Alphonse Mucha is one of my favorite artists. (I’m beginning to realize I have a lot of favorite artists!) I have a book of his complete works in my office at home and at one point in my life, I had a huge poster of his work, Bières de la Meuse (see below), hanging on my wall. I’m not sure what ever happened to it.
Mucha was a Czech artist who grew up with poverty and suffering as a part of his everyday life. Five of his brothers and sister died from tuberculosis. As an adult living in Paris, he was the typical starving artist until the age of 34. He was barely getting by on the small commissions he received from magazine and book illustrations when, just before Christmas in 1894, he dropped into a print shop and heard that Sarah Bernhardt, the most famous actress in Paris at that time, was starring in a new play. The promoter needed a poster to advertise the show and Mucha offered to deliver a lithograph in two weeks.
The show was an overnight sensation and Bernhardt was so pleased with the success of the poster that she offered Mucha a six-year contract. His career took off from there and he became the premier artist of the Art Nouveau movement.
After Paris, Mucha went to the U.S. for four years and then returned to Prague. When the Nazis occupied Czechoslovakia in 1939, Mucha was among the first to be arrested. Weakened by interrogation and suffering from pneumonia, he died shortly after being released. But his art lives on in the hearts of admirers the world over.
Mucha came from a deeply religious family and the church was a big influence on his life. He designed stained glass windows for cathedrals, created many church decorations, and even produced a book where he illustrated each line of the Lord’s Prayer. But he also aptly captured the worldliness and decadence of Paris in the late 1800s, painting sensuous women in seductive poses (see below). He was a paradox. But then aren’t we all paradoxes?
Speaking of paradoxes, ponder this Paradox Blessing from findingsolace.org:
May God bless you with discomfort at easy answers,
half-truths, superficial relationships,
so that you will live deep within your heart.
May God bless you with anger at injustice,
oppression and exploitation of people,
so that you will work for justice, equity, and peace.
May God bless you with tears to shed
for those who suffer from pain, rejection, starvation, and war,
so that you will reach out your hand to comfort them
and change their pain to joy.
And may God bless you with the foolishness to think
that you can make a difference in the world,
so that you will do the things which others tell you
cannot be done.
Featured art: (Above) Alphonse Mucha, Self Portrait, 1899; (Below) Bières de la Meuse, 1897; Spring, Summer, Autumn, and Winter, 1896.