Enchanting Art Nouveau Exhibition Opens at the Worcester Art Museum

WORCESTER, MASS., August 3, 1999 - Immerse yourself in the splendor of Art Nouveau with Alphonse Mucha: The Spirit of Art Nouveau, on view at the Worcester Art Museum from October 16, 1999 - January 2, 2000. A native of Czechoslovakia, Alphonse Mucha (1860-1939) was one of the best known decorative artists working in Paris at the turn of the century. This is America's first comprehensive show of Mucha; the only other major show of his work in the United States was in 1921. The Worcester Art Museum is the sole northeast venue for this landmark exhibition.

"While Mucha's name may not be familiar, his artwork is," says James A. Welu, director of the Worcester Art Museum and curator of European art. "Mucha was a leader of the Art Nouveau movement; however, his work was condemned by the Nazis in the 1930s because they considered it to be degenerate. The Nazis also blacklisted Mucha's work because they believed he was a Jewish sympathizer, and because he was an active Freemason and instrumental in establishing a Masonic Lodge in Czechoslovakia. Furthermore, much of Mucha's work has been behind the Iron Curtain for most of this century. It's only now, at the end of the 20th century, that we can present the proper retrospective show this great artist deserves."

Alphonse Mucha: The Spirit of Art Nouveau is an enchanting exhibition that illustrates Mucha's tremendous artistic versatility. The show covers Mucha's entire career and features more than 100 of his most important paintings, posters, panneaux décoratifs, jewelry, sculpture, pastels, drawings, and illustrations. Works are from international collections in the Czech Republic, Britain, and America, and many are on loan from the Mucha Trust, the world's largest and most comprehensive collection of Mucha's art. Works in the exhibition range from his large-scale posters, like Princezna Hyacinta, lent by famous tennis player Ivan Lendl, to the elaborate gold, enamel, and gemstone necklace Mucha designed for his wife, Maria ChytilovŠ, in 1906, the year of their marriage.

After studying in Vienna and Munich, Mucha went to Paris in 1888 at the age of 28, where he remained and made a modest living as an illustrator. In 1894, the young Czech designed a poster for a Sarah Berhnardt theatrical production. When the highly original design appeared on the streets of Paris, Mucha became famous literally overnight.

Over the next six years, Mucha designed nine exquisite posters for the renowned French actress, most of which will be on view in Worcester. During this time, he also executed numerous posters to promote exhibitions and commercial products, and created some of his best known graphic works, including the decorative panels of the Four Seasons, Four Stars and Four Precious Stones, all featured in the exhibition. Late 20th-century audiences will be fascinated by the avant-garde approach to advertising in Mucha's striking designs. Like the art work of his close contemporary, Toulouse-Lautrec, Mucha's colorful posters were valued as works of art in their own time as well as successful commercial promotions.

The most typical and imitated feature of Mucha's posters and panneaux décoratifs is an idealized woman whose long hair is coiled and swirled in a stylized linear pattern. The figure was often complemented by floral motifs. The Mucha woman beckons us hypnotically with some inexpressible yet compelling vision that the universe is benevolent, and that happiness is within our reach if only we know how to grasp it. These innocently seductive nymphs became the most popular examples of le style Mucha.

Mucha was also a gifted and innovative illustrator, painter, jewelry designer, sculptor, and teacher. While he considered his posters and decorative designs successful, he also deeply desired recognition as a serious painter. His career changed course when he conceived of the Slav Epic, a series of monumental paintings depicting the history of the Slav people.

Unable to raise money for this project in Paris, Mucha left for America in 1904, hoping to secure well-paying commissions. Celebrated by high society and the press, Mucha and his designs were seen everywhere, and he soon became as famous in New York as he had been in Paris. But the funds he raised by painting portraits barely covered his family's expenses, and he was compelled to accept commercial work.

In 1908, Mucha's three large mural paintings for the stage of New York's new German Theatre brought him much acclaim. Designs for two productions, Comedy and Tragedy, appear in the Worcester exhibition. These paintings also caught the attention of millionaire industrialist Charles Crane, whose life-long interest in the Slav people and their national struggles led him to commit long-term financial support to Mucha's most ambitious project, the Slav Epic.

