The fascinating life of Alfons Mucha

Born in the small Moravian town of Ivančice, he lived in Vienna, Munich, Paris and New York. He experienced periods of poverty and richness. He was told that painting was not for him – and he became a painter known all over the world.

Major Events

He was born in 1860 in Ivančice and was, like his five siblings, given a name beginning with A. Alfons liked to draw (with his left hand, then he was right-handed) already in pre-school. His bohemian nature was obvious in his studies in Brno – he had to repeat the 2nd and 3rd year until he was expelled from the grammar school for good.

After returning to Ivančice, he worked as a court scribe. He also worked as an artist in patriotic associations and painted backdrops for an amateur theatre. He did not get into the Prague Academy and was eventually expelled from the court (when he once drew the accused instead of writing them down). A few years later, a tragic fire destroyed the Vienna theatre scene with hundreds of casualties – spectators, and Mucha was fired again.

He went to Mikulov where he made posters, announcements, invitations ... until a job offer came from count Khuen-Belasi. Mucha used the frescoes to decorate the dining room of the Emmahof castle in Hrušovany and then painted his brother's frescoes in the family castle in Tyrol so beautifully that the count became his patron. Mucha went to Munich to study painting and then to Paris.

He met many famous people. For example, when Paul Gauguin returned from his dream stay in Tahiti and was completely penniless, it was Mucha who gave him shelter. (Shortly thereafter, Mucha contracted typhus and almost died.)

Tip for reading

If you are interested in the details of the life of this great artist, we recommend the book Kankán se svatozáří written by his son Jiří Mucha. For example, you can read a funny story about how Alfons Mucha and his friend Luděk Marold searched for poppies for Moravian plum dumplings in Paris, but poppies are considered an opiate everywhere in the world except in Bohemia.

Mucha became a reputable artist, opened his own Cours Mucha and began teaching at the prestigious Carmen Academy. A major milestone in his career? It came during Christmas 1894. The theatre player Sarah Bernhardt needed a poster for a new Gismond play at a short notice. It was virtually overnight that Mucha became a star painter. Sarah was thrilled, because the Czech painter conceived the poster differently than was usual at that time.

He created an impressive visual work. No one could miss such a poster! People were fascinated ... Mucha set a new standard for applied arts – from posters to jewellery and furniture to candy wrappers for Nestlé. For the famous actress Mucha designed more posters, costumes and even hairstyles. The French loved him. The 1900 Paris World's Fair came into the picture. It was in the spirit of Art Nouveau. Mucha couldn't miss it! At the request of the Viennese government, he designed the pavilion of Bosnia and Herzegovina. The exhibition lasted seven months and Mucha's pavilion was one of the most visited.

But we must remember: in 1903 Mucha met his future wife Maria, then a student of painting, who was taking private lessons with Mucha. Alfons spent the next few years between Europe and New York (he married Maria in 1906 and they decided to live in the States where he was holding lectures at the Art Institute, for example).

The Slav Epic

In the USA Mucha found a wealthy patron to realise his dream – to paint a spectacular series of large-format paintings on the theme of the history of Slavic peoples from prehistory to the present day. In 1910 he returned to Bohemia permanently and after 18 years he completed his work. He named it the SLAV EPIC.

After World War I, Mucha designed a series of the first Czechoslovak post stamps, banknotes, the state emblem, and even police uniforms. When the Nazis invaded Czechoslovakia in 1939, Mucha was among the first people arrested and taken away by the Gestapo for interrogation. A few months later, he died of pneumonia. The Germans – understandably – forbade a state funeral for the Czech patriot – yet a huge number of people came to Vyšehrad to say goodbye to him. And his work lives on!


Mucha's best works