Alphonse Mucha: In Quest of Beauty

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The Sainsbury Centre curated a fantastic exhibition about Alphonse Mucha and having grown up admiring his work I jumped at the chance to have a peek!

Working with the Mucha Foundation, The Sainsbury Centre presented over 60 works from the Foundation’s collection. The Curator of the Mucha Foundation and of this particular exhibition, Tomoko Sato, gave a special lecture, which I was lucky enough to attend.

It’s always such a pleasure to listen to someone who is so passionate and knowledgeable about their field so it was a real treat to learn more about Mucha from someone who has given so much of her time to preserving his legacy.

Alphonse Mucha

He is one of the most celebrated artists of the Art Nouveau movement, rising to international fame with his elegant designs. He was born in 1939 in the Czech Republic where as a child his main hobby was drawing. He worked at decorative painting jobs, where he painted theatrical scenery.

“I was happy to be involved in art for the people and not for private drawing rooms” — Alphonse Mucha

In 1887 he moved to Paris where he continued to study art, as well as producing illustrations for advertising. Mucha believed as an artist he should promote art for the ‘ordinary person’

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Alphonse Mucha

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Exhibition poster

A Chance Encounter

An unexpected need for an advertising poster for Sarah Bernhardt's latest play led to one of the great Mucha collaborations. They met in 1894 when Mucha was an illustrator at Lemercier's printing workshop, when Sarah urgently needed a poster for her latest play, Gismonda. The poster was displayed all over Paris and made him famous, they continued to work with each other for six years.

In Quest of Beauty

The exhibition explored the theme of beauty, the core principle underlying Mucha’s artistic approach, and featured drawings, paintings, posters and photographs. It consisted of three sections, Women – Icons and Muses, Le Style Mucha, and Beauty – The Power of Inspiration. It was a great exhibition to attend, as around every corner I found a classic image that I recognised.

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Gismonda, 1894

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The Seasons: Summer, 1896

Job

I was particularly pleased to see one of my favourites, ‘Job’, an advert created in 1898 for a brand of cigarette papers. Considering when it was created the advert is quite a modern concept: rather than focussing on an image of the product, it portrays the pleasure of what is being advertised.

It’s a very elegant design with the woman’s hair flowing from top to bottom and a line of smoke zig-zagging throughout the background. It is surrounded by a lovely elegant mosaic and the light which shines from the centre is very eye-catching.

The Slav Epic

The exhibition had an informative video about Mucha’s life and I learnt quite a lot about The Slav Epic which I was a bit embarrassed to admit I knew little about.

The Slav Epic was painted between 1910 and 1928, and is a cycle of 20 large canvases depicting the history of the Czechs and other Slavic peoples. The family hid the 20 massive canvasses during World War II to prevent their destruction.

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Job, 1900

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The Slav Epic cycle 1 detail - The Slavs in Their Original Homeland, 1912

The Sainsbury Centre

Yet again it was a fantastic exhibition to attend at The Sainsbury Centre. The work on display was varied and vast, and the talk by Tomoko Sato was especially interesting.

For more information about the Sainsbury Centre's exhibition visit their website.

Image of Alphonse Mucha © Mucha Trust

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