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Czech Republic 
Biography and information
Alphonse Mucha (in Czech Alfons Maria Mucha, July 24, 1860, Ivančice – July 14, 1939, Prague) is a Czech painter and designer, one of the brightest representatives of the Art Nouveau style.

Creative features of Alphonse Mucha. He produced the grandiose cycle “The Slav Epic” (20 canvases 6x8 meters each); during his lifetime, Mucha was popular as a designer, since he invented artful jewellery, advertising and theatrical posters, which enraptured Sarah Bernhardt herself.

Famous paintings by Alphonse Mucha: The Seasons series, Zodiac, the poster for Gismonda play.

His contemporaries called him a painter of genius. If he lived now, we would rather call him a designer of genius. It is fair to say that his picturesque paintings and even his famous gallery of paintings from “The Slav Epic” series were not nearly as popular as replicas of the romantic beauties from posters and labels. For some time, the Art Nouveau was referred as “Mucha’s style”, because he had reached an extraordinary level of artistry and represented the spirit of Art Nouveau itself. Even now, fashionable prints for clothes, various printing products and even tattoos are created in the Mucha’s manner.

The adventitious fame of the painter Alphonse Mucha

Year 1893. Christmas is coming. The brilliant actress Sarah Bernhard decides to resume the demonstration of the “Gismonda” play, therefore urgent production of the new posters is needed. The only painter available on the days before the holiday is a certain Alphonse Mucha, who agrees to execute the order.

Soon after that, the painter rose to fame overnight, as they say. Sarah Bernhard was so enthusiastic about the work of Alphonse Mucha that she signed a six-year contract with him. However, she presumably did this because of her own vanity rather than Mucha’s talent. She was 50, and she was highly flattened with the way the painter portrayed her: exactly as she believed she was, young and slim. It would be fair to say that it was Mucha who caused her new lease of life making Bernhard even more popular. Along with hers, there arose the star of a previously unknown artist Alphonse Mucha.

The painter and the actress were naturally often rumored to have romance during the years of their business cooperation. They seemed very credible, since Bernhard was famous for her numerous love affairs. However, later Mucha wrote in his letters to his wife Maria that his relationship with the actress had been a friendship at best. To tell the truth, the same appears from the personal correspondence of Bernhard and Mucha.

Under a lucky star

Years of cooperation with Sarah Bernhard marked the beginning of the most fruitful period in the work of the painter. He created not only posters for performances of the actress (“La Dame aux Camélias”, 1896, “Medea”, 1898, “Hamlet”, 1899), but also the theatrical scenery, sketches of the costumes and the ornaments of Art Nouveau as well. He worked on the covers and illustrations for the “Kokoriko” magazine, on the design of interiors, various labels and advertising posters (one of the most famous being the one for “Bagnolet” soap). Somewhat surprisingly, he still had time to create amazing portraits for his own pleasure. This hobby brought to life “the Mucha’s women”, which made him famous all over the world. They were passionate, sensual, tender, sometimes half-naked and always surrounded by a halo of long, bizarrely set hair. During this period, Mucha created his famous portrait cycles: “The Seasons” (1, 2, 3, 4), “The Precious Stones” (1, 2, 3), “The Stars” (1, 2, 3) and “The Flowers” (1, 2, 3, 4).

It took little time for Mucha to become the life and soul of the Parisian monde. One of his close friends was Paul Gauguin, and he made friends with many other artists. The community admired his paintings of Art Nouveau and lavished him with the orders: everyone wanted to have something made by Mucha. He no longer needed money and could afford to buy any beautiful thing that came to his eyes (he really did it, turning his apartment into a museum). You may think it was time for him to relax and smell the roses...

Nevertheless, the painter was so much tired of all this! He was tired because they called him Miu-sha. He was tired of the customers who always wanted to get something “just the same as it is in the picture, but a little different”. He was tired of Parisian women, pretentious and over-liberated... Mucha was desperately lonely and homesick.

