Father of ‘Art Nouveau’ mesmerizes Korean art lovers

Familiar paintings depicting beautiful women with elegant hair against flamboyant floral backgrounds as if they just came out of tarot cards or cartoons. 

Those creations by the father of Art Nouveau Alphonse Mucha have never been seen in Korea until now.

The exhibition titled Alphonse Mucha: Art Nouveau and Utopia Exhibition features 235 masterpieces representing Mucha’s lifetime of work from 1882 to 1939. 

The Czech artist is the pioneer of Art Nouveau, an art style popular between 1890 and 1910, especially in Europe. 

Meaning “new art,” the art form is characterized by elaborate patterns, lines, rich colors, and depictions of mainly young and attractive women. 

“Mucha’s style has been applied to various designs including pictures in boy-meets-girl cartoons, tarot cards, housing decorative designs, and ornaments these days,” said curator Ho Jeong-eun. “His works have had far-reaching effects on contemporary design.”

Along with his paintings are other various exhibits decorated with Mucha’s designs on display as well, including play posters, calendars, and ornaments. 

Among those on exhibit is the first of Mucha’s play posters painted in 1894. Designed for the four-act drama Gismonda set in medieval Greece, which originally starred Sarah Bernhardt, France’s best actress of her day, this poster portrayed Bernhardt as an exotic and mysterious Byzantine woman with its sophisticated use of colors and composition. 

At that time, the depicted woman was so attractive and enchanting that many of the posters were stolen off walls. 

This work is believed to have ushered the era of Mucha’s Art Nouveau.

One of Mucha’s most popular designs, Zodiac was originally designed as an in-house calendar in 1897. Using a rich color palate, the design depicts the majestic profile of a dignified woman wearing elaborate jewelry in a circular background incorporating the twelve signs of the Zodiac. 

Like Zodiac, Reverie, which features a young woman in an embroidered gown against a floral circular backdrop, was designed as a calendar in 1898, too. But its high popularity ended in the swift publication of the design as a decorative panel. 

The Seasons: Spring, Summer, Autumn, Winter was Mucha’s first set of decorative panels. In a series of these four designs, Mucha personified the four seasons as nymph-like women from Greek mythology. The set became one of his best-selling panels.

Mucha’s art was not limited only to decorative functions. The Slav Epic, a series of 20 murals painted in his latter years, embraces the history of his Czech homeland and his patriotism. 

Painted on enormous canvases, the series looks at the sufferings of fellow Slavs and their achievements and also conveys Mucha’s wish for peace of all mankind. 

The 235 exhibits on display are on loan from the Mucha Foundation established by Mucha’s grandson John Mucha, who serves as its president. 

“It is such an honor to introduce my father’s works to Korean fans this time,” said John Mucha. “We brought around 240 out of 3,000 works to Korea for this exhibition, where you can find the essence of Art Nouveau here.” 

Alphonse Mucha: Art Nouveau and Utopia Exhibition is now taking place at the Seoul Arts Center (SAC) until September 22. The exhibition is closed on the last Monday of every month and is open from 11 a.m. until 8 p.m. 

For more information, please visit the official website (http://www.mucha2013.com/). 

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