Venue: Pearl Art Museum, Shanghai, China.
The text below is the excerpt of the book Alphonse Mucha, written by Patrick Bade and Victoria Charles, published by Parkstone International.
This article is the continuation of part 1, which can be read here.
The luxurious theatricality of Central European Baroque with its lush curvilinear and nature-inspired decoration undoubtedly coloured his imagination and inspired a taste for “smells and bells” and religious paraphernalia that remained with him throughout his life. At the height of his fame, his studio was described as being like a “secular chapel… screens placed here and there, that could well be confessionals; and then incense burning all the time. It’s more like the chapel of an oriental monk than a studio.” While earning a living as a clerk, Mucha continued to indulge his love of drawing and in 1877, he gathered together his self-taught body of work and attempted unsuccessfully to enter the Academy of Fine Arts in Prague.
After two more years of drudgery as a civil servant, he lost his job, according to Jiri Mucha, because he drew the portraits of a picturesque family of gypsies instead of taking down their particulars. In 1879, he spotted an advertisement in a Viennese newspaper for the firm of Kautsky-Brioschi-Burghardt, makers of theatrical scenery who were looking for designers and craftsmen.
Mucha sent off examples of his work and this time he was successful and received an offer for a job. As a country boy who had been no further than the picturesque (but still provincial) Prague, Vienna in 1879 must have looked awesomely grand.
It had recently undergone what was, after Haussmann’s Paris, the most impressive scheme of urban renewal of the 19th century. Each of the great public buildings lining the Ringstrasse, which replaced the old ramparts that had encircled the medieval town centre, was built in a historical style, deemed appropriate to its purpose.
The result was a grandiose architectural fancy-dress ball. The Art Nouveau style, of which Mucha would later become one of the most famous representatives, reacted directly against this kind of pompous wedding cake historicism. For the moment though, Mucha was deeply influenced by the showy and decorative art of Hans Mackart, the most successful Viennese painter of the Ringstrasse period.
After barely two years, Mucha’s Viennese sojourn came to an abrupt end. On 10 December 1881, the Ringtheater burnt down. In a century punctuated by terrible theatre fires, this was one of the worst, claiming the lives of over five hundred members of the audience. The Ringtheater was also one of the principal clients of the firm of Kautsky- Brioschi-Burghardt and in the aftermath of the disaster, Mucha lost his job.
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