Mucha, Alphonse(Czech, 1860-1939)
Alphonse Mucha was born in 1860 in Ivancice, Moravia, which is near the city of Brno in the modern Czech Republic. It was a small town, and for all intents and purposes life was closer to the 18th than the 19th century. Though Mucha is supposed to have started drawing before he was walking, his early years were spent as a choirboy and amateur musician. It was not until he finished high school that he came to realize that living people were responsible for some of the art he admired in the local churches. That epiphany made him determined to become a painter, despite his father's efforts in securing him employment as a clerk in the local court.
Like every aspiring artist of the day, Mucha ended up in Paris in 1887. He was a little older than many of his fellows, but he had come further in both distance and time. A chance encounter in Moravia had provided him with a patron who was willing to fund his studies. After two years in Munich and some time devoted to painting murals for his patron, he was sent off to Paris where he studied at the Academie Julian. After two years the supporting funds were discontinued and Alphonse Mucha was set adrift in a Paris that he would soon transform. At the time, however, he was a 27 year old with no money and no prospects.
Mucha’s breakthrough came in December 1894 as he became famous with a commission for a poster for the actress, Sarah Bernhardt. On January 1, 1895, he presented his new style to the citizens of Paris. He was called upon over the Christmas holidays to create a poster for Sarah Bernhardt's play, "Gismonda" and put his precepts to the test. The design was a sensation with his bright colors and experimental composition. The near life-size design was a sensation, and Sarah Bernhardt was delighted. Mucha then received an exclusive contract for six consecutive years by the actress. In the following years, he not only designed all her posters, but her theater decorations and costumes as well. From now on the artist was swamped with commissions for all kinds of commercial print advertising.
Art Nouveau "New Art" is rooted to this time frame. Based on precepts akin to William Morris' Arts and Crafts movement in England, the attempt was to eradicate the dividing line between art and audience. Everything could and should be art. Burne-Jones designed wallpaper, Hector Guimard designed metro stations, and Mucha designed champagne advertising (at right) and stage sets. Each country had its own name for the new approach and artists of incredible skill and vision flocked to the movement. Overnight, Mucha became a household name. Even though his name is often used synonymously with the new movement in art, it has been said that he has disavowed the connection.
In 1890 the artist had his first one man show in Paris with 448 works on display. His art work was not confined to the printing media. He designed tissues, stamps and even bank bills. In 1900 he received a commission by the Austrian government to decorate the Austrian pavilion for the World Fair in Paris of 1900. He also became active in designing jewelry. Between 1904 and 1921, Mucha traveled frequently to the United States. He took commissions in the US and taught art at academies in New York and Chicago. In 1939 the German Nazis occupied Czechoslovakia. The popularity of the artist made him a number one target for the Gestapo. During this time, he was arrested, interrogated and released. Shortly afterwards, Mucha died on July 14, 1939 in Prague where there is now a museum dedicated in his name.

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