If you've just stumbled onto this blog, please forgive the appearance; it's still under construction. If I've used one of your photos (found on Google) in a lecture and you don't approve, please write a comment and I'll remove it.

The purpose of this blog is to explain the basics of art and culture to English language learners in secondary school in Slovakia. This is not for profit. If you look to your right, you'll see a long list of topics that I plan to cover. This is a large project that will most likely take years to complete, covering some topics I know little about (like dance), so I will be borrowing heavily from other experts, with their permission, giving credit wherever possible. Please be patient, and, of course, all advice is greatly appreciated.

Monday, February 9, 2015

Biography of Alfons Mucha

Alfons Maria Mucha (1860-1939)

v     Alfons Mucha was a world renowned artist and designer from the Czech Republic.

v     Mucha is one of the founders of the Art Nouveau movement, which was originally called the Mucha Style.

v     Mucha studied at some of the most prestigious art academies in Europe, studying under Lefebvre, Boulanger, Laurens, and sculptor Filippo Colarossi.

v     In 1900, Mucha decorated the Bosnia and Herzegovina Pavilion at the Universal Exhibition in Paris, a celebration of modernity in art and design.

v     Mucha also decorated the Theatre of Fine Arts in Prague, and the Mayor's Office there.

v     When Czechoslovakia won independence after WWI, Mucha designed all the stamps, banknotes, and government documents for the new state.

v     In 1928, Mucha gave Prague his life's work, the Slav Epic - a series of 20 giant paintings, telling the history of the Czech and Slavic people. It's currently on display in the National Gallery's Veletržní Palace.

Personal Life:

Alfons Mucha was born in Ivančice, Moravia. Although poor, he was a talented singer, earning a scholarship to attend Gymnázium Slovanské in Brno. His choirmaster was Leoš Janáček, now a famous composer. Upon graduation, Mucha began work painting theatre props and scenery.

His first big break ended in ruin, when he moved to Vienna to work for the Ring Theatre. The theatre burned down, and he lost his job. But, Mucha was determined, and soon got a commission to paint murals for the wealthy Count Karl Khuen's castle Hrušovany Emmahof. The Count was so impressed he paid for Mucha to attend the Munich Academy of Fine Arts, and then the Academies Julian and Colarossi in Paris.

In Paris, Mucha had a hard time when the Count's money ran out, but he found his second lucky break. While in a print shop, he heard the need for a theatre poster in two weeks for Sarah Bernhardt - the most famous actress in Paris. Alfons offered to do it, and Sarah was so happy with his poster she signed a six-year contract with him.

Sarah Bernhardt's first poster, in 1894

Mucha began his professional career as a designer, planning things like jewellery, carpets, silverware, theatre sets, shop interiors, windows, posters, and other advertisements, all while drawing and painting.

In 1906, Mucha married Maruška Chytilová, and the two went to America, travelling there for the next four years. Their first child, Jaroslava, was born in New York City. Mucha spent time in America looking for a patron, so he could stop doing commercial art. Millionaire Charles R Crane agreed to help him, as a way to promote revolution in Moravia. Then, they moved to Prague and had their second son, Jiři, who became a writer and journalist.

Mucha died tragically. When the Germans came to Prague, he was one of the first questioned by the Gestapo. While in custody, he developed pneumonia and died soon after his release, and was buried in Vyšehrad cemetery. During socialism, Mucha's work was considered old fashioned and locked away for over 25 years. Since the release of its work, his style has been copied countless times by other artists.

Art Nouveau:

Art Nouveau is a style of art, mostly decorative, that arose around the beginning of the 20th century. Art Nouveau actually goes by several names. In Germany it's Jugensdstil, in Austria it's Secession, in Italy it's Stile Liberty, and in Spain, it's just Modernisme. It can best be described as a more organic approach to the designs of the Baroque and Rococo. It makes use of columns and arches, and other decorations, but they all branch out like trees, vines, and flowers. The idea was to try to harmonize the artificial world with nature. Art Nouveau artists believed in the importance of beauty as part of your everyday life, designing everything to be lovely - from lamps to dishes, carpets, everything. You can usually tell when something is Art Nouveau by the use of sharp "whiplash" curves, and parabolas. Everything appears to be growing like a plant.

The Slav Epic:

This is a cycle of twenty large paintings showing the history and mythology of Czechs and other Slavic peoples. Mucha traveled to Russia, Poland, and the Balkans gathering ideas and speaking with historians. It took Mucha eighteen years to complete the cycle, after which he gave it to the city of Prague, on the condition that they build a pavilion suitable to showcase it (why wouldn't they, right?).  The town agreed, and everything was fine until WWII, when the Slav Epic was hidden away from the Nazis. At the close of the war, communism had come to Czechoslovakia, and Mucha's work became politically incorrect - it was a product of the rich bourgeoisee. So, the cycle was moved by a few supporters to a castle in the town of Moravský Krumlov. The Slav Epic remained locked there for fifteen years before they finally opened it up to the public. Today, Prague very much wants these paintings back, and is fighting a hard legal battle to do so. It turns out Moravský Krumlov is very proud of its Slav Epic, and Mucha's grandson, Jan, agrees, and is very angry at the idea of Prague taking them back, when there's still no suitable Pavilion to show the work. Jan and others of Moravský Krumlov feel the National Galleries in Prague aren't nearly as nice a place to show the work.

The twenty paintings are titled:

1. Slavs in their Original Homeland: Between the Turanian Whips and the sword of the Goths.

2. The Celebration of Svantovit: When Gods Are at War, Salvation is in the Arts

3. Introduction of the Slavonic Liturgy: Praise the Lord in Your Native Tongue.

4. The Bulgarian Tsar Simeon: The Morning Star of Slavonic Literature.

5. The Bohemian King Přemysl Otakar II: The Union of Slavic Dynasties.

6. Coronation of Serbian Tsar Stefan Dušan as East Roman Emperor: The Slovak Code of Law

7. Jan Milič of Kroměříž: A Brothel Converted to a Convent.

8. Master Jan Hus Preaching at the Bethlehem Chapel: Truth Prevails.

9. The Meeting at Křížky: Sub Utraque.

10. After the Battle of Grunwald: The Solidarity of the Northern Slavs.

11. After the Battle of Vítkov Hill: God Represents Truth, Not Power.

12. Petr Chelčicky at Vodňany: Do Not Repay Evil with Evil.

13. The Hussite King Jiří of Poděbrady: Treaties Are to be Observed

14. Defense of Sziget against the Turks by Nicholas Zrinsky: The Shield of Christendom.

15. The Printing of hte Bible of Kralice in Ivančice: God Gave Us a Gift of Language.

16. The Last Days of Jan Amos Komenský in Naarden: A Flicker of Hope.

17. Holy Mount Athos: Sheltering the Oldest Orthodox Literary Treasures.

18. The Oath of Omladina Under the Slavic Linden Tree: The Slavic Revival.

19. The Abolition of Serfdom in Russia: Work in Freedom is the Foundation of a State.

20. Apotheosis of the Slavs: Slavs for Humanity.

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