Alphonse (Alfons) Mucha was a remarkable Czech painter and graphic artist who occupies a unique position in the history of art.
His name is essentially synonymous with “Art Nouveau” an art movement he helped start (it was originally known as “Mucha Style”), but from which he later attempted to distance himself. His posters and package designs are among the most famous and iconic in art, yet the work for which he most cared and would have preferred to be remembered is still unknown to many.
His remarkable “Slav Epic” (my post here) is a series of physically enormous and visually stunning canvasses depicting the history of the Czech and Slavic people (images above, bottom four). This series, along with his other work as a figurative painter and draftsman, has seldom been emphasized in the numerous books on Mucha and Art Nouveau, and has largely gone unknown, even to those with a passion for his poster art.
The Mucha Foundation, started by family members after the artist’s death, is devoted to preserving and promoting the work of Mucha and his legacy in all of its diverse styles.
The foundation has long had a web presence, which I’ve mentioned in my previous posts on Mucha, but they have just unveiled a beautiful, completely redone website that is much better suited to presenting the artist in the light he deserves.
There are a variety of new features, and most importantly, an expanded and better organized gallery of the artist’s work.
There is biographical information, of course, but instead of a simple bio page, much of it is presented in a nicely done interactive timeline of the artist’s life, with pop-up detail images and links to more complete articles on the individual works.
The gallery can be browsed by theme, works, or medium: paintings, posters, decorative designs, book illustrations and drawings. There is also a gallery of photographs.
You can even download black outline copies of Mucha works for coloring!
As you range through the works, particularly if you view “All” and see his various styles intermixed, you will begin to get a feeling for the breadth and depth of his accomplishments.
My one disappointment with the new site is that, given the detail in his graphic work and in particular the astonishing scale of his beautiful Slav Epic paintings, the images on the site are on the small side (undoubtedly made all the more noticeable by my recent visit to to the Google Art Project).
Hopefully the images might be supplemented with larger versions in the future that can do his work justice to a greater degree than the current size. I sincerely hope the site’s planners are not deliberately restricting the size of the images with some misguided notion of “protecting them” from being used. (First of all, Mucha’s work is in the public domain in most countries and may be freely reproduced; secondly anyone with access to a Mucha book and a $50 scanner with a de-screening filter can produce images in much higher resolution than are ever likely to be posted on the web.)
That being said, what the site lacks in image size it more than makes up for in the depth and variety of the image collection, which currently numbers over 300 works, as well as the quality of reproduction and color fidelity. Even if you’re familiar with Mucha’s less commonly displayed work, there may be surprises and revelations for you here.
I’ve suggested before that Alphonse Mucha is an artist whose status and place in the history of art should be reevaluated and raised considerably.
The new Mucha Foundation website is a wonderful source for exploring the diverse range of Mucha’s work, and discovering the less well known but extraordinary painter beyond the more familiar poster artist.