The Czech-born artist who elevated posters and prints
By Terry Loncaric Contributor February 21, 2013 2:46PM
The Lake County Discover Museum exhibit, “Mucha — Art Nouveau Expanded,” features 70 works of Alphonse Mucha's art , from original posters and painted biscuit tins to postcard reproductions.
Expanding Art Nouveau’
Through Aug. 25
Lake County Discovery Museum, 27277 N. Forest Preserve Road, Wauconda
$6, $3 students and seniors
(847) 968-3400; lcfpd.org/discovery_museum
Alphonse Mucha’s work resonates with dreaminess. The women in his posters have flowing hair, beautiful gowns and are often captured in natural settings.
Credited as the father of the art nouveau movement, Mucha, a Czechoslovakian artist, elevated the art of posters, prints and painted objects into the realm of high art. Mucha created his most “classical” work, a series of oil paintings on the history of Czechoslovakia, while living in Chicago.
“Mucha — Art Nouveau Expanded” features some of Mucha’s most iconic images — his sensual depictions of women and his beguiling scenes of nature. The exhibit at the Lake County Discovery Museum features 70 works of art, from original posters and painted biscuit tins to book covers and postcard reproductions.
Credited with igniting the “art nouveau” movement, Mucha created dazzling posters of the legendary actress Sarah Bernhardt after they met in a Paris print shop.
“She was awaiting a poster, and she wasn’t satisfied with it,” said Katherine Hamilton-Smith, the museum’s director of cultural resources. “Mucha just happened to be there. He produced a beautiful, amazing poster for Sarah Bernhardt, and after that, he created all of the posters that advertised Bernhardt’s plays.”
In each poster, Bernhardt strikes her trademark diva pose.
“Mucha’s work was examplary of what people would think of as the art nouveau of 1900 Paris,” said Hamilton-Smith. “He lived in Paris when the art nouveau movement was flourishing. It’s kind of funny because he was opposed to the term art nouveau because he thought all art was new.”
The exhibit, however, exposes Mucha’s mastery of graphic design, his skill with color, and his comfort with beautiful, intricate designs. Many of the images were part of the museum’s Curt Teich Collection. A German immigrant, Teich operated a Chicago plant that published picture postcards. “The reason we have a large collection of Mucha is because we have the postcards from the Teich collection,” Hamilton-Smith said. “We have the largest collection of picture postcards in the world. It is absolutely a national treasure.”
Mucha enjoyed creating images of women in changing seasons. In one particularly striking image, a beautiful woman is shown in a snowy scene, wearing a hood.
“This is a very gentle representation,” Hamilton-Smith said. “That is what makes Mucha so interesting. He captures the theme — the beauty of women — in an ideal way. The women are beautiful and alluring but not overtly sexual.”
A unique treasure is a replica of a jewelry shop Mucha designed when he was guiding the art nouveau movement. Viewers will feel like they stepped into turn-of-the-century Paris.
“The graphic designs he did — the posters he did for Sarah Bernhardt — weren’t the most important to him,” Hamilton-Smith said. “He wanted to be known as a fine artist. The idea of poster art, as we know it, made him famous with a mass audience. The fascinating thing about this exhibit is, you may not know Mucha, but I think you will love and recognize that work.”