Imagine an outdoor advertisement so beautiful that passersby want to tear it down and take it home.
That's what people often did with Alphonse Mucha's work, which will be on display beginning this weekend at The Hyde Collection in "Alphonse Mucha: Master of Art Nouveau." The exhibition, part of the Dhawan Collection in Los Angeles, is traveling across the country and will be at The Hyde from Jan. 14 to March 18.
"Mucha's early work is centered on the epitome of beauty," said Jonathan Canning, director of curatorial affairs and programming at The Hyde. The exhibition, which includes more than 70 pieces, weaves Mucha’s earlier works with his latter-day masterpieces.
Between his vibrant lines (or what some call his whiplash curve) and the elegant, almost ethereal women he illustrates, Mucha's work moved to the forefront of the art nouveau movement, which was popular at the end of the 1800s and start of the 1900s.
"People might not know Mucha's name, but when they see his work they know who he is," Canning said.
Mucha began his career in the advertising industry. His work, which looked more like fine art, revolutionized the field and eventually shaped the French Art Nouveau movement. Mucha infused a sense of elegance and drama into his illustrations, which made even something simple, such as a cigarette advertisement, seem like something out of an exclusive gallery.
It all began when his poster for the play “Gismonda,” which featured famed Parisian actress Sarah Bernhardt, became wildly popular in Paris in 1895. Bernhardt, who was portrayed as a Byzantine noblewoman, was so taken with the posters that she hired Mucha to produce the posters for her other productions, and the exhibition includes four versions of different posters he created for the actress. Bernhardt also hired Mucha to produce the costume and stage designs for her upcoming productions.
Thus Mucha’s work expanded well beyond advertising.
"He believed in this complete package," Canning said. Mucha eventually delved into interior design, architectural design and everything in between. "He went from being a decorative artist to being the foremost artist of Art Nouveau," Canning added.
Some of his works, like “Cycles Perfecta,” touched on the changing social values. The piece was designed to sell bicycles and features a woman with long flowing hair and voluminous dress, draped over the handles of a bicycle.
“It suggested this new freedom for women to cycle,” Canning said. It wasn’t until the late 1800s that women were free to ride a bicycle, and Mucha’s piece reflected a new sort of elegant independence.
While working with commercial art helped launch his career, Mucha later wanted to distance himself from it. He eventually dedicated himself to making art that reflected history, more specifically the history of his homeland, the Czech Republic.
“He was inspired by the traditional dress, the folklore and landscapes, and proud of the Czech culture,” Canning said.
During his last years, Mucha painted “The Slav Epic,” a series of 20 paintings that depicted the history of his people. The exhibition features a piece from the epic.
The impact of Mucha’s work reverberated through the 1960s, with various album covers and even in fashion. To celebrate that impact, The Hyde is collaborating with Electric City Couture and Design Studio 2440 to create dioramas of fashions inspired by Mucha, bringing his work into the modern era. The pieces will be unveiled at 7:30 p.m. on Saturday, March 10.
There will also be several other events in conjunction with "Alphonse Mucha: Master of Art Nouveau." For a full schedule, visit hydecollection.org.