Alphonse Maria Mucha was born in the town of Ivančice, Moravia (today's region of the Czech Republic). Although his singing abilities allowed him to continue his education through high school in the Moravian capital of Brünn (today Brno), drawing had been his first love since childhood. He worked at decorative painting jobs in Moravia, mostly painting theatrical scenery. In 1879, he moved to Vienna to work for a leading Viennese theatrical design company, while informally furthering his artistic education. When a fire destroyed his employer's business in 1881 he returned to Moravia, to do freelance decorative and portrait painting. Count Karl Khuen of Mikulov hired Mucha to decorate Hrušovany Emmahof Castle with murals, and was impressed enough that he agreed to sponsor Mucha's formal training at the Munich Academy of Fine Arts.
Mucha moved to Paris in 1887, and continued his studies at Académie Julian and Académie Colarossi. In addition to his studies, he worked at producing magazine and advertising illustrations. Around Christmas 1894, Mucha happened to drop into a print shop where there was a sudden and unexpected need for a new advertising poster for a play starring Sarah Bernhardt, the most famous actress in Paris, at the Théâtre de la Renaissance on the Boulevard Saint-Martin. Mucha volunteered to produce a lithographed poster within two weeks, and on 1 January 1895, the advertisement for the play Gismonda by Victorien Sardou appeared on the streets of the city. It was an overnight sensation and announced the new artistic style and its creator to the citizens of Paris. Bernhardt was so satisfied with the success of this first poster that she entered into a 6 year contract with Mucha.
Mucha produced a flurry of paintings, posters, advertisements, and book illustrations, as well as designs for jewellery, carpets, wallpaper, and theatre sets in what was initially called the Mucha Style but became known as Art Nouveau (French for 'new art'). Mucha's works frequently featured beautiful, strong young women in flowing vaguely Neoclassical looking robes, often surrounded by lush flowers which sometimes formed halos behind the women's heads. In contrast with contemporary poster makers he used pale pastel colors.The 1900 Universal Exhibition in Paris spread the "Mucha style" internationally, of which Mucha said "I think [the Exposition Universelle] made some contribution toward bringing aesthetic values into arts and crafts." He decorated the Bosnia and Herzegovina Pavilion and collaborated in the Austrian Pavilion.
His Art Nouveau style was often imitated. The Art Nouveau style however, was one that Mucha attempted to distance himself from throughout his life; he always insisted that rather than adhering to any fashionable stylistic form, his paintings came purely from within and Czech art. He declared that art existed only to communicate a spiritual message, and nothing more; hence his frustration at the fame he gained through commercial art, when he most wanted to concentrate on more lofty projects that would ennoble art and his birthplace.
Recent findings of Masonic interest
A unique cache of artworks by Alphonse Mucha, has recently been unearthed. They had been hidden by a Czech family for sixty years through the Nazi and Communist regimes. The find includes paintings, jewels designed for Czech lodges, and a number of black and white photographs from the 1920s. The discovery was unveiled for the first time last November by Jacques Huyghebaert, a dedicated Mucha enthusiast, who showed photographs of the pieces to delegates at the Canonbury Masonic Research Centre in London, who were attending the Centre’s third international conference on "The Visual Arts and Freemasonry". Since the conference, further pieces designed by Mucha have been discovered at the Library and Museum of Freemasonry, Freemason’s Hall, London.
Alphonse Mucha (1860-1939) is probably the most famous exponent of the Art Nouveau style which enjoyed enormous popularity in the early years of the twentieth century. As a young painter, he spent over twenty years in Paris where he gained fame and wealth, and created an extraordinary series of jewels for the Parisian goldsmith, Fouquet. It was in Paris, in 1989, that he was initiated into Freemasonry. In the immediate aftermath of the First World War, being an ardent Czech Nationalist, Mucha returned to his native country and actively participated in the construction of Czechoslovakia, newly born from the ruins of the Austro-Hungarian empire. There in Prague, he helped found the first Czech lodge and in 1922, received the 33º of the Supreme Council of Czechslovakia.
As a painter and sculptor, Mucha focused on symbolic and allegorical works which were typically inspired by patriotic and historic themes, and much of his work is permeated with elaborate symbolism. Apart from his various masonic creations, he also created stained glass windows for the city’s cathedral and designed the country’s first banknotes and postage stamps. He died in 1939, sick and in despair, only a few short weeks after his beloved homeland had fallen to the Nazis.