Alphonse Mucha Chandon Cremant Imperial, 1899. Lithograph Poster.
Text below © Paul Page.

20.01.13: texts

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    "The money Alphonse Mucha made was lent, given away, or frittered as fast as it was earned." - Paul Page

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Just got my copy of Alphonse Mucha: The Complete Graphic Works and it took my breath away. More details can be found at amazon.com

20.01.05: biography part iii

Photography soon became much more than a hobby for Mucha. Models cost money, so whenever he employed one, he would photograph her in as many varied positions as he needed, and he supplemented his photographic archives with snapshots of friends posing heroically, tragically, or grandiosely. His work at this time included drawing for the Figaro Illusive, the Revue Mame and L'Illustration, designing a calendar for the inks and paints manufacturer Lorilleux, and designing lottery tickets.

Le Costume au Theatre, a magazine which regularly featured drawings of the costumes and stage sets of contemporary productions, both theatrical and operatic. Mucha received free tickets to the various productions, which he later drew for the magazine. In this way, he met Theophile Alexandre Steinlen, another contributor. The publisher, Armand Colin, also commissioned him to produce drawings for a serialised history of Germany by Charles Seignobos, with other drawings by Georges Rochegrosse. Scenes et Episodes de I'histoire d'Allemagne appeared first in forty-one parts, then as a single work in 1898. It contained thirty-three full- page wood engravings by G. Lemoine after Mucha's drawings, although Mucha also executed a vast number of preliminary drawings, finished drawings and paintings. Four of the drawings were exhibited at the Salon des Artistes Francais in 1894 and twenty-seven were shown at the Galerie de la Bodiniere in 1897.

mucha the seasons

Mucha's Art Nouveau period dates from the end of 1894. The legend, created by Mucha himself and elaborated over the years, is set in the offices of Lemercier, a well-known printer. Mucha was there alone over Christmas Day and St. Stephen's Day, proofing some lithographs for his friend Kadar. Just as he was completing the work, Monsieur de Brunoff, Lemercier's manager, rushed in and informed him that Sarah Bernhardt had just telephoned to say she needed a poster to be ready by New Year's Day. It was for Sardou's play Gismonda; attendances had been flagging and a boost was needed to revive it in the New Year. As it was a holiday period, all Lemercier's regular poster artists - including Georges de Feure and Fernand Gottlob - were away.

Could Mucha do it? Mucha was willing to try.

He hired a tail-coat, borrowed an ill-fitting top hat, and arrived at the theatre with pad and pencil. He found Sarah sublime and soon worked up a poster design. De Brunoff went off on holiday, leaving Mucha to execute the work on two large lithographic stones. On the manager's return on December 30th the poster was printed and hanging up to dry. De Brunoff was horrified. He was certain Sarah would reject the poster and felt his own situation at risk, but there was no time left to change it. The poster was printed and a copy sent directly to the Theatre de la Renaissance. Mucha, thoroughly unnerved by De Brunoff, sank into depression in the Lemercier studio until roused by a telephone call summoning him to the theatre. Feeling like a condemned man on his way to the scaffold, Mucha went, only to find Sarah entranced by her image in the poster. She loved the work, welcomed Mucha, and soon tied him into a contract with her to design not only posters, theatre cards and programmes, but also costumes and stage sets - a collaboration that often extended to the whole production.

mucha
crescent lady

The truth may be a little less romantic. Mucha had certainly seen Sarah on stage many times when he was working for Le Costume au Theatre and must have made many sketches other over the years. As early as 1890 he had executed a lithograph ot her as Cleopatre in Sardou's play of the same name. A special number of a magazine called Le Gaulois, published in November 1894, was devoted to Gismonda. Although no copy of this magazine has yet been found, there exists a sketch book by Mucha showing the cover and several illustrations for the issue, and it would be reasonable to assume that Mucha had already steeped himself in the play. Gaston Cerfberr, in an article entitled Un maitre de l'affiche in the March 1st 1897 issue of Le Magazin Pittoresque, writes that Sarah had asked for poster sketches for Gismonda from several artists, and had preferred Mucha's. At any rate, Sarah recognised a gold mine when she saw one.

