The poster for the "Gismonda" play with Sarah Bernhardt

Alfonse Mucha • Poster, 1894, 216×74.2 cm
About the artwork
Art form: Poster
Subject and objects: Portrait, Allegorical scene
Style of art: Art Nouveau
Technique: Lithography
Materials: Paper
Date of creation: 1894
Size: 216×74.2 cm
Artwork in selections: 42 selections

Description of the artwork «The poster for the "Gismonda" play with Sarah Bernhardt»

On Christmas Eve 1893, Alphonse Mucha remained the only well-established artist who did not go on vacation. He appeared to be the last hope for the owner of the printing house de Brounof. He called the artist with the words: “My dear Mucha, Sarah Bernhardt just called me. She needs a poster for her performance. It should be ready by New Year’s morning. Have you ever done something like this?” “No,” Mucha admitted honestly. “But I can try.” On 27 December, the poster for Gismonda was ready, and on 1 January, it graced the streets of Paris.

Creating a poster for Sarah Bernhardt was a huge responsibility for Mucha. It influenced the artist in a very unusual way: he managed to completely change the approach to the production of posters. The fact is that earlier the size of such posters was solely dictated by the size of the typographic stone used for printing. Mucha came up with the idea of laying two narrow segments side by side, which formed a long slender figure. The posters he created were of such a size that they could depict figures in full human height. And given that they were most often located at eye level, Gismonda and other heroines of Bernhardt seemed almost alive to the audience that was walking along the streets of Paris. People loved Mucha’s posters so much that they cut them off the walls almost immediately after they were put up.

And Bernhardt herself was delighted with the works by Mucha, starting with Gismonda. The new format of posters successfully emphasized her slenderness, giving the actress a resemblance to a revived statue decorating a wall niche. The middle-aged Sarah Bernhardt seemed to be a young maiden, and her robe decorated with rich sewing, the wreath in her hair and the golden mosaic background gave her a resemblance to a deity. The arched backgrounds and symbolic elements at the bottom of the image would later become a hallmark of almost all Mucha’s posters that he created for Bernhardt (1, 2, 3, 4).

Author: Yevheniia Sidelnikova