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Alphonse Mucha: A genius of Art Nouveau

Now running at Forte di Bard is the first major Italian exhibit dedicated to the modernist and visionary Czech artist. Leaving his mark on the decorative and graphic arts, he channelled his unmistakable style into poster art and female figures

The first major exhibit dedicated to Alphonse Mucha arrives in Italy. Mucha was one of the foremost representatives of the Art Nouveau movement. Forte di Bard, the main cultural centre of the Valle d'Aosta area, will host this important exhibit for the Czech artist (1860-1939). The exhibit itinerary, entitled “Alphonse Mucha: Modernista and Visionary”, runs from 28 July through 21 November on the occasion of the 150th anniversary of the painter's birth. The exhibit is underwritten by the Forte di Bard Association in collaboration with the Mucha Foundation, and its official scholar, Tomoko Sato, is the curator. More than 200 works from the Foundation's collection, as well as around forty from private collections: posters, books, drawings, sculptures, oils and watercolours, photographs, jewels and decorative-art objects will be featured.
The exhibit itinerary delves, as the title notes, into two aspects of this bold artistic personality. Modernist: creator of exceptionally tidy graphic compositions, distinguished by their elegant and sensual feminine images. Mucha distinguished himself thanks to an immediately recognisable style, one that is both innovative and communicative. Today's poster art still pay tacit tribute to his. Visionary: idealism, love, and an attachment to one’s homeland are fundamental in Mucha's art, as he fashioned a State free from the Hapsburgs and the colonialism of foreign governments, one strengthened by its own traditions and its own identity. From these precepts comes his masterpiece, The Slavic Epic. The visit itinerary is laid out in three sections: Mucha, father of graphic arts, philosopher and visionary artist – stopping on a few key themes.
Seventy photographs including self-portraits, portraits and landscapes are on display in the wine cellars. In the Sala del Cannoniere (Gunner Hall) one can admire the principal works on display. The exhibit begins with posters designed for Sarah Bernhardt, the Diva of the French theatre, who would prove to be critical for developing his theatrical component and the formation of the Mucha Style: Gismonda (1884), Lorenzaccio (1896) and Medée (1898). The exhibit continues with advertising: a much sought-after talent by publishers, printers, producers and art promoters. In 1896, Mucha began to print his posters with Champenois, the most reputable print company of the time, and joined the Salon des Cent, a group of Symbolist artists. Dating back to those years are the poster Job (two versions are on display) for a carton of cigarettes, which marked the birth of the image-emblem of the “Mucha woman”, the tourism advert entitled Monaco-Monte Carlo; following that are Cycles Perfecta and Savon Mucha, a miniature parasol based on the production of soaps by an American company, of the very first examples of the use of a celebrity to promote a brand.
The artist's fame was established in two solo exhibits and with the Paris World's Fair in 1897, followed by other international exhibits, and with the publication of a special number of the newspaper “La Plume” (a periodical of the Salon des Cent) dedicated specifically to him. His first decorative panels date back to this period, such as Zodiac, The Season and The Flowers. Often created in pairs or in series of fours, with subjects inspired by the world of nature, representing a new and accessible form of art.
With panels, paintings, magazine covers, and designs manuals for manufacturers, students and aficionados (Documents décoratifs and Figures décoratives from the early 20th Century), Mucha explored his artistic philosophy. For him, creating art meant celebrating Beauty, and his feminine figures became vehicles for expressions of spiritual and political thought. Like many symbolist artists at the end of the 19th Century, Mucha was drawn to Mysticism and the moral and metaphysical ideals of the Freemasons (he was, in fact, initiated into the Paris Masonic Lodge in 1898). Amongst his works, a few drawings explore the darker side of human nature, supernatural forces and religion (Le Pater, a personal interpretation of the Lord's Prayer).
He took part as artist and designer in the 1900 Paris World's Fair, and his partnership with Parisian jeweller Georges Fouquet, for whom he created masterpieces with unusual shapes, marked a shift in Mucha's studies on total art. Amongst the examples on display in the hall are the poster of the Austrian Pavilion, a photograph of the decoration for the Bosnia-Herzegovina Pavilion, a sculpture created for Houbigant, one of the oldest perfume shops in the work, and the sketches for the Fouquet Boutique.
The last segment, in the Corpo di Guardia (Guards Corps), centres on his production carried out upon his return to his homeland, in particular on the Slavic Epic (1911-28), that is, a representation of the fundamental milestones in the Slavic popular history in twenty paintings, even if the idea of spiritual progress and peace for his fellow countrymen is successively broadened to encompass humanity as a whole. In this series, one can appreciate sketches and photographs of the preparatory scenes.
Alphonse Mucha, Poster for 'Les Amants'
Alphonse Mucha, Poster for 'Les Amants'

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