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Artists With Tragic Deaths: Alphonse Mucha

Updated on March 2, 2017
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Denise has been studying and teaching art and painting for 40 years. She has won numerous prestigious awards for her art and design.

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Alphonse Mucha (July 24, 1860-- July 14, 1939)

Artists are memory makers or, rather, memory keepers in the times before cameras. What we do is immortalize a time, an era, a community, or a person in a portrait. It is why the public is still fascinated with the little-known lady captured in the Mona Lisa. It is why an era that lasted a little more than 11 years and the dancers who only danced two years at best, are immortalized forever in the posters of the Moulin Rouge by the artist Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec. It is why the era of this artist will be forever remembered. This is an artist who played a major role in the direction of the artists’ movement that has remained inspirational and fascinating to the people of today. He captured feelings and emotions, the very essence of women in elegance and style, which still captures the imagination of the world. The movement was called Art Nouveau.

Collage of his work.
Collage of his work. | Source

I have to say it’s sad when anyone dies young, but doubly so for artists because there is so much more they could have done to make the world a more beautiful, colorful place. This artist didn’t die as young as some. In fact he had lived an extraordinary life and if he had died of natural causes, the world would still have revered him for all he had accomplished. The sad fact is that this artist didn’t have to die when he did. It was a horrible injustice and tragedy that was brought about through stupidity and race prejudice. He was guilty of little more than being loyal to his country and his convictions. Some artists just succumbed to sickness, sadness and drug addiction before their work was done. Some just couldn’t take the rejection and short-lived popularity that comes with art and artist’s movements. However this artist was brought low because he was Czechoslovakian when it was suspect to be one. This is the story of Alphonse Mucha.

'Job' Cigarette Paper
'Job' Cigarette Paper | Source

Artist's legacy

I appreciate the stories and struggles that artists have to endure to make the mark in history. Many times it is just a matter of being in the right place at the right time. I know that it seems like artists who are not very talented or who have no more talent than others who did not achieve fame did, however it is a lot of chance, happenstance and whom you know, more than talent most of the time. In Alphonse Mucha’s case, he did know some famous people who helped him along the way, but these very intimacies couldn’t help save him, and indeed condemned him from the rise of the Third Reich, which eventually ended his career and life at the age of 78.

Autumn - the seasons series
Autumn - the seasons series | Source

Art Nouveau

Mucha (pronounced Mooka), was a master of the Art Nouveau, working as an illustrator on advertisements, postcards, posters and book designs. His mastery of the female form is unsurpassed and has often been copied and revered throughout the decades.

Alphonse Maria Mucha was born in the town of Ivancice, Moravia, which is currently a region of the Czech Republic. Drawing and singing had been his main hobbies throughout his childhood and after relocating to Vienna in 1879, he was augmenting his artistic education while working designing theatrical scenery and designs. After a wealthy Count hired him to decorate his castle with murals, the Count decided to help Mucha with his formal training at the Munich Academy of Fine Arts. In 1887, he moved to Paris to continue his studies at Academie Julian and Academie Colarossi, while working on magazine illustrations.

Do you know Mucha's work?

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1896 Biscuits
1896 Biscuits | Source
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Emerald - The Precious Stone SeriesRuby - The Precious Stone Series
Emerald - The Precious Stone Series
Emerald - The Precious Stone Series | Source
Ruby - The Precious Stone Series
Ruby - The Precious Stone Series | Source

Posters

It was the era of the most famous theatrical actress, Sarah Bernhardt, and while visiting a print shop, Mucha became aware of the need for theatrical posters for a play featuring the great actress. He volunteered to create a lithograph poster in just 2 weeks and afterward his posters, posted all over Paris, received a great deal of attention. His fame was set. Bernhardt was so happy with the success of the first poster that she began a six-year contract with Mucha. Afterwards, he produced a flurry of paintings, posters, advertisments, magazine and book illustrations, as well as designs for jewelry, carpets, wallpaper, and theatrical sets all in the Art Nouveau.

Art Nouveau (in French meaning new art) frequently featured beautiful young women in a Neoclassical style robe or clothing and often with a sort of halo, sometimes using rings of flowers, birds or just ornaments. The colors were mostly in pale pastels and sometimes had only outlines to define the shapes. Yet his use of line and color makes the women appear stylized and romanticized. He claimed that art existed only to communicate a spiritual message, and nothing more. Sometimes he was frustrated with the fame he gained and just wanted freedom to paint as he liked.

Married

Mucha married Mauska Chytilova in 1906 in Prague. Together they had a daughter, Jaroslava, born in New York City. They also had a son, Jiri, who became a writer, journalist and screenwriter.

