Cherry Blossom, 1898
English,  Happy Birthday

Alphonse Mucha in the gorgeous Art Nouveau

“One can argue the merits and the future of the new decorative art movement, but there is no denying it currently reigns triumphant over all Europe and in every English-speaking country outside Europe; all it needs now is management, and this is up to men of taste.” (Jean Lahor, Paris 1901)

The text below is the excerpt of the book Alphonse Mucha (ASIN: B00J86V380), written by Patrick Bade and Victoria Charles, published by Parkstone International.

The Origins of Art Nouveau

Art Nouveau sprang from a major movement in the decorative arts that first appeared in Western Europe in 1892, but its birth was not quite as spontaneous as is commonly believed. Decorative ornament and furniture underwent many changes between the waning of the Empire style around 1815 and the 1889 Universal Exposition in Paris celebrating the centennial of the French Revolution. For example, there were distinct revivals of Restoration, Louis-Philippe, and Napoleon III furnishings still on display at the 1900 Universal Exposition in Paris. Tradition (or rather imitation) played too large a role in the creation of these different period styles for a single trend to emerge and assume a unique mantle. Nevertheless, there were some artists during this period that sought to distinguish themselves from their predecessors by expressing their own decorative ideal.

The Seasons: Summer, 1900, Alphonse Mucha, Patrick Bade, Victoria Charles
The Seasons: Summer, 1900. Colour lithograph, 73 x 32 cm. The Mucha Trust Collection.

In France, as elsewhere, it meant that people were tired of the usual repetitive forms and methods, the same old decorative clichés and banalities, the eternal imitation of furniture from the reigns of monarchs named Louis (Louis XIII to XVI), and furniture from the Renaissance and Gothic periods. It meant designers finally asserted the art of their own time as their own. Up until 1789 (the end of the Ancien Régime), style had advanced by reign; this era wanted its own style. And (at least outside of France) there was a yearning for something more: to no longer be slaves to foreign fashion, taste, and art. It was an urge inherent in the era’s awakening nationalism, as each country tried to assert independence in literature and in art.

In short, there was a push everywhere towards a new art that was neither a servile copy of the past nor an imitation of foreign taste.

Poster for Salon des Cent: 20th Exposition (detail), 1896, Alphonse Mucha, Patrick Bade, Victoria Charles
Poster for Salon des Cent: 20th Exposition (detail), 1896. Colour lithograph, 63 x 43 cm. Mucha Museum, Prague.

Mucha and Art Nouveau

Since the Art Nouveau revival of the 1960s, when students around the world adorned their rooms with reproductions of Mucha posters of girls with tendril-like hair and the designers of record sleeves produced Mucha imitations in hallucinogenic colours, Alphonse Mucha’s name has been irrevocably associated with the Art Nouveau style and with the Parisian fin-de-siècle.

Mucha in his studio, rue du Val-de-Grâce, Paris, c. 1898
Mucha in his studio, rue du Val-de-Grâce, Paris, c. 1898.

Artists rarely like to be categorised and Mucha would have resented the fact that he is almost exclusively remembered for a phase of his art that lasted barely ten years and that he was regarded as of lesser importance. As a passionate Czech patriot he would have also been unhappy to be regarded as a “Parisian” artist.

In the first decade of Mucha’s life, Czech nationalism found expression in the orchestral tone poems of Bedrich Smetana that he collectively entitled “Ma Vlast” (My country) and in his great epic opera “Dalibor” (1868). It was symptomatic of the Czech nationalist struggle against the German cultural domination of Central Europe, in that the text of “Dalibor” had to be written in German and translated into Czech.

Jos. Triner’s Angelica Bitter Tonic, 1907, Alphonse Mucha, Patrick Bade, Victoria Charles
Jos. Triner’s Angelica Bitter Tonic, 1907. Colour lithograph, 37.5 x 32.4 cm. Collection of Robert Allan Haas, Kansas City.

From his earliest days Mucha would have imbibed the heady and fervent atmosphere of Slav nationalism that pervades “Dalibor” and Smetana’s subsequent pageant of Czech history, “Libuse”, which was used to open the Czech National Theatre in 1881, and for which Mucha himself would later provide set and costume designs.


Art Nouveau was confirmed as a trend in 1900 as a result of the Universal Exposition,  which proclaimed the movement’s quasi-universal victory.

Art Nouveau meant marvels of joaillerie, bijouterie, silver, glass, mosaics, and ceramics. In the beginning, Art Nouveau was produced by architects and decorators returning to their roots in national traditions (or who simply wished to remain faithful to the same), who were able to derive magnificent and delightful new variations from old domestic themes that had been more or less forgotten.

Rêverie, 1897
Rêverie, 1897. Colour lithograph, 72.7 x 55.2 cm. The Mucha Trust Collection.

Within the Art Nouveau movement, French bijouterie had Lalique, while the art of glass had Gallé and Tiffany. Gallé’s now-acknowledged gifts went well beyond mere talent into the realm of genius and extraordinary ingenuity. The arduous efforts and frequently beautiful execution of Plumet and Selmersheim, Majorelle, Gaillard, de Feure, and Colonna also deserve mention.

Art Nouveau is the sum of all these artists. Their names alone evoke the period, so beloved by our modern cities, which decisively broke with the past and enabled art to undergo renewal: a renewal preserved forever in the words Art Nouveau – and what greater honour could an artistic movement have than to be eternally new? Let’s find out about Mucha and Art Nouveau on this interesting book…

Bières de la Meuse, 1897
Bières de la Meuse, 1897. Colour lithograph,154.5 x 104.5 cm. The Mucha Trust Collection.

Find out more on about Alphonse Mucha’s Artworks here:

Image Bar

Shelley’s Art Musings – Spotlight on Alphonse Mucha

Mucha Museum Prague

Mucha Foundation

Alphonse Mucha’s Works at the Art Renewal Center

Works by or about Mucha at Internet Archive

Community Website sharing news, articles and individuals’ opinions about Mucha’s art

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Parkstone International is an international publishing house specializing in art books. Our books are published in 23 languages and distributed worldwide. In addition to printed material, Parkstone has started distributing its titles in digital format through e-book platforms all over the world as well as through applications for iOS and Android. Our titles include a large range of subjects such as: Religion in Art, Architecture, Asian Art, Fine Arts, Erotic Art, Famous Artists, Fashion, Photography, Art Movements, Art for Children.

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