Review: 'Mucha: Master of Art Nouveau' Exhibition at Hotel de Caumont, France
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Review: ‘Mucha: Master of Art Nouveau’ Exhibition at Hotel de Caumont, France

An exhibition as revolutionary as the artist it celebrates

By Wendyrosie Scott | 1 month ago

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With only three weeks left to see a truly transformative exhibition of Alphonse Mucha’s artwork at the Hotel de Caumont, perhaps a trip to Aix-on-Provence in France is in order, says Wendyrosie Scott.

See Alphonse Mucha’s Masterful Art Nouveau Work In This French Exhibition

Noted for creating a sinuous new movement in, well, Art Nouveau, the renowned visionary creative Alphonse Mucha formulated a narrative so successful that it became a gargantuan phenomenon. Combining nature and culture (my niche, having studied Anthropology and Art History aeons ago), experiencing his work in situ at such an impressionable age was life-enhancing for me.

Fast forward to 2024 and, in conjunction with the Mucha Foundation, this informed and informative exhibition encompasses a wide body of work – primarily paintings, panels, posters, and photography. All are highly detailed and revelatory. The latter area in particular typifies his mastery of theatrical imagery at a time when photography was relatively in its infancy, acting as snapshots into his highly stylised and staged artworks, where sitters are implicit. The women (his chosen subject in much of his creative output) have a strong sense of self and of the power they possess. Part documentary, part mise-en-scène, these photographs were produced as tableaux for paintings to honour the history of his people, such as the monumental Slav Epic series.

Born in the Czech Republic in 1860, Mucha is surely the region of Moravia’s most revered artist. Moving to Munich to study fine art and then to Paris, at a time when the creatives of the age were drawn to mysticism and symbolism, Mucha rapidly developed a signature style in the 1890s, when Art Nouveau was in vogue. Combining multifarious aesthetics, alongside a fundamental political and social commitment, Mucha revealed a maturity and social consciousness at an early age.

Alphonse Mucha's Chant de boheme 1918 Huile sur toile painting

© Mucha Trust 2023

Mucha’s providential encounter with, in his words, the ‘divine’ and famous French actor Sarah Bernhardt (who is well represented here) helped to define him. His sinuous and ever-evolving depictions of beauty suffused with symbolism became his oeuvre throughout his career. Regarding art as universal –  and asserting an artistic intention that grew into a graphic application – led to him becoming a renowned and celebrated illustrator, poster designer and prolific practitioner. Mysticism was his visual language, with the natural world providing inspiration and harmony. Wowed by women, his many thematic depictions of them in essence served to celebrate and elevate.

His success grew globally, and his inimitable style impressed across all areas of society. In an aesthetic so recognisable, it remains fashionable and sellable (in 2019, Sotheby’s auctioneers saw his work reach almost twice the estimated price). Mucha’s distinctive style of swirls and ‘girls with curls’ was intent on creating a romanticised yet revolutionary depiction where nature is evident in reams. Typifying the sinuous organic style in remarkable pictorial representation, extravagant and exuberant, this exhibition is as revolutionary as the artist.

A popular artist equals a full gallery of folk jostling to see this collection. Arriving early is key. Such elemental art being housed in the grandiose gallery of the Hotel de Caumont compliments the exhibition perfectly. Yet what proved eye-opening was actually how much of an activist Mucha was. Resultantly, a not unfamiliar disjunct presented itself: should such socially aware artists be shown in lavish surroundings? If not, what would be appropriate? Surely this is a fitting testament to Mucha’s celestial body of work, so studiously crafted and with an enduring appeal, spanning centuries and countries. Mucha left an accessible legacy and consistently apparent admiration for his homeland, which is honoured throughout. Hence his humility lives on. 


The Alphonse Mucha exhibition is running at the Hotel de Caumont, Centre d’Art, Aix en Provence, France, until 24 March 2024. Open daily 10-6 pm.