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Alphonse Mucha’s Art for the People

/ September 29, 2021
Featuring more than 100 objects from the Mucha Trust Collection, Alphonse Mucha: Art Nouveau Visionary examines how Mucha’s art nouveau style evolved as a visual language in turn-of-the-20th-century Paris and how he later used it to express his vision for an independent Czech nation and ultimately a peaceful, respectful world. The exhibition also includes works from the NCMA collection to provide a broader international context of Mucha’s art and time. His style and ideas about beauty continue to enchant today’s viewers, and his belief in the power of art to enact positive political and social change continues to be as relevant in the 21st century as it was during Mucha’s lifetime.

Alphonse Mucha, Self-portrait wearing a Russian shirt (rubashka) at the studio in rue de la Grande Chaumière, Paris, circa 1892, modern print from original glass plate negative, 9 7/16 × 7 1/16 in., Mucha Trust Collection, © 2021 Mucha Trust

Alphonse Mucha was born in 1860 at Ivančice, a Moravian town in today’s Czech Republic, then one of the Slavic provinces of the Austrian Empire and ruled by the Habsburg dynasty. He rose to international fame in Paris during the late 1890s as a poster artist with designs for theater productions, commercial products, and decorative panels. Mucha developed a distinctive style for these designs. His visual language communicated with the wider public and was characterized by harmonious compositions and sinuous forms, combined with floral and natural motifs. By 1900 Mucha’s works had become synonymous with art nouveau, a newly emerging global decorative arts style.

The Language of Beauty

Mucha believed that a beautiful work of art would help elevate public morale and improve the quality of people’s lives, eventually creating a better society. Mucha’s advertisements were conceived in this way as a form of public art for the masses.

Alphonse Mucha, Daydream (Rêverie), 1897, color lithograph, 28 5/8 × 21 3/4 in., Mucha Trust Collection, © 2021 Mucha Trust

This design was originally made in 1897 as an image for an 1898 calendar for Champenois publishers, but its great popularity led to its swift publication as the decorative panel seen here. The composition features a dreamy young woman in a beautifully embroidered Slavic dress. She leafs through the pages of a decorative design book. Her figure is set against a prominent halo—used by Mucha as a symbol of universal harmony—which is decorated with an elaborate floral pattern.

Alphonse Mucha, Moët & Chandon: Crémant Imperial (Crémant Impérial), 1899, color lithograph, 23 5/8 × 7 7/8 in., Mucha Trust Collection, © 2021 Mucha Trust

Mucha produced a number of designs for the prestigious champagne company Moët & Chandon. Mucha conceived this design as one of a pair, advertising two different wines the company offered. For both champagnes, he used an identical tall format and his signature style featuring a full-standing figure of a woman combined with a circular motif. However, the characteristics of each champagne were represented by different types of women: while a grand-looking brunette wearing a sumptuous dress and jewelry embodied the richly aromatic “Imperial,” a sensual blond girl in a pink dress with bare feet conveyed the light and playful mood of “White Star.”

Alphonse Mucha, Flirt: Biscuits Lefèvre-Utile, 1899, color lithograph, 25 3/16 × 11 13/16 in., Mucha Trust Collection, © 2021 Mucha Trust
Alphonse Mucha, Box for Lefèvre-Utile biscuits: ordinary iced biscuits (table d’hôte glacées), 1901, tin box covered with lithographed label, H. 3 1/8 x W. 8 1/16 x D. 4 5/8 in., Mucha Trust

Mucha’s fame as a poster artist led to commissions for him to design various product packaging and decorative objects. In 1896 Mucha began to work with the famous biscuit company Lefèvre-Utile, and he produced a number of designs for the company’s promotional materials as well as a biscuit tin and box wrappers.

Mucha consciously linked his packaging designs with his posters by using the same image of a woman as the “character” of the products, or the same style of lettering for the texts. Consequently, his designs created consistent visual messages about the products being sold, increasing their visibility in the market. This consistency and increased visibility greatly appealed to Mucha’s clients, as it created positive associations between his visually appealing designs and their consumer products, helping to differentiate these products from those of their competitors. This innovative branding strategy is widely used today by graphic artists and product designers.

Tomoko Sato, co-curator of the exhibition and curator at the Mucha Foundation, contributed to this post.

Michele Frederick
Michele Frederick is associate curator of European art and provenance research at the NCMA.

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