Mucha spent the last 29 years of his life in Prague, and, though he executed many graphic works, public commissions, portraits, and symbolist paintings, he devoted his best energies to his Slav Epic paintings. The first 11 finished canvases, each measuring more than 18- by 24-feet, were last exhibited in Brooklyn and Chicago in 1920-21. The American public's reaction to these monumental paintings of Slav history was overwhelming - more than 600,000 people viewed them in the two cities. In 1928, Mucha gave the series to the city of Prague; the 20 paintings are now housed in the castle of Moravskż Krumlov in the Czech Republic. As the final paintings are too large to travel, the exhibition includes many of the original studies, or preliminary sketches, for these works.

Truly a free spirit, Mucha had a lifelong preoccupation with religion and mysticism, and a passionate interest in the past and future of his beloved Czechoslovakia. His Art Nouveau creations were not merely ornamental and decorative, but highly idealistic and symbolist constructions. His message to the world was that his people, and all people, must discover themselves and live up to their higher, authentic nature. He was scorned when he urged the artistic and intellectual community to cast off the artistic influences of Vienna and Munich and develop an authentically Czech art. In spite of continuous political upheaval in his homeland, Mucha embraced life with enthusiasm, energy, and an intense capacity for work. His philosophy held that the universe is benevolent, life is good, and all of us have the ability to live authentic and fulfilled lives. Alphonse Mucha died in 1939, shortly after his homeland was invaded at the beginning of World War II.

Despite Mucha's vast popularity in the United States and Europe during his lifetime and the significance of American patronage for his career, there has been no major exhibition of his work in this country since 1921. Thanks to Massachusetts Electric Company, a NEES company, and National Grid, a broad audience will have an opportunity to appreciate Mucha's creative endeavors for the first time in nearly 80 years. "NEES has supported cultural organizations over the years, along with many other worthy causes, because art can have a positive influence on both children and adults through its educational and entertainment values," says Rick Sergel, NEES, president and chief executive officer. "Our sponsorship of this exhibit is particularly significant because it is our largest contribution to the Museum ever, and because it clearly demonstrates that -- despite mergers and other changes we are experiencing -- our commitment to the communities we serve remains as solid as ever." In December 1998, NEES announced it will merge with National Grid of Coventry, England.

"Like NEES, National Grid is a big believer in supporting its communities, so co-sponsoring the Mucha exhibit is a perfect beginning to our joint future," says David Jones, chief executive of National Grid, the world's largest independent transmission company.

A 352-page, full-color catalogue, written by an international team of Mucha specialists, accompanies the exhibition. The catalogue includes essays about Mucha's life and work in Bohemia, France, and America; as well as essays describing the influences of Mucha's time, and the correlation between his work and patrons. Also included is a biographical essay on Jiri Mucha discussing his role as his father's biographer and keeper of his legacy in indifferent, even hostile times.

Organized and circulated by Art Services International of Alexandria, Virginia, the next and final venue for the show is Dixon Gallery and Gardens, Memphis, Tennessee. The Worcester venue is sponsored by Massachusetts Electric Company and National Grid. Additional support for the exhibition is provided by the Britta Jeppson Curatorial Fund and the Lori Vaccaro Zamansky Curatorial Fund. Educational public programs are funded by BankBoston Showcase for Kids Series, the Robert and Amelia Hutchinson Haley Lectures Fund, and the Goodman/Sturgis Publication Fund. The TelegramGazette, Charter Communications, Inc., and WSRS/WTAG Radio provide media support.

Related Events

The following events will help Worcester Art Museum visitors experience the fantastic world of art nouveau while enjoying the exhibition Alphonse Mucha: The Sprit of Art Nouveau.

Public Premiere Party

Swingin' in Paris and Prague - A Bohemian Soirée
Saturday, October 16, 1999, 8:00 PM - midnight
$50M, $60NM

Swing the night away with Bombay Jim and the Swingin' Sapphires, and indulge in delectable hors d'oeuvres and desserts; cash bar; festive dance and musical performances; bewitching entertainment, including tarot card readers, handwriting analysts, a palm reader, and more! Revel in the festivities of Paris and Prague at the turn of the century, and enter the millennium in Bohemian style. To register, call 508-799-4406, X-3077.

Massachusetts Electric and National Grid have provided major sponsorship for this event. The TelegramGazette, Charter Communications, Inc., and WSRS/WTAG Radio provide media support.

La Belle époque: What to Wear and Who Wore It

Saturday, September 18, 10 a.m. - 11:30 a.m. and October 2, 10 a.m. - 12:00 p.m.
$6M, $8NM

Learn how to create your own period costume for the public premiere party of Alphonse Mucha: The Spirit of Art Nouveau in a two-part, hands-on program with Catherine Spingler of Clark University's French and Theatre departments. Create a costume that will make you the bell or beau of the ball!

Living in Style: Worcester at the Turn of the Century

Individual lectures/tours:
$12M (WAM and Preservation Worcester), $17NM Series: $30M (WAM and Preservation Worcester), $45 NM

Explore turn-of-the century Worcester with Preservation Worcester and the Worcester Art Museum through slide presentations and tours of 19th-century public and private buildings still gracing New England's second largest city.

  • Residential Architecture
    Wednesday, October 6, 12:00 - 2:00 p.m.
  • Civic Architecture
    Wednesday, October 13, 12 :00 - 2:00 p.m.
  • Art Nouveau Style
    Wednesday, October 20, 12 :00 - 2:00 p.m.

The Life and Work of Alphonse Mucha

Anna Dvorak, Leading Mucha Scholar
Sunday, October 17, 2 :00 p.m.
$6M, $8NM

Learn about Mucha's extraordinary life as scholar Anna Dvorak recounts the artist's journey from his roots in Czechoslovakia to his prime in Paris.

Mucha and His World: The Many Faces of Art Nouveau

Individual lectures: $6M, $8NM
Series:$15M, $21NM

Discover how art reflected society's attitudes toward women, the history of advertising, and the legendary Sarah Bernhardt in this fascinating lecture series.

  • From Femme Fatale to Floradora: Images of Women in French and American Art Nouveau
    Tuesday, October 19, 7 p.m.
    Suzanne Gandell Hinman, Independent Scholar
  • Would Mucha Have Made It on Madison Avenue?
    Tuesday, October 26, 7 p.m.
    Jack Rennert, Curator of Ivan Lendl Collection
  • Casting the Diva: Sarah Bernhardt, Mucha, Nadar, and Thomas Edison
    Tuesday, November 2, 7 p.m.
    Carol Ockman, Williams College

Carnaval de Paris Family Day

Sunday, November 7, 1- 4:30- p.m.
Free with Museum Admission

Travel back to the turn of the century and experience life in the City of Lights with music, stories, performances, art-making and more at this fun-filled festival!

Dreamers of Decadence: Europe's Symbolist Painters at the End of the 19th Century

Wednesday, December 1, 7 p.m.
$6M, $8NM
Nicholas Bagshawe, Gallery Owner

Immerse yourself in the intriguing period when Mucha and other ingenious artists created paintings based on fantastic literary, mythical, and dream-inspired themes.

An Evening with Sarah Bernhardt

Saturday, December 4, 7:30 p.m.
Performance at Tuckerman Hall, Reception at WAM
Show only: $10M, $15 NM (call for group rate)
Show and reception: $20M, $25NM

Actress Connie Clark brings the remarkable French actress Sarah Bernhardt back to life in a once-in-a-lifetime performance at Tuckerman Hall. Meet Clark after the show at a reception at the Museum.

Museum Background

Opened to the public in 1898, the Worcester Art Museum is the second largest art museum in New England. Its exceptional 35,000-piece collection of paintings, sculpture, decorative arts, photography, prints and drawings is displayed in 36 galleries and spans 5,000 years of art and culture, ranging from Egyptian antiquities and Roman mosaics to Impressionist paintings and contemporary art. Throughout its first century, the Worcester Art Museum proved itself a pioneer: the first American museum to purchase work by Claude Monet (1910) and Paul Gauguin (1921); the first museum to bring a medieval building to America (1927); a sponsor of the first major excavation at Antioch, one of the four great cities of ancient Rome (1932); the first museum to create an Art All-State program for high school artists (1987); the originator of the first exhibition of Dutch master Judith Leyster (1993); and the first museum to focus its contemporary art programs on art of the last 10 years (1998). The Museum's hours are: Wednesday through Sunday, 11am-5pm, and Saturday 10am-5pm. Admission: FREE for members; Non-members: $8 Adults; $6 Seniors and full-time college students with current ID; FREE for youth 17 and under; FREE for everyone Saturday mornings 10am-noon sponsored by The TJX Companies and Massachusetts Electric Company. For more information, call (508) 799-4406 or visit the Museum at 55 Salisbury Street in Worcester.