Paris and the Art Nouveau movement were such a perfect match it’s hard to imagine one without the other. Their love affair was short-lived but perfectly symbiotic: Paris needed the art form to fully express its romantic lyrical side, and Art Nouveau needed the world stage of Paris to attain its most glorious heights.
Many creatives of the time were helping to galvanize the city as the visual arts capital of the world, but one of the most influential wasn’t French at all. The expressive style of Czech-born Alphonse Mucha, who moved here in 1887 and held a studio in the Montparnasse district, was the perfect embodiment of the flowery fashionista femininity that was seeping into many facets of Parisian life.
An exhibit of his work just wrapped up at the Musée du Luxembourg and I made sure not to miss it. Upon entering, the first pieces were in line with the Mucha that I expected to see, like classic posters of Sarah Bernhardt and others that gave him his big break:
Stunning, for sure. But what came next was a series of surprises, which by the end of the exhibit gave me a whole new appreciation for this master of Art Nouveau. For example his traditional paintings on canvas that I didn’ know existed:
And the work he did for the 1900 Paris Expo, including this poster and a design for the menu of the Expo’s official banquet dinner. O how many times I’ve wished I could visit the Paris of 1900!
Here’s the menu cover (note the Pont Alexandre III in the background, brand new and built specifically for the 1900 Expo):The rooms that followed were even more breathtaking, especially labels and advertising created for French brands (champagne, cigarette papers, cookies, soap, etc.) If only our 2019 labels were up to this standard!
A couple of fabulous series were on display. This one featured allegories of Painting, Music, Dance and Poetry…
…and this one that represented the Four Seasons. Moving from one room to the next I had a recurring thought – these images have such a sense of perfection to them. There’s a feeling of balance where each composition has exactly what it needs – no more, no less.
I didn’t expect to enjoy such a visual feast at this show and I’m so glad I didn’t let it pass me by – I was profoundly inspired! Clearly turn-of-the-century Paris wouldn’t have been the same without Mucha, and I can’t imagine the excitement of being surrounded by these visuals back in those days.
Sadly this exhibit is gone now, but if you’re ever in Prague there’s a museum dedicated to this Czech hero of Art Nouveau. And I even heard talk of a possible Mucha museum being created in Paris. It would certainly be well deserved.
For an extended discussion on Mucha with additional photos and Paris addresses related to him, my Patreon supporters can access an exclusive posting at https://www.patreon.com/posts/24304843. If you wish to become a Patreon supporter and receive in-depth Paris content, you can learn more at https://www.patreon.com/afrenchfryeinparis.