The most famous artworks by Alphonse Mucha display his illustrative skills with colour and detail but he also produced a large number of simpler drawings, some of which were for the purpose of studying for a later piece. He made use of a number of different materials for his works, such as chalk, pen, ink, crayons, pastels, pencil and charcoal.
The majority of his career was devoted to figurative art, whether that be his advertisement posters such as Job or Princess Hyacinth, or his more traditional Romanticist approach to history painting in his Slav Epic. Achieving such accuracy could only be achieved through practice, as shown in the careers of many other artists involved in this medium including geniuses like Da Vinci and Michelangelo. Study drawings were the quickest and most accessible way to focus one's techniques around specific parts of the body or particular poses. You will find precisely the same in the drawings of Gustav Klimt too. Sketch books would then provide the ability to create artworks whilst moving around, with only a few pencils or chalk pieces needed to work whenever something inspiring appeared.
As a young boy perhaps the earliest artwork that we have from his career would be a small sketch of the Crucifixion, which he put together around 1868. It made use of pencil, crayon and watercolour on paper and also underlined the huge influence that the Catholic Church played in his early life. It was actually his singing skills (he was a chorister at Petrov Cathedral, aged 12) that allowed him admittance to several notable schools as he grew up before later receiving specialist training as an illustrator. He would put these to good use, quickly setting up a career as a professional graphical artist, taking on all manner of different commissions in Moravia, and then later Paris.
In the very earliest years of the 20th century Mucha was focusing on designs for furniture, silver and tableware products. These allowed him to display his versatility as an artist, yet again, and also brought him new challenges in terms of accurately capturing light and shadow through drawing across new materials. Some of the silver set designs that he created in two-tone sketches were extraordinary.
From a distance they are remarkably realistic, but up close you can make out the clever series of patterns that he used in order to achieve various visual effects. There were also considerable numbers of jewellery designs during this period, alongside highlights such as wall-mounted cabinets, theatre stages, ornate fireplaces, architectural exteriors and so much more.
Documents Decoratifs was a small book produced by Alphonse Mucha in 1902 which featured many plates that demonstrated design for the use of others. It was intended as an inspirational piece to younger designers involved in all manner of different disciplines, including plants and flowers, jewellery, furniture and silver kitchenware. Other pages in this document were more in line with what Mucha remains most famous for - his figurative illustrations of female figures, accompanied by elaborate patterns of foliage.
Elements of this publication will remind us of the drawings of Albrecht Durer, a Northern Renaissance artist from Nuremburg, who produced stunning reproductions of plant studies as well as his impressive anatomical study titled, Praying Hands. He would look through catalogues of plants, owned by his father, at a young age to find inspiration for his work at a later date where as Mucha was originally spurred on by his commitment to Christianity and the various iconic forms which are well suited to all forms of art.
Tom Gurney in an art history expert. He received a BSc (Hons) degree from Salford University, UK, and has also studied famous artists and art movements for over 20 years. Tom has also published a number of books related to art history and continues to contribute to a number of different art websites. You can read more on Tom Gurney here.