Mucha's poster for Gismonda was unveiled to the public on January 1st, 1895. In contrast to Cheret's loud, bright colours, Mucha's were muted and translucent. The effect was electric - the elongated, slender form of Sarah in her long dress standing frozen in a hieratic pose, the decoration not blobs of colour but intricate linear patterns. Whereas the Cheret poster was meant to catch the attention of the passer-by, leaving an impression even on one racing past, Mucha's poster, placed only just above ground level, forced the passer-by to stop, come close and look for a long time. Crowds gathered around each poster, and collectors bribed the poster men to keep one for them, or attempted to cut them off the hoardings.

In July Sarah ordered a further 4,000 copies of the poster, asking Lemercier to deliver them in small batches which she then sold at some considerable profit to herself. Unfortunately, the firm only delivered 3,450 copies, having undoubtedly sold the balance itself. This led to a court case in 1897 when Sarah asked for 5,000 francs in damages. Since she refused to disclose to the court the price for which she sold the posters, her loss could not be assessed and she was awarded only 500 francs. After this she refused to allow Lemercier to print any more posters, and to maintain the limited edition, she had the lithographic stones destroyed. As a result of the dispute Sarah transferred all her custom from Lemercier to Champenois in 1896, and Mucha naturally followed her.

mucha
savonnerie de bagnolet


Nothing Mucha had done before the poster for Gismonda gave any indication that he had even noticed the ferment in art that surrounded him. His work was academic in the best sense of the term - composed, true to life and perspective, meticulous in its historical research. But that, of course, was what was required of him in the work he produced. Faced with designing an original poster, however, he showed that he had absorbed and retained the lessons of his predecessors, his contemporaries, and the art of other countries and other eras, and was capable of transforming all these passing influences into his own vocabulary of image and layout.

The basic idea for the layout of the Gismonda poster came from Eugene Grasset's poster for Sarah as Jeanne d'Arc, executed earlier that year. Grasset had made two versions of it - one with Sarah's head lowered, the other more defiant - but she had liked neither very much. Mucha took over the idea of the full standing figure, clad her appropriately, then emphasised her slender, elongated form by using a tall narrow poster.

mucha
femme aux coquelicots t


In Grasset's poster Sarah holds her banner in her right hand; in Mucha's she holds a palm leaf (for Palm Sunday). In both posters her left hand is held to her breast. Grasset had Sarah's left foot in its medieval pointed boot intrude beyond the drawn ground into the bottom reserve in which is lettered 'Sarah Bernhardt'. Mucha had Sarah's long train curl across the drawn ground and intrude into the bottom reserve in which is lettered 'Theatre de la Renaissance'. The title is spread across the top of the poster in both cases, but where Grasset placed the figure of Sarah against stylised Japanese clouds framed by a sea of pikes and a volley of arrows, Mucha took Sarah away from realistic props, put her name in a semi- circular arch surmounting her head like a golden halo, and turned the whole image into a contemporary icon. Byzantine gold imagery had been used in other posters for Sarah - notably by Manuel Orazi and Auguste Gorguet - but Mucha's Byzantinism was not mere decoration, but rather an intricately conceived conceit. Lit by church candles and smelling of incense, it subtly transformed Sarah into the Holy Virgin, a role she clearly relished. Sarah's short, frizzy hair had defeated Grasset, who had tried in his two versions both a short and long haircut for her. Mucha surrounded her head with flowers like a celestial crown, then transformed her hair into an abstract design whose shape was delineated by a thick drawn outline...next page

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Recommended Reading: Alphonse Mucha Masterworks

20.01.13: books & prints

Direct page links to Mucha books available at amazon.co.uk & amazon.com .

Mucha vintage exhibtion posters @ ebay.com (direct link) - just checked & a bigger selection than i've seen anywhere else

Biography | Gallery | Mucha Canvas Prints | Mucha Rarities | Blank Books Unlined
Bookmarks | Books | Greeting Cards | Keyrings | Magneto Notes Lined | Mousepads
Notepads | Postcards | Piezzo Lighters | Poster Books | Posters | Umbrellas
Wooden Pencils | Advertise | Mucha Books: Amazon.co.uk | Mucha Books: Amazon.com
Mucha vintage exhibtion posters @ ebay.com (direct link) - just checked & a bigger selection than i've seen anywhere else

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