paris exhibition of 1900


Alphonse Mucha (1860–1939, Czech)

Decorative prints: the tetraptychs

Mucha was an influential Czech painter and decorative artist of the turn of the century. His elegant depictions of females in neoclassical robes became an overnight sensation in Paris, where what was originally termed the “Mucha style” came to be known as Art Nouveau. Over the next few years he was highly sought-after for his skill in producing aesthetically beautiful advertising posters, and after finding how often these posters were stolen from walls, a considerable industry in printing reproductions for home display emerged.

His later career was primarily focused on oil painting, and most of the posters and designs that he is best-known for were produced in less than a decade, between 1895 and 1902, which must be one of the most intense periods of inspiration in artistic history. Alongside advertisements and other figurative prints for home display, Mucha was also what might nowadays be termed as a graphic designer: his compendium Documents décoratifs (1901) was a collection of drawings including figures, cutlery, typeface, jewellery, furniture and decorative panel designs that could spread his aesthetic ideas and serve as models for craftsmen and students of art and design. Mucha’s response to the positive reaction to his art at the 1900 Universal Exhibition in Paris indicates a viewpoint similar to William Morris’s Arts & Crafts Movement in England “I think [the Exposition Universelle] made some contribution toward bringing aesthetic values into arts and crafts” .

Many of Mucha’s best-known works are four-part series depicting women personifying themes of nature: the best known being his three series of the seasons. This gallery collects most of these works.

A note about reproductions: Mucha’s style was defined by its delicate utilisation of pastel colour. Over the years, with hundreds of reprints and iterative versions, the Mucha we see today is often a lot brighter and more saturated than it originally would have been. As such, take the colouration of online reproductions of Mucha’s work with criticism. The framing of the works, whether they include the titles or not, etc, have also varied considerably depending on the reprint, with some having extended decorative borders, and others with the borders entirely absent. More than any other artist, Mucha’s legacy is more of a template of poses and styles than finalised designs in his most popular works.

Tarot Mucha: The Art Behind the Cards

Weirdly enough, it was the Tarot Mucha that led me to Mucha himself, and not the other way around. I wanted my first deck to stick to Rider-Waite-Smith symbolism, but in a style that pulled at my historian heart-strings. I found and bought this deck, and before I knew it, I had Mucha posters on my wall and even wrote my third year final paper on his influence on Belle Epoque advertising. So of course I was absolutely overjoyed to discover how well his works were used in these cards! Below you will find a list of which paintings inspired which cards, completed to the best of my abilities. There may be mistakes and there definitely are absences. I basically just went through his works one at a time, looking for familiar figures, so hopefully you can forgive me. PLEASE feel free to let me know if you know something I don’t and can fill in some of the blanks! In the meantime, I hope this is something to help you appreciate both Mucha and the deck’s really fantastic designers even more.


The Fool- Autumn from The Four Seasons (1895)

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It’s FRIDAY FASHION FACT, and it’s time for our next designer bio! Today we’re talking about history’s most famous designers that nobody knows- Callot Soeurs! These sisters who formed a fashion house are completely fascinating, in a large part because we know so little about them.

Callot Soeurs created some of the most stunning gowns of the era, which now live in the most elite fashion museums across the globe. Their designs epitomized the Belle Epoque fashion movement. They mentored Madeleine Vionnet, who remains one of history’s most well-known designers. Their work should have earned them a shelf in fashion libraries among the volumes on Dior, Poiret, and Worth. Yet there are no major publications about Callot Soeurs. Apart from the remarkable garments they left behind, the women behind this fashion powerhouse largely remain a mystery. (Anyone want to fund my research? I’d love to take this on!) So let’s take a look at what we do know.

Marie Callot Gerber, Marthe Callot Bertrand, Regine Callot Tennyson-Chantrelle, and Josephine Callot Crimot were four French sisters who were raised in the fashion world from a young age. While all girls at the time were taught to sew, the Callot’s mother was a lacemaker, and she taught them more dressmaking skills than the average girl. Their father was an artist, and members of his family were lacemakers as well. Marie followed in her family’s footsteps, and apprenticed at the elite Parisian dress shop, Raudnitz and Co. Shortly after, her sisters joined her in the fashion business, opening small shop selling antique lace and ribbons. The sisters became skilled at using these trims to elaborate upon existing garments. This naturally translated into dressmaking.

In 1895, the sisters opened a couturier shop in Paris, and the Callot Soeurs fashion house was officially born. While Marie was the head designer, having the most dressmaking experience, all were involved. Their design style was known for two things. One, dresses adorned with an exquisite use of lace (a clear influence from their family history). The second (and keep in mind that these two styles were typically not combined) was a strong Eastern influence. The shop itself was decorated in an Oriental style, and several of their evening gowns were embellished with Oriental inspired shapes and embroidery.

Orientalism had been common in the 18th Century, and it is obvious from many of their designs that the sisters took inspiration from that era. Callot Soeurs did make more simplistic designs, too, though. What truly solidified their place in the elite fashion world was the expert craftsmanship and flawless construction. As Madeleine Vionnet stated, “without the example of the Callot Soeurs, I would have continued to make Fords. It is because of them that I have been able to make Rolls-Royces.”

The shop was an instant success. Tragically, though, in 1897, Josephine committed suicide. However, the three remaining sisters carried on. In 1900, their presentation at the Paris World Exhibition launched Callot Soeurs into the stratosphere. Within a few years, the sisters had over 600 seamstresses, textile workers, and more working under them. Throughout the early 1900s, the House steadily grew in popularity among society’s elite. At their peak, Callot Soeurs employed an estimated 3,000 workers. They remained popular through the 1920s, but by the end of that decade, Callot Soeurs struggled to compete in the changing market, now influenced by Chanel, tailoring, and crisp simplicity. In 1928, the sisters passed the company on to Pierre, Marie’s son. Yet the market continued to be a struggle for the company, and in 1937 Callot Soeurs was bought out by House of Calvet. Ultimately, both companies officially closed in 1952.

Considering how vast the Callot Soeurs empire once was, a precious few of their garments remain. Yet there is no doubt as to the creativity and skill that went into each and every one of their pieces.

Have a question about fashion history that you want answered in the next FRIDAY FASHION FACT? Just click the ASK button at the top of the page!


Alphonse Maria Mucha
Alphonse Maria Mucha was born in the town of Ivancice, Moravia (today’s region of Czech Republic). His singing abilities allowed him to continue his education through high school in the Moravian capital of Brünn (today Brno), even though drawing had been his first love since childhood. He worked at decorative painting jobs in Moravia, mostly painting theatrical scenery, then in 1879 moved to Vienna to work for a leading Viennese theatrical design company, while informally furthering his artistic education. When a fire destroyed his employer’s business in 1881 he returned to Moravia, doing freelance decorative and portrait painting. Count Karl Khuen of Mikulov hired Mucha to decorate Hrusovany Emmahof Castle with murals, and was impressed enough that he agreed to sponsor Mