The Rise of the Poster
Printing techniques developed by Johann Gutenberg in the middle of the 15th Century made mass communication distribution possible, but it took a further development centuries later to turn the medium of the poster into the visually appealing art form that it is today. The invention of lithography towards the end of the 18th century made mass production of color posters of intricate design possible, and it was not long before artists began to experiment with the previously commercial form. Jules Cheret started producing color lithographs in 1866, reinventing the medium and finally giving artists sound examples of how these modern printing techniques could be artistically innovative and reach the masses at the same time. Soon similar posters incorporating bold colors and lively subjects started popping up all over Paris and eventually the rest of Europe. Their bold colors and unique designs were instantly recognized and many of these advertisements posted on the street quickly disappeared and found a new home in their rogue collectors’ flats.
Alphonse Mucha: Art Nouveau Innovator and Patriot
Along with Cheret, the name of Alphonse Mucha is most commonly associated with the 19th century birth of the artistic poster. Mucha is not only considered a remarkable printmaker but a stylistic innovator, helping greatly to create and define the Art Nouveau aesthetic. His Art Nouveau credentials are so sound that it is rumored his distinct lines and stylized hair heavily influenced Guimard’s world famous Metro entrances in Paris. This design is so remarkable that even the city of Chicago has a replica on display outdoors in the Loop.
Mucha was born in the middle of the 19th century in the kingdom of Bohemia. Moving to Paris in 1890, the artist designed posters for events and commercial retailers alike, creating dozens of images instantly recognizable to the public today. Among the artist’s most remarkable designs are the advertisements for JOB cigarette papers and his renderings of French starlet Sara Bernhardt. His Art Nouveau style captured rich textures and patterns, creating sumptuous yet effortless renderings of beautiful women in airy classical attire.
The artist was constantly changing and eventually abandoned his successful lithographs in favor of painting. Unlike Cheret’s attempt however, Mucha’s transition into this new medium was much more successful. While historians such as John Barnicoat attribute this fact to the failing eye sight and old age of Cheret, the fact remains that the paintings of Mucha are still talked about today. His most memorable collection of works, the Slav Epic, is comprised of 20 very large canvases tracking the mythical progression of the Slavic people. This series, which was left to the people of Prague upon the artist’s death, had experienced years of neglect and has only just recently been reframed and hung. These pieces had been rolled up and forgotten for decades but it seems moves are finally being made to ensure that they are properly displayed in Mucha’s much loved city.
Popularity of Mucha
Inexpensive reproductions of his most famous posters are found in nearly every neighborhood poster store, but the difference between the real thing and the reproduction is remarkable. Given the printing techniques used by the artist his original pieces are much more delicate and rely on subtle coloring that is sensitive to light and climate damage, making original works as rare as they are valuable. Mucha’s work is sought after by collectors, and even made an appearance on an episode of Antiques Roadshow a couple of years ago. Despite the great damage that had been done to the piece over the years the conservative appraisal was in the thousands of dollars, with a work in more pristine condition being explained as even more valuable still. The artist’s work now adorns the walls of the world’s most chic bars and coffee houses, proving that the rich yet composed images Mucha created will not be forgotten any time soon.
Mucha at MIR
MIR has a great deal of experience working with lithographs of nearly every origin and even has a few original Mucha and Cheret posters in their Michigan Avenue office. Stunning examples of various sizes, they are all in good condition and display the very best the artists had to offer. They are available for viewing by appointment and are complimented by the many other examples of Art Nouveau artwork in MIR’s possession including dinnerware, statuary and jewelry.
MIR Appraisal Services, Inc.
307 N. Michigan Avenue, Suite 308
Chicago, IL 60601
Rosenzweig, Alexis and Ian Willoughby. “Grandson of Alphonse Mucha hoping Slav Epic Will
Finally Find Permanent Home in Prague,” in Cesky Rozhlas, 2008.
Barnicoat, John. “Poster” on Oxford Art Online.
Barnicoat, John. A Concise History of Posters. New York: Harry N. Abrams, Inc., 1972.
Lavallee, Michele. “Mucha, Alphonse” on Oxford Art Online.
Lowry, Nicholas. “Alphonse Mucha ‘JOB’ Poster,” on Antiques Roadshow, 24 June 2006.
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