Not a 'sell out'

Living and working much of his life in Paris, Mucha was concerned that his fellow Czechs thought him a “sell out” so he gave often to nationalist projects. When Czechoslovakia won its independence after World War I, Mucha designed the new bank notes, postage stamps and other government documents for the new state as well as many murals including in the Mayor’s Office at the Municipal House, in Prague.

Donna Orechini
Donna Orechini | Source
Gismonda Poster
Gismonda Poster | Source

The Slav Epic

He spent many years working on 20 huge paintings depicting the history of Czech and Slavic people. These came to be known as The Slav Epic or the Slavic paintings. He donated all these to the Czech public. It may be these and other nationalist projects that got him on the black list with the Nazis.

Unnecessary tragedy

When the German troops marched into Czechoslovakia during the spring of 1939, Mucha was among the first persons arrested by the Gestapo. During his month long interrogation, the aging artist became ill with pneumonia. Although he was released, he was weakened by the event and died of the resulting lung infection. Now what need would the Gestapo have to interrogate and artist? What could he possibly have that they wanted besides knowledge of anatomy and color theory? It was a totally unnecessary unsupportable atrocity to have happened to an artist. And for no other reason than he was born a Czech.

Okay, so he wasn't a young man. He did live a full life filled with productivity and generosity. It still makes my blood boil to think of the torture and inexcusable disrespect he received at the hands of the Nazis.

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La Dame aux Camelia
La Dame aux Camelia | Source

The style lives on

At the time of his death, Mucha’s style was considered outdated but enjoyed a resurgence of popularity in the 1960’s and even today. He work has strongly influenced a number of other artists, musicians, playwrights and theatrical designers. It has a charm that will live on for centuries.

I have several books about Mucha and his work. There are a few out there including one with accordion pages that is now out of print and worth thousands of dollars. His work and even books about his work gains in value with each passing year.

Buy one

You can find a few original lithograph prints on eBay for $1,000 up to $15,000 if you are interested in having one of your very own. Many poster-making companies have mass reproduced some of the Mucha posters on cheaper quality paper and charge only a fraction of what an original lithograph would cost.

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    • PAINTDRIPS profile image
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      Denise McGill 4 months ago from Fresno CA

      Glenis,

      I will have to check out that Sarah Bernhardt hub. I would be very interested as it has a link then to this artist. Thanks so much for commenting.

      Blessings,

      Denise

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      Glenis 4 months ago

      I have often admired this romantic work but didn't know the sad story of Mucha. Interesting link with Sara Bernhardt- I wrote about her in a Hub about Harrogate in North Yorkshire.

    • PAINTDRIPS profile image
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      Denise McGill 13 months ago from Fresno CA

      CorneliaMladenova,

      Don't you just love the way he captures a woman's form with just a few lines and color? He was amazing! And to be tortured at the end like that is just reprehensible! It makes me so mad. Artists are the flavor of life; the people that make the mundane in this world sing.. and to be treated like that.... Sometimes I just HATE politics. Thanks for commenting.

      Blessings,

      Denise

    • CorneliaMladenova profile image

      Korneliya Yonkova 13 months ago from Cork, Ireland

      Amazing hub. I have never heard about this great artist and now I realize how much I have missed. His posters just captured me. It is so sad that he suffered at the end of his life only by political reasons.

    • PAINTDRIPS profile image
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      Denise McGill 14 months ago from Fresno CA

      ladyguitarpicker,

      It is a tragedy, isn't it? What could the Nazi regime possibly gain by injuring artists, musicians and composers? Except that they thought that the Aryans were superior and were taking out anyone who didn't fit their definition of perfection. Thanks for commenting.

      Blessings,

      Denise

    • PAINTDRIPS profile image
      Author

      Denise McGill 14 months ago from Fresno CA

      DDE,

      I'm glad you liked it. Thanks for commenting.

      Blessings,

      Denise

    • ladyguitarpicker profile image

      stella vadakin 14 months ago from 3460NW 50 St Bell, Fl32619

      Tragic what happened to Mucha, I read about him in one of my books about WWII, I can not recall what the name og the book was. There were many musicians and composers killed as well. Thanks, Stella

    • DDE profile image

      Devika Primić 14 months ago from Dubrovnik, Croatia

      Great artist and you said a lot here.

    • PAINTDRIPS profile image
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      Denise McGill 14 months ago from Fresno CA

      Reynold Jay,

      I so agree. I adore his work and just hate the thought of what he went through at the end. Tragic. Thanks for commenting.

      Blessings,

      Denise

    • Reynold Jay profile image

      Reynold Jay 14 months ago from Saginaw, Michigan

      Love the Biscuits art, Denise. I had to read this as I admire his art so much. Not a "SELLOUT" at all. Gorgeous and informative---tragic how his life came to an end. Well done.