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Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Alphonse Mucha and the Art of the Poster

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.

Justin Bergquist
MIR Appraisal Services, Inc.
307 N. Michigan Avenue, Suite 308
Chicago, IL 60601
(312) 814-8510

Works Cited:

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.

Friday, October 23, 2009

Betty Beeby: Watercolorist, Muralist, Preservationist

The fine art and personal property appraisers at MIR Appraisal Services, Inc., are proud to have recently been able to examine and research many of the works by Michigan inhabitant, Betty Beeby, a prolific watercolorist, illustrator, muralist, writer and dedicated preservationist. Several of her works are showcased below:

Beeby depicts an artist’s studio within a domestic space, awash with light and color. Imbued with “joie de vivre,” the varied textile patterns, self-referential easel and displayed watercolors echo Henri Matisse’s sensibilities and approach. The exuberant yet pacific nature of the scene finds resonance with John Berger’s apt description of Matisse: “He clashed his colours together like cymbals and the effect was like a lullaby” (Berger 36).

This rather minimalist depiction of the relationship between subtly shaded slopes and dark water creates contrast through simplified forms and color.

The distilled forms and deep contrasts evident in this watercolor evoke the compositions of Katsushika Hokusai, as in The Dragon of Smoke Escaping From Mount Fuji. The peaks of the snowy cliff, suspended over a deeply colored body of water, create suspense and tension.

The still life shown above with fruit and porcelain is reminiscent of the watercolors of Andrew Wyeth in its striking effects of light and shadow, unusual perspective, and scrupulous, realistic detail.

Beeby received formal training at the Pratt Institute in New York, yet most of her life and oeuvre centers about the landscape and culture of her home state, Michigan. In 2008, she received the State History Award from the Historical Society of Michigan for Distinguished Volunteer Service, in appreciation of more than six decades of Beeby’s creative, philanthropic and preservationist contributions to Michigan.

Working in varied mediums, Beeby has served as staff artist for Time Life magazine, the Bahlman Art Studio and Sequoia Press, film strip artist for Captain Kangaroo on CBS, muralist for The Straits of Mackinac at the Michilimackinac Visitor Center (image featured above; the mural is recently restored) and cover art illustrator for Eardmans Publications Co. Her illustrations for Potawatomi Indian Summer, by E. William Oldenburg, Whistle Up the Bay, by Nancy Stone, and Just Josie—which she both authored and illustrated—received the Chicago Book Clinic Award for best printmaking in art.

Her discovery and preservation of several thousand historical letters and several dozen diaries stored in her family’s century-old barn led to a cluster of creative projects. Beeby’s book Breath Escaping Envelopes draws upon the content of this source material, as she conveys in her book the concerns of the women of Grand Traverse Bay during the turn-of-the-century. Beeby also created The Peterboro Letters, a series of nine lithographs depicting various locations mentioned in the historical letters. The lithographs, exhibited in a solo show at the Kalamazoo Institute of the Arts, inspired composer Lynn Palmer to craft The Peterboro Suite. The original letters and diaries are now preserved for posterity in the Archives and Regional History Collections at Western Michigan University.

Beeby also directly collaborated with poet Terry Wooten on A Book of Hours, an offshoot of the Elders Project; Wooten composed verse from Beeby’s autobiographical storytelling, and Beeby illustrated the collection. Beeby’s additional contributions include funding for the annual Pearl in Hand Scholarship, awarded to high school seniors in Antrim or Charlevoix County.

Jessica Savitz
MIR Appraisal Services, Inc.
307 N. Michigan Avenue, Suite 308

Chicago, IL 60601

Phone: (312) 814-8510

With an attitude of reverence and with supreme skill, the experts at MIR Appraisal Services, Inc. extensively research fine art and personal property, providing in-depth analysis and consultation for your most prized works of art.

Works Cited:

Berger, John. Selected Essays. New York: Pantheon, 2001.

Keenan, Marney Rich. “Artist Beeby Finds Inspiration in Regional History.” Detroit
News. 1 Jul. 2008.
South, Carol. “Poet, Painter Combine Skills on Book.” Grand Traverse Herald. Aug.
12 2009.

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    Chicago, Illinois, United States
    Welcome to our blog site! MIR Appraisal Services, Inc. is a fine art and personal property appraisal company dedicated to serving clients throughout the United States and abroad since our incorporation in Chicago in 1994. We specialize in the multi-faceted field of appraising fine art, jewelry, antiques, and decorative items. We also provide professional fine art restoration and conservation treatment for various media, including but not limited to, artworks on canvas, board, masonite, and paper. We offer professional and precise appraisal services carried out by our team of accredited appraisers for the purposes of insurance coverage and claims, charitable donations, estate planning and probate, equitable distribution and fair-market value. We started our art commentary blog site as a venue for colleagues and fellow art enthusiasts to share their experiences within the art community.