Alfons Mucha exhibition at the Belvedere in Vienna
Exhibition: 12 February > 1 June 2009
In spring 2009, the Belvedere stages the first large exhibition in Vienna dedicated to Alfons Mucha (1860–1939). The oeuvre of Mucha, who became known as a commercial and decorative artist, is presented with all of its different aspects.
VI. Sokol Festival , 1912
168 x 62 cm
Moravian Gallery, Brno
© Mucha Trust 2009
Large-scale paintings, pastels, drawings, and photographs served the Czech artist as media, attesting to the impressive skills he had acquired in Vienna, Munich, and Paris. In his works – be it his early illustrations, the decoration of the Pavilion of Bosnia and Herzegovina (to be rebuilt for the Belvedere’s show), the Pavillon de l’Homme for the Paris World Fair in 1900, or his large cycle The Slav Epic – Mucha attempted to convey a universal messsage: his vision of the reconciliation of nations and religions.
Installed in the Lower Belvedere, the show is divided into sections devoted to specific themes and display some 200 works by Alfons Mucha from public and private collections.
- About the Exhibition
The first room is devoted to the artist’s biography, as well as to his early works. The latter were primarily inspired from a sojourn in Vienna lasting over several years, during which Mucha, starting in 1877, worked as a trained painter of scenery for the town’s theatres. In 1881, the great fire at the Ring Theatre entailed new fire security regulations and thus the closing-down of almost all of the theatres, so that the jobless artist moved to Moravia. There he did his first illustrations for books and magazines, but also historical paintings and watercolours, including a screen modelled after Hans Makart’s Five Senses, is be presented in this exhibition. Between 1885 and 1887, the support of a patron enabled Mucha to enrol at the Munich Academy of Fine Arts, where he studied history painting.
For his studies at the Académie Julian, Alfons Mucha moved to Paris in 1887. Continuing to produce illustrations for books and magazines, including a theatre journal, he managed to finance his stay there. In 1894, the poster of the actress Sarah Bernhardt in her role as Gismonda ensured his artistic breakthrough. Within a few years, Mucha became one of the most popular poster designers of Art Nouveau. The artist freed his work from historical pathos and created a distinct style that was particularly effective when looked at from a distance. It was first and foremost because of its suitability for the applied graphic arts that this style went down into the annals of art history as “Mucha-style”. The latter is exemplified by means of a selection of large-sized posters and preliminary studies.
It was likewise during his early Paris period that Mucha illustrated Le Pater, an interpretation of the Lord’s Prayer in words and pictures, probably his most significant printed work in the field of book illustration, as well as the story of Ilsée, Princesse de Tripoli. Each of these two projects are presented in a separate room, with their artistic development and production being traced from the first sketches to the finished prints.
Le Pater – Final design for sixth allegorical panel, 1899
Chinese ink, black pen and gouache
43,7 x 34,2 cm
Private collection, Switzerland
© Mucha Trust 2009
Like hardly another artist, Mucha worked in different genres simultaneously. Around the turn of the century, apart from his activities in the decorative arts, he made numerous series of virtuoso pastels and drawings. The composition Woman sitting infront of the fire, for example, reveals how Mucha veered away in these works from a purely decorative intent. Freed from decorative constraints and the effects related to them, Mucha set out to explore new paths: through curvilinear outlines and subdued colours, he visualized the frequently gloomy episodes in the history of mankind, as well as religious themes.
Mucha’s most important commissions include his contributions to various pavilions at the Paris World Fair in 1900. In 1899, after Mucha’s plans for a separate Pavillon de l’Homme had turned out unfeasible and had been rejected (individual designs for this project are on display here), the Austro-Hungarian government entrusted the artist with the design of the Pavilion of Bosnia and Herzegovina, for which he produced a monumental frieze. On a canvas more than 250 square metres large, he painted the history of the Ottoman provinces Bosnia and Herzegovina, which had been under administration of the Austro-Hungarian Empire since 1878 as a consequence of the Congress of Berlin. The major part of the wall paintings has survived and is presented in the Belvedere for the first time in a true-to-scale reconstruction of the pavilion’s central hall.
Job , 1896
60 x 46 cm
MAK – Austrian Museum of Applied Arts/Contemporary Art, Vienna
© Mucha Trust 2009 / Foto: MAK
The Slav Epic, Svantovit Celebration on the island of Rügen, 1912
Egg tempera on canvas
610 x 810 cm
City Gallery Prague
© Mucha Trust 2009
Portrait of a lady, no date
Oil on canvas
97 x 50 cm
© Mucha Trust 2009
Having designed jewellery for Georges Fouquet within the framework of the World Fair, Mucha furnished the Paris jewellery store in 1901, thus creating an icon of Art Nouveau interior decoration. Individual pieces of jewellery dating from that period, as well as numerous designs for the shops furnishings, are displayed next to unique pieces of furniture.
In 1902 Mucha published his portfolio Documents décoratifs, an unusual manual of ornament for artists; a further volume, Figures décoratives, followed three years later, in which Mucha particularly dealt with the use of the human body as a decorative element. A selection of remarkable sheets from these two portfolios is presented within the framework of the show.
After several stays in America and his dwindling success in Paris, Mucha moved back to Prague around 1910. The city commissioned him with the interior decoration of the Primates’ Hall in the Municipal House (Obecní dům) in Prague. This project, presented in the exhibition in the form of numerous designs and preliminary studies, is considered the last major work of Art Nouveau in Prague.
- © 2009 Belvedere
Images © Mucha Trust 2009