Italian masterpieces for living spaces

Alphonse Mucha and Art Nouveau

[fa icon="calendar"] 27-gen-2016 15.13.32 / by Anna Letizia

Alphonse Mucha and Art Nouveau

The city of Milan dedicated an exhibition in Palazzo Reale to  Alphonse Mucha : 100 of his most famous works of art where displayed near works by other artists from the same period, who depicted with taste and sensitivity a unique period in history, not only of art but also of architecture, handicraft and culture in general.The exhibition featured eight themes, through which visitors could immerse themselves in the lively and joyful atmosphere of Art Nouveau.

The theatre, where fantasy and reality meet and collide;
everyday life, in which even the most common objects are transformed in works of art;
woman, always a beloved subject for artists. During the Art Nouveau period women were portrayed with   unique grace, without forgetting sensuality and strength;
animal world, which gives fruitful ideas;
Japan, with the charm of a distant land and the extreme synthesis of pictorial shapes;
precious materials, which made jewels the main character of art;
time, in his succession of days and seasons;
flowers, the main characters of this artistic movement known also like "Floral Style".

Art Nouveau

In the decades between 1800 and 1900 an artistic and philosophical movement born and developed all around Europe was known as Art Nouveau. It was also known as Liberty in Italy, Modern Style in Great Britain, Jugendstil in Germany, Modernismo in Spain.
It was a consequence of English movement of Arts and Crafts, which rebelled to the mass production of low-value material and aesthetic objects; Art Nouveau praised its philosophy giving rise to modern design and new architectural concepts.
It was consecrated at the universal exposition in Paris in 1900, with subway stations, Gare de Lyon, Gare d’Orsay (now Orsay Museum), Grand Palais, La Ruche and Petit Palais.


In painting, Art Nouveau combines expressions of Pre-raphaelites and Symbolists, without showing predominant characters; the artists that can be included in this movement are Gustav Klimt, Alphonse Mucha, Edward Burne-Jones.
It was in many other areas, however, that Art Nouveau found several and important ways of expression, especially in decorative arts: jewelry, crafts, glass and metals. We know better the floral style or Tiffany lamps, windows and doors and furniture decorations.

In architecture it was equally meaningful and innovative; even today in our cities we can recognize Art Nouveau houses or buildings that stand out for their elegance. And how can we not think about the greatest expressions of Spanish -or rather Catalan - modernism, which saw Antoni Gaudi as its maximum exponent: Casa Batlló, Casa Milà, Parc Guell.
During this time, prints, and in particular lithography, lived a kind of golden age: thanks to the contribution of Alphonse Mucha, those that until now had been simple theatrical posters, calendars or advertisements became true works of art, with a very recognizable and unique style.

Times of the Day, 1900, Alphonse Mucha

Alphonse MuchaBorn in 1860 in Moravia, now Czech Republic, he soon established himself as decorative painter and set designer for the theatre;  then he moved to Paris where in 1894 he received the commission for a poster of the play Gismonda, with Sarah Bernhardt: this poster had such success that the actress awarded the artist with an exclusive contract for six years.These are the maybe most famous works of the Moravian painter: Medea, the Lady of the Camellias, Joan d’Arc, Hamlet. In addition to theatre posters, Mucha also devoted himself to advertising, calendars and decorative panels, all characterized by his distinctive style.In 1910, after a stay in the United States, he settled in Prague, where he lived until his death 30 years later. Here he devoted himself to what is considered his masterpiece, the Slav Epic, executed with the support of an American philanthropist: this is a cycle of 20 large canvases, about 6x8m, and depicts the mythology and history of Czechs and other Slavic peoples.

One of his last works were the stained glass windows in St Vitus Cathedral, Prague, commissioned in 1931; in 1939, after the invasion of Czechoslovakia by Nazi troops, he was arrested and interrogated having been considered a reactionary. During this time he fell ill and which probably what brought on his death a year laterA unique styleIn his works, the main figure is often a young woman, curvy, in neoclassical clothes, with a cloud of hair framing her face;  the way Mucha depicts hairstyles is his particular characteristic, which is called the "maccaroni", like the pasta; each strand is tightly defined by a line, often the hair seems to live its own life, floating in the air around the model.Four Seasons, by Alphonse MuchaA dark line defines the boundaries, bringing the real to an abstract level; this tendency of abstraction is typical of Art Nouveau and it is recognized in all its expressions. Lines are simplified and tend to acute angles; natural elements are stylized; outline emphasizes the forms; spot colors are preferred to the three-dimensionality of nuances.In the background, a circular pattern, with concentric bands, often creates a kind of floral aureole around the woman; The draperies of clothes resemble wet cloth, with the folds made sharper by the water's heaviness.This fresh and innovative style is seen in the works of decorative art created by Mucha. For example the shop Fouquet in Paris that has stained windows may remind you of typical backgrounds of lithographs; elegant peacocks come alive with lush branches; the lamps look like bright flowers; nature-inspired details cover every surface.Boutique Fouquet, by MuchaArt Nouveau and Mucha, todayArt Nouveau still seduces and bewitches even today with its charm and novelty, its unique beauty or intimate elegance of the most common objects. Alphonse Mucha created a specific and particular still celebrated today.

To recreate the atmosphere of the early 1900's you need a few pieces to recreate the splendor of those years, with grace and balance to avoid mismatched excesses. The atmosphere can be introduced by light and subdued thanks to stained glass windows. Only the living room and sometimes the bathroom can this intense decoration be used; in other rooms you can play with table or floor lamps, which spread soft light without glare. On the walls, if possible, you can place wallpaper, while the floor is covered with carpets.

For the furniture you can choose soft curved lines and a simple and clean design.
Mirrors, with simple style frames, can be placed in every room and help spread the light and play with the illusion of a larger space. Even prints, reproductions of theatre posters or advertising, contribute to create a refined atmosphere.

The important thing is not to overdo it but to properly dose  the items: Art Nouveau, however elegant, is a niche style and it is easy to fall into kitsch.


Topics: art, Art Nouveau, Decorating, Milan, Milano

Anna Letizia

Written by Anna Letizia

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