*** artists illustrating boys fashions: Alfons Mucha

Czech Artists: Alfons Mucha (Austria-Hungary/Czechoslovakia, 1860-1939)

Slavic Epic
Figure 1.--Much was one of the grerat masters of Art Noveau and today continues to be best known internationaly for his Art Niveau work. In the Czech Reoublic he has, howeverr, become simething of a Czech national artist. Notice that this is the Slavic Epic not the Czech Epic. The imasge here is partv of the pannel known as 'The Seer'. It depicts a young Slavic boy (a self portrait of himself as a boy) next to a elderly Slavic sage who will pass his wisdom on through the boy.

The best known Czech artist is surely Alfons Mucha (1860-1939) who was both a painter and decorative artist. Mucha is often described as the most defining artist of the Art Nouveau style. He was active in Paris. Here he painted beautiful women usdually with flowers just on the modest side of provoiative. These wondurful images, however, provide little useful information for our HBC website. Mucha eventually, tired of this and turned to what he calld he called "The Slavic Epic", a largely alegorical set of the history of the Slavic people, encompasing not only the Czecha, but other Slavs such as the Poles, Russians, Ukranians and others. Mucha himself did not survive the NAZI invasion, but somehow his art did.


Alfons was the youngest son of a court usher.


Alfons full name ws Alfons Maria Mucha. He was born in Ivancice, a town in Moravia just before the creation of the Austro-Hungarian Empire. It was located in what became southern Czrcholovakia. As a boy, two forces dominated his thoughts--religion and nationalism. As this can be seen in the art he produced as an adult. Moraviais on the border with German speaking Austria. Thus Czech language and culture competed with German influences. Mucha his entired life embraced Czech culture. Mucha's deep religious faith from boyhood embraced the occult. His first artistic experience occurred in a church. Returning home from Bruno where he was studying, he stoped at the church at Usti nad Orlici. There he found the German painter Umlauf painting frescos. He was memerized. It was at this point that he decided to be an artist.


He probably wold not have advnced beyond primary school, but he had a wonderful singing voice as a child. This enabled him ro enter and complete secoindary studies in the Brno, the capital of Moravia.

Early Career

Whle enjoying singing, it was drawing that he loved. His application to the Prague Academy, however, was rejected. He found work at decorative painting in Moravia. This primarily meant painting theatrical sets. He moved to Vienna as a young man (1879). Vienna was a European cultural center and while there he informally expanded his knowledge of art by visiting galleries and taking drawing lessons. His associatied with other aspiring others. He work worked at a leading Viennese theatrical design company. ptting in contact with many talented artists. A fire destroyed the company (1881). Mucha returned to Moravia. He did freelance work, both decorative pieces and portraits. It is at this time that he came into contact with Count Karl Khuen of Mikulov, a local German land owner. A bookseller displayed his sketche and the Count saw them. The Count engaged him to work at Hru�ovany Emmahof Castle. There Mucha worked for 2 years, restoring old family portraits and decorating the large dining room with classically inspired murals.

Artistic Education

Mucha had raw talent, but no professional training. Count Khuen was so impressed with Mucha that he arranged for him to attend the Munich Academy of Fine Arts, the most respect art school in Germany. Next Mucha moved to Paris (1887). He pursued his studies at the Acad�mie Julian and Academie Colarossi.

Art Noveau

Mucha while in Paris virtually invented art noveau. While studying in Paris, Mucha began working for magazine. He did many successful advertising illustrations. There were many influences to his work. We see the style of the Pre-Raphelites. Other note an influence of Byzabntine mosaics. Mucha made aa spectacular impression when he created a poster advertising an appearance of Sarah Bernhardt at the Theatre de la Renaissance (1894). This made a huge impression and resulted in many coimmissions. It of course played to his strength, drawing beautiful women. His lush style which set his women in elaborate floral scenes was in many ways the essence of art noveau. Fame and a many commissions followed. A huge number of paintings, posters, advertisements, and book illustrations followed. He worked on a children's magazine. Other activiies included designs for jewellery, carpets, wallpaper, and theatre sets. He uis best known for iimages of beautiful young women in flowing robes, surrounded by lush flower arrangements. Many artists imitated his art noveau style. He spent a few years in America, leaving behind some of his works (1906-10). He hoped to begin a new phase of his artistic life in America, but found the Americans were only interested in the art noveau work he hoped to move away from. His major employer was the Hearst newspaper/mgazine chain. He returned to the Czech lands of Austria-Hungary, setteling in Prague. Here he decorated the Theater of Fine Arts and other city landmarks.

Independence (1919)

Czechoslovakia after World War I emerged as an independent nation. Mucha designed the new nation's first postage stamps, banknotes, and other government documents. Soime judge the bank notes the most beautiful ever reated.

The Slavic Epic

By this time, Mucha had tired of painting beautiful women suronded by flowers. The art comminity had begun to view these images as old fashioned. He was at heart a Czech partiot and conceived of a huge project, to paint the epic history of the Slavic people of which the Czechs were a part. It wa a project he had visualized almost from the point he had decided to be an artist. Millionaire Charles R. Crane agreed to finance Mucha's vision--"The Slavic Epic". He was commissioned to decorate the Mayor's Reception Room in Prague's Town Hall. This was the beginning of his project. It was what he wanted, to celebrate the spirit of the Czech people. The result was a vigorous, theatrical fresco. He launched upon this project which he considered his masterpiece (1912), The Slavic Epic (Slovanská epopej) emerged as a series of huge alegorical paintings. The first 11 paintings were displayed in Prague's Klementium (1919). The public was interested, but the art world was unimpressed. In the aftermath of World War I, the art world saw his style as dated and nationalism outmoded. The 20 paintings were unveiled in Prague (1928). He never completed the series, but greated 20 impressive tempura and oil works depicting incidents from Slav history and mythology Mucha depicts a brotherhood of Slavic people fighting a stead stream of invaders, including the Germanic tribes, Huns, and Monguls. Gerev is a detil from the 'Seer' (figure 1). The popular and artistic reaction was muted. Even today it is his art noveau work for which he is most populasr. Although gifted to the Czech people, the Czechoslovak Government did not know what to do with them. His Slav Epic was rolled and stored for twenty-five years This was perhaps fortunte. Had the Czechs embraced them more fully, the NAZIs may have destroyed them. Interest today is increasing and the Czech Republic has built a museum to house them in their full glory. .

NAZI Invasion (1939)

The Allies abandoned Czexhoslovakia at Munich (September 1938). Hitler pledged to guaantee the remaining borders of the country, but invaded what was left (March 1939). The Gestapo proceeded to arrest major Czech figures. Among them was Mucha. He was held for a time, but eventually released. In Poland, fugures like Muvha wereshot by the NAZIs. In Czechioslovakia, yhe NAZIs had not yet reached that level of Barbsrusm, abnd given his health the Gestapo probably believed it was nogt withy the bother. His advanced age and ordeal of NAZI internment resulted in his death shortly after his release (July 14, 1939). The NAZIs did not, however, destroy his work, especilly the Slavic Epic. Given their hatred of the Slavs and desire to destoy Slavic culture and nationalism, it is unclear why they did not destroy it. We suspect that Mucha's reputation by this time had declined and the paintings had attracted little attention. They apparently were in storage at the time. This may have saved them.


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Created: 8:12 PM 3/1/2009
Last updated: 9:45 AM 4/15/2023