The Power of Illustration II

From 1910 to 1928 Alfons Mucha worked on what he considered the crowning work of his life, The Slav Epic. Mucha lived after Jan Matejko but his series of 20 monumental paintings is very much in Matejko's tradition. The Slav Epic illustrates key moments in the history of the Slavic peoples and was intended to help foster a sense of ethnic identity at a time when the various Slavic peoples had become victims of international politics.

By all accounts Alfons Mucha came to the public attention by being in the right place at the right time. His art became hugely popular and was reproduced on everything from posters to biscuit tins.

Interestingly, and in line with our previous discussion, he was not known for his fine art originals hanging in exclusive galleries. When he unveiled his original canvases for the Slav Epic he was met with collective indifference. The top photo has always struck me as encapsulating this reaction. Mucha sits in a large hall in front of his monumental work, and the impression the photo gives is that no one came to see it.

So I revisit one of my earlier points. We are in the midst of a shift in how people receive art. About 100 years ago there was another shift, away from galleries to the more popular appeal of posters, calendars, and merchandising. The shift we are experiencing now seems to be away from even prints and posters in favor of merchandising (and of course calendars.)

Even so you cannot deny the power of these pieces and it is surprising how little known they are. It makes me wonder if they would have been better received if published in a book, even as a large format limited edition, which was fairly common at the time.

For a better look at all twenty pieces go to Golden Age Comic Book Stories


Anonymous said...

These are absolutely gorgeous! Thanks for sharing.

Anonymous said...

These are gorgeous! Thanks for sharing.

theodore said...

Thanks for the inspiration! I can't believe how large those canvases are.

PaperSmyth said...

So amazingly beautiful and symbolic. I am stunned to see the "empty" show as well.