Works by Czech art maestro on show in Shanghai
China Daily  |  2019-04-19 09:12


The Seasons: Summer from 1896 (color lithograph). [Photo provided to China Daily]

A new exhibition in Shanghai commemorates Alphonse Mucha's greatest creations and explores the motivations behind his pieces, Cao Chen reports in Shanghai.

Celebrated Czech artist Alphonse Mucha's art collection is now being showcased at the Pearl Art Museum in Shanghai, featuring over 230 original works of art by the maestro, the biggest ever Mucha exhibition in China, according to the organizers.

Held through July 21, the Mucha exhibition is jointly curated by the Pearl Art Museum and the Mucha Foundation in Prague. According to the organizers, the Shanghai exhibition showcases an even greater number of works compared to the previous exhibition in Paris last year.

Besides his famous Art Nouveau posters, decorations and jewelry, the exhibition also features Mucha's drawings, paintings, photographs, book designs and personal belongings. Some of the works are being displayed for the first time.


The artist's self-portrait from 1899(oil on board).[Photo provided to China Daily]

"Mucha's multifaceted practice is at the forefront of the late 19th century and is also the root of today's classics," says Li Dandan, curator of the show and the Pearl Art Museum's executive director.

"He brought the beauty of art to life and made it thought-provoking, which is what we want to present to the audience in China."

She adds the exhibition also serves as a key cultural exchange event for the 70th anniversary of the establishment of diplomatic relations between the Czech Republic and China.

"The exhibition shows Mucha's characteristics in six chapters, and these identities embrace him being Bohemian, a picture artist for people, an international artist, a mystic, a patriot and a philosopher," says Tomoko Sato, curator of the Mucha Foundation.


A poster for Gismonda from 1894(color lithograph). [Photo provided to China Daily]

Born in 1860 in Ivancice in the south Moravian region of the Czech Republic, Mucha rose to fame in the late 19th century for designing theatrical posters for Sarah Bernhardt, France's most famous actress at the time. The color lithograph poster Gismonda, which can be found in the Shanghai exhibition, is one of his most recognized works about the actress.

Marcus Mucha, Mucha's greatgrandson and the representative of the Mucha Foundation, shared a story he heard from his family during his recent visit to the exhibition.

He recalled that it was around Christmas in 1894 when Bernhardt asked her printer to create a new poster for her, but as all her regular poster artists in France were on vacation, she was forced to turn to Mucha who later created Gismonda for her.

Gismonda appeared all over Paris on the first day of 1895 and it went on to become an instant hit. The work resulted in Bernhardt offering Mucha a six-year contract to produce her posters and stage and costume designs.

"The poster is a family legend for us," says Marcus Mucha.


A poster for La Dame aux Camelias from 1896(color lithograph). [Photo provided to China Daily]

As part of the contract, Mucha produced six more posters for her productions, including La Dame aux Camelias and Lorenzaccio, which are also being displayed at the exhibition.

"My great grandfather created something completely new at the time-the birth of a new movement in art history," he says.

Sato explains that Mucha had applied to all his posters the same design principle he developed for Gismonda-the use of a long narrow format with a single, full-standing seductive silhouette of the actress that was positioned in a raised shallow alcove.

"The format was beneficial to marketing and easy for people to understand the style of Mucha. It gained people's recognition of his work and showed how Bernhardt was an icon," Sato says.

Mucha's first set of decorative panels, The Seasons-which are considered to be the most representational works of art nouveau-is another highlight at the exhibition.

So popular was the style used in these panels that Alphonse Mucha was once nicknamed as the "Prince of Poster Art" by the media. The New York Daily had even dedicated a page to welcome his arrival in the United States in 1904.

The exhibition organizers also recommend that visitors check out the section that showcases Mucha's works on spirituality such as Nude on a Rock and Vision.


Czech artist Alphonse Mucha's self-portrait at his studio in Rue de la Grande Chaumiere in Paris in 1892. [Photo provided to China Daily]

"These are unique works reflecting his feelings that you can't see anywhere else in the world. These works were like a personal diary. He created most of them while he was working on the famous posters," says Marcus Mucha, who notes that the most impressive work of all is the oil painting Madonna of the Lilies.

"When I was a child, our family was amazed by the little girl who can be seen in the left corner of the art work. She looks just like my great-aunt. But what's mysterious is that Mucha painted the work years before my great-aunt was born," he says.

Sato says that many of Mucha's works were created "not for the sake of art, but for the human race", referring to the artist's desire to document and unite the Slavic people. She notes how Mucha also subverted the norm then by depicting women as confident, beautiful and desirable. This ideal was especially evident in the 20 monumental historical paintings titled Slav Epic which were produced in Mucha's later years between 1911 and 1926.

As the original paintings were too large to transport to Shanghai, the paintings in this series are presented to the audience in the form of slide shows at the exhibition.

Folk costumes collected by Mucha, such as the Moravian folk costumes from Mucha's three collections: Apron, Cap and Vest, reflect his values as well.

"Mucha considered the successful development of a nation as what is made by its culture and history. Folk costumes are just one of the symbolic expressions of a nation's soul," says Sato.


Mucha working on The Coronation of the Serbian Tsar Stepan Dusan as East Roman Emperor in 1924. [Photo provided to China Daily]

Mucha's love for peace and his nation are also illustrated in the triptych project he embarked on in his final years. The work comprises The Age of Reason, The Age of Wisdom and The Age of Love. However, Mucha was unable to complete these works as he was arrested by Nazi troops. He died in 1939, four months after the German invasion of the former Czechoslovakia.

Mucha's family was permitted to hold a funeral for him, but on the condition that only his family members would attend. Such was the artist's fame that over 100,000 people turned up to bid him farewell.

"We believe that Mucha's ideas are universal and should be carried on as a beacon of hope. This is why we have tried to build a bridge between Mucha, his family and the audience around the world through the exhibition," says Sato.


A silver box with the pattern of a girl's head that's named after Mucha. [Photo provided to China Daily]

During the exhibition, the Pearl Art Museum will organize a series of programs, including lectures and workshops presented by scholars and designers in art, history and culture. Lectures will also be held at colleges and universities around the Yangtze River Delta.

Gifts bearing Mucha designs, such as Czech crystal products, silk scarves, and other creative supplies, are available at the Life and Art boutique, or LAb, at the museum.

The museum has also compiled the exhibition catalogue Mucha in both Chinese and English. The book is available at LAb, its online store, as well as Xinhua Bookstores around China.