Today the Belvedere
is going to stage the first large exhibition in Vienna dedicated to Alfons Mucha (18601939). The oeuvre of Mucha, who became known as a commercial and decorative artist, will be presented with all of its different aspects.
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 Belvederes show), the Pavillon de lHomme 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.
To be installed in the Lower Belvedere, the show will be divided into sections devoted to specific themes and display some 250 works by Alfons Mucha from public and private collections.
The first room is devoted to the artists biography, as well as to his photographic oeuvre and 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 towns 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 Makarts Five Senses, which will 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 will be exemplified by means of a selection of large-sized posters and preliminary studies.
Le Pater and Ilsée Princesse de Tripoli
It was likewise during his early Paris period that Mucha illustrated Le Pater, an interpretation of the Lords 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 will be presented in a separate room, with their artistic development and production being traced from the first sketches to the finished prints.
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 in front 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.
1900 Paris World Fair | Pavilion of Bosnia and Herzegovina
Muchas most important commissions include his contributions to various pavilions at the Paris World Fair in 1900. In 1899, after Muchas plans for a separate Pavillon de lHomme 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 will be presented in the Belvedere for the first time in a true-to-scale reconstruction of the pavilions central hall.
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, will be displayed next to unique pieces of furniture.
Documents décoratifs and Figures decorative
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 will be 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 dum) 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.
The Slav Epic
Between 1910 and 1928, Mucha, with the support of an American patron, created one of his masterpieces: a cycle of 20 monumental paintings depicting the history of the Slav peoples. Parts of the Slav Epic will be on display at the Belvedere in the form of hitherto unpublished sketches, studies, and cartoons. After the First World War, Mucha designed stamps, paper money, and medals for the new Czechoslovakian state, as well as the impressive stained glass windows for St. Vitus Cathedral, which will be presented in the exhibition by means of sketches and reproductions.
The exhibition is accompanied by a catalogue and is being organized in cooperation with the Kunsthalle der Hypo-Kulturstiftung in Munich and the Musée Fabre in Montpellier; slightly modified versions will be on view in Montpellier between June and September 2009 and in Munich from September 2009 to January 2010.