in a few areas” (Rennert/Weill, p. 219-220).
“Flirt” was a brand of biscuit sold by Lefèvre Utile, but that becomes almost irrelevant to admirers of this classic depiction of love blossoming. Indeed, it’s almost impossible to avoid falling in love with the Victorian elegance on display, with romantic effusiveness held at bay—with difficulty!—for the moment. You can just barely see the baker’s L-U logo patterned on the damsel’s dress, and doesn’t that just take the biscuit? This is the variant reprinted after the 1900 World’s Fair, announcing their Grand Prix win.