What caught my attention in Week 11’s lecture was the story of Alphonse Mucha’s coincidental success. Alphonse Mucha happened to be at the right place right time when Sarah Bernhardt needed a new design for the prolongation of her theatrical run. Since it was the holidays, none of the artists, at the publishing firm which Mucha was working in, was available- leaving him with the job. After his posters were published, it caused an immediate sensation and hence, Bernhardt invited Mucha to come along side her as the artistic director of her productions, designing posters, stage sets, costumes, and jewellery for her productions.
So, this made me curious as to WHY and WHAT made his poster so ‘good’ that landed him such as success.
To start off, titled Gismonda, it was also the Greek melodrama Bernhardt was to star in and direct. Even though posters were common then, Mucha’s creation of a narrow, life size composition was what stole the show. Its mere dimensions were 216 x 74.2 cm – it was an almost life-sized Sarah Bernhardt.
Mucha also leeched onto the developments of lithographic printing to develop this piece which was a daring risk for the job.
The way Mucha depicted women was also interesting, in Gismonda, he actually placed a man at Bernhardt’s feet! The poster created also portrayed her as “The Divine Sarah” enhanced with the arch across her head, almost as if a halo. She was also dressed in the costume of a Byzantine noblewoman with an orchid headdress and floral stole. His works might be linked to popularising the Art Nouveau’s asthetics however unlike many of Art Nouveau’s most clichéd elements, such as the long, looping lettering, these never appear in Mucha’s images. Instead elements of eastern European folk art can be seen credited to Mucha’s attachment with his Czech identity and hence the inclusion of Slavic motifs.
Hence, it seems Mucha’s innovative and refreshing style reflected in Gismonda was what earned him his career.