The Grand Designs Of Alphonse Mucha

On the occasion of a new exhibition, Mark Hudson writes: ‘When my grandfather went to America, it was like the Beatles,” says John Mucha. “He made the front pages of the newspapers and was feted wherever he went.” Like the Fab Four 60 years later, Alphonse Mucha in 1904 was bringing with him an idea of the new that America wanted: the looping lines and curvaceous forms of Art Nouveau, of which his posters are still the best-known examples. Then, as now, Art Nouveau was synonymous with the gaiety and decadence of Belle Époque Paris, where technological and aesthetic innovation met an exotic eclecticism exemplified by Mucha’s inimitable mixture of sumptuous pattern and voluptuous female form. Yet Mucha was in many ways remarkably unsuited to being the international face of Gay Paris. Deeply religious, a Czech nationalist preoccupied with mystical notions of pan-Slavic identity, he had become a superstar poster designer almost by accident. Indeed, he had gone to America with the principle purpose of abandoning Art Nouveau.’

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