The text below is the excerpt of the book Alphonse Mucha, written by Patrick Bade and Victoria Charles, published by Parkstone International.
Mucha’s style was a formula that could easily be imitated by lesser talents but with disagreeable results. Mucha contributed to the popularisation and vulgarisation of his style by publishing an illustrated book of decorative designs and motifs entitled “Documents Décoratifs”. As he put it somewhat naively, “The enterprising publishers sold the work to schools and libraries of nearly all the countries of Europe, and I think it made some contribution towards bringing aesthetic values into the arts and crafts.”
The predictable result was a plague of plagiarism and during the World Exhibition Mucha was obliged to waste a great deal of time rooting out imitations of his work. “My art was en vogue, it penetrated into the factories and workshops as ‘le style Mucha’ and various items at the Exhibition were continually being seized to protect the original designs against counterfeiting.”
By 1906 it must have become abundantly clear to the artist that “le Style Mucha” was passé in fashion-conscious Paris. The year before, the Fauves had exploded upon the Paris art scene at the Salon d’Automne, with a crude and forceful style that must have made Mucha’s posters look effete and old-fashioned. The following year Picasso would lay one of the cornerstones of modern art with his revolutionary painting “Les Demoiselles d’Avignon”. Cubism was on the horizon and Futurism too with its slogan of “Kill the Moonlight” and its contempt for everything represented by the fin-de-siècle. It was time for Mucha to leave town and he took himself off to America in search of lucrative portrait commissions and teaching posts. Mucha’s years in America until shortly before the First World War were professionally and artistically unsatisfactory. The ambition to paint the vast canvases of the Slav Epic was always in the back of his mind. After his definitive return to his homeland in 1913 he devoted the remaining years of his career to this project. Patriotic painting is rarely good painting. Mucha’s Slav pictures are not bad paintings – he was always too accomplished for that- but they are curiously lacking in individuality. With an appropriate change of subject matter they could be by any academically trained and patriotic artist from any part of Europe. Ironically, when Mucha designed his Parisian posters he created a thoroughly personal style, that for all its cosmopolitan roots has an unmistakably if indefinably Slavic flavour. Well into the 1920s, though, when required to take up his old métier of designer or illustrator he was capable of reverting to an Art Nouveau style of only slightly diminished curvilinear exuberance. Mucha died in 1939 at the darkest moment in the history of his people. Ahead lay six years of Nazi tyranny and decades of Soviet-controlled communism. Of one thing though, Mucha always remained convinced; that like grass which has been crushed, the indomitable spirit of the Czech people, which has given the world so much beauty, would rise again.
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