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.
A liqueur made by Parisian Trappist monks requires a bit of reverence: an ideal commission for Mucha, whose first artistic epiphany arrived while he was a young chorister at a Czech cathedral, and had a revelation while gazing at the baroque embellishments. This time, our maiden’s divine halo is a labyrinth of concentric circles enclosing Celtic-style crosses. Rather than the wild, sensuous tangles of Job’s leading lady, “the hair is entirely orderly and hangs down in a single thick strand, but that is because it has the function to lead our eyes to the tabouret in the foreground which holds the bottle” (Rennert/Weill, p. 134). This is a two-sheet poster.
Mucha. Sarah Bernhardt. Hamlet. What more needs to be said? Bernhardt gazes out hauntingly as the Prince of Denmark; behind her is the Ghost of Hamlet’s Father; below her feet, the drowned Ophelia. “What a piece of work is a man, how noble in reason, how infinite in faculties…” After performing in Britain, the Birmingham Gazette wrote, “[Bernhardt’s] Hamlet is a man in constant frenzy, possessed with the one thought of avenging his father’s death. He is not mad, but maddened.” The rest is silence. This is a two-sheet poster.
Sarah Bernhardt made one of her periodical tours of the United States from January through June of 1896. In the process, not only did she introduce American audiences to her luminescent acting style, but also to her personal posterist, Alphonse Mucha. She had the two-sheet “Gismonda” design (see PAI-LXXXIV, 380) recreated at Strobridge and used it throughout her American tour.
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, wider margins, and the best specimen we’ve seen!
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 seminude woman out in front.
“This is one of the rarest posters by Mucha—a great pity because it is a veritable pastel rhapsody. It is one of the very few of his works that does not bear his signature—although, in this case, there is not the slightest doubt that it is actually Mucha’s work… Flowers whose fragrances are used in the trade abound throughout the design, in the girl’s hair as well as in the decorative panels… The girl is one of Mucha’s loveliest creations; a bit more like a real girl of flesh and blood than some of the idealized ladies which he often depicts” (Rennert/Weill, p. 260).
“One of Mucha’s best Czech posters, printed by the firm of V. Neubert in the Smichov quarter of Prague, was for Princezna Hyacinta, a fairy-tale ballet and pantomime with music by Oskar Nedbal and libretto by Ladislav Novák. The portrait of the popular actress Andula Sedlácková as the princess dominates the poster. The plot develops as a dream of a village blacksmith who falls asleep after digging for a buried treasure. In his dreams he becomes lord of a castle, and his daughter Hanicka becomes the Princess Hyacinth. Of her three suitors, one is a sorcerer who abducts her to his underground palace, but she is rescued by a poor knight who looks like her real-life lover. Mucha used the motif of the hyacinth throughout the entire design, from embroideries to silver jewelry, and for an elaborate circle sparkling against the mossy green background. The portrait of the actress is seen against a sky full of stars and encircled with images from the dream: the blacksmith’s tools, a gold crown, hearts speared by arrows of love, the sorcerer’s alchemical vessels, and his strange monsters” (Mucha/Art Nouveau, p. 175). This is the finest specimen we’ve ever seen!
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