Alphonse Mucha was born on July 24, 1860 in the small Moravian town of Ivančice. His father Andreas (Ondřej) Mucha was a minor court usher. After his mother`s death, he had to grow up five children from two marriages on his own. Nevertheless, he managed to discern the artistic talent in his son. He even applied to the Prague Academy of Arts, wishing Alfons to study there. However, they did not consider the boy's works talented. For a time, Alphonse had been working in the local court, doing a boring clerk's job, devoting his free time to creating the sets and posters for an amateur theatre. This interest eventually enabled him to get an invitation to study in Vienna and find a rich patron to pay for his education at the Munich Academy of Fine Arts.

In 1887, Mucha would move to Paris and study at the two most famous and prestigious art schools of the time – the Academy of Julian and the Academy of Colarossi. However, this was the end of the tale. Mucha’s patron Count Khuen-Belasi experienced financial difficulties, which made him stop supplying the money to Alphonse, and the young artist quickly was flat busted. He often had to choose between buying food or paints. He took all the offered work: drawing business cards and invitations, advertising posters and showbills, menus for restaurants and labels. This continued until the end of 1893. His acquaintance with Sarah Bernhard and sudden fame allowed the artist to believe in his lucky star again.

Two loves of Alphonse Mucha

Despite the rapidly growing popularity, Mucha, in contrast to many of his colleagues, did not enjoy its easy fruits. There were very few women in his life, and Alphonse Mucha did not go on about his love affairs. Actually, until the age of 43, the painter lived a sheltered life. One of the reasons was the fact that he could not find anything related to his Slavic soul in Frenchwomen. Yet he was lucky, his fate found him. In 1903, young Marie Chytilová came to Paris from Prague, saw Alphonse in the theatre and fell in love with the artist. She arranged their first meeting and stayed with Mucha until his death.

In letters to his beloved Maruška, he admitted that he had loved only once, at the age of 16. Then his beloved girl died from an illness. Mucha married Marie in 1906. They did not make a grand celebration in Paris, but arranged their wedding in a small Czech village instead.

By that time, he already clearly understood that he had to return to the Czech lands by all means. Until this point, most of his illustrations have idolized and idealized the images of Western women. However, after he had met Marie, all these languid and sexy beauties receded into the background. Moreover, modern art was no longer as popular at the beginning of the twentieth century. Alphonse immersed in debt again. Sarah Bernhard advised him to make some money in the US by painting pictures of the wives of millionaires.

New York Daily News have devoted a special seven-page issue to Mucha’s arrival. However, the New World only has known him as the creator of posters, and he did not succeed in using portrait technique. Nevertheless, the fate turned out to be favourable to him again. At a banquet, he met Charles Richard Crane, a son of a millionaire, who shared his pan-Slavic ideas and volunteered to finance his most large-scale work, “The Slav Epic”. The financial support of Crane finally enabled Mucha to return to his native Czech lands and start working on the cycle of twenty huge canvases, which took him about twenty years. Alphonse Mucha dedicated half of the works to Czechia, and the rest to other Slavic cultures and landmark facts of their history. He completed the series of paintings “The Slav Epic” in 1928 and gave it as a gift to Prague. In 1937, the masterworks were hidden from the Nazis, and no one had a clue where they had been for a long time. The canvases only were rediscovered after 25 years. Since 1963, they are exhibited in the Moravský Krumlov castle gallery.

In March of 1939, the Nazis captured Prague. Mucha was widely known for his patriotism; he even worked out the visual identity, in modern terms, of independent Czechoslovakia, which made him get into the enemy list of the Third Reich. The 78-year-old painter was arrested and brought to interrogation several times. All these procedures have completely undermined the weak health of the old man. During one of the interrogations, Mucha caught a severe cold and got pneumonia. Nevertheless, fortune has smiled upon him for the last time: he died not in a cold cell, but in his own bed next to his beloved Maruška.
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