Alphonse Mucha’s Prints & Posters

Alphonse Mucha (1860-1939), father of le style Mucha, or Art Nouveau, is perhaps best known for his print and poster designs. He began as an apprentice scene painter in Vienna, then as a portrait painter in Mikulov. Eventually, Mucha gained patronage from two local counts who funded his formal training in the arts in Munich and then Paris.

While in Paris, Mucha rose to fame in 1894 when he met the famous actress Sarah Bernhardt and produced a poster advertising her upcoming role in Gismonda, a Greek melodrama to be performed at the Théâtre de la Renaissance. In this poster, Mucha portrays Bernhardt as her character, a Byzantine noblewoman, in an embroidered gown and orchid headdress holding a palm branch in her right hand. On January 1, 1895, Mucha’s poster was up all over Paris and became an immediate sensation. His imagery – which is set in a narrow frame, toned with muted pastels, and represents a life-size composition – was groundbreaking at the time. ‘La Divine Sarah’ – as Sarah Bernhardt was affectionately known – loved his work and invited Mucha to be the artistic director of her theater, designing not only posters, but costumes, set designs, and jewelry as well. 

Alphonse Mucha, Gismonda, 1894, poster, Wikimedia Commons.

Now established as a leading poster artist in 1895, Mucha explored a new genre – decorative panels (‘panneaux décoratifs’). These decorative panels were the forerunners of today’s art posters with no text and designed solely for artistic appreciation or decoration. Ferdinand Champenois, a Parisian printer, in an effort to make a business savvy decision, contracted Mucha to produce these panels in order to reuse the designs for multiple editions. Mucha pursued this art form because he believed that it was his mission as an artist to promote art to ordinary people. Mucha later wrote: “I was happy to be involved in an art for the people and not for private drawing rooms. It was inexpensive, accessible to the general public, and it found a home in poor families as well as in more affluent circles.”

Alphonse Mucha (1860-1939), Cycles Perfecta, sold in Fine and Decorative Arts, March 30, 2019.

Mucha’s first decorative panel design was produced in 1896 and was titled The Seasons. This was a series of four panels depicting the personification of the seasons – innocent Spring, sultry Summer, fruitful Autumn, and frosty Winter. Each panel consisted of motifs characteristic of Mucha – a decorative botanical backdrop, nymph-like, a beautiful woman in a full composition with flowing hair, colored in muted, but striking pastels. 

Alphonse Mucha, The Seasons, 1896, color lithograph, WikiArt.

In 1897, the company Chocolat Masson, which sold chocolate under the brand name Chocolat Mexicain, reissued Mucha’s The Seasons for a company calendar. It is this version of Mucha’s The Seasons that will be up for auction on May 20th in Revere Auction’s Fine and Decorative Art Sale. This lot includes all four panels of the seasons in rare lithograph proofs without text of this calendar version.

Alphonse Mucha (1860-1939), Seasons, being offered in Fine and Decorative Arts, May 20, 2020.

Mucha revisited The Seasons once more in 1900, but also produced a number of other decorative art panel series including The Flowers (1898), The Arts (1898), The Times of the Day (1899), The Precious Stones (1900) and The Moon and the Stars (1902). His commercial success and the accessibility of his works of art made Mucha one of the most prominent artists of his time. His unique design and notable imagery have transcended time and remain key works of art to this day, reproduced in the masses for all to enjoy. 

If you have prints, paintings, or other works by Alphonse Mucha you would like appraised or sold, please reach out to Revere Auctions at 612.440.6985 or info@revereauctions.com. We offer free valuations of objects and professional expertise throughout our appraisal and consignment services. For more information about our appraisal and consignment services, please visit our website at: https://www.revereauctions.com/services/.