Friday, 15 February 2008

Review: Mucha by Renate Ulmer

I'm supposed to be reading 12 'art' (design/whatever) books this year - one a month - and this is the first! (A bit behind schedule given it's February, but never mind). I bought this book in Prague, Alfons Mucha's final home. I had probably seen Mucha art before I went to Prague[1], but it wasn't until I visted the Mucha Museum that I fully appreciated his skill and the effect his art nouveau designs had on popular culture in the late 19th century. Since leaving Prague (in November 2006), I'd flipped through the images in the book, but never read the accompanying text. Until now...

There's not a *heap* of text accompanying this images - it's more a brief summary than a full analysis of Mucha's work. However it gave extra context to the images in the book and also reminded me of some facts that I'd forgotten. The art nouveau movement was actually much earlier than I remembered, for example (1890s to the early 1900s). All seven of the ground breaking posters that Mucha drew for Sarah Bernhard are present in the book, as well as a good selection of the 'quartet' panneaux decoratifs he designed (e.g. Spring, Summer, Autumn, Winter). One of the really interesting aspects of Mucha's work is its often commercial nature - he designed commercials for cigarettes and bicycles and everything else. Reading this also reminded me of Charles Rennie Macintosh (a contemporary of Mucha's, though I have no idea if they were aware of each other) in terms of his commitment to total design, rather thna just art/illustration. Particularly, the fact that Mucha designed jewelry and fitted out Georges Fouquet's Parisian jewelry store mimicked Machintosh's works in Glasgow very closely.

Relatively little is said about Mucha's final (?) work, the Slav Epic. Perhaps this is because this work is less popular than his design work, perhaps it was just considered less influential. It wasn't until I'd read the book that I realised that this was a Taschen book, my very first. It's a beautifully presented book - good quality images on good quality paper. What I'd really love to own, however, is a copy of Mucha's Documents decoratifs (1902), a loose-leaf collection of decorative arts. A few copies of pencil sketches are reproduced in ths book and they are stunning, demonstrating just how accomplished an artist Mucha was. I have faint hopes that if I search on Amazon that it will pop up as a recent reprint, but in reality I suspect that getting hold of a copy would be a very very expensive exercise...

[1]Actually I definitely had - there was a piece in the lounge room of the house I was living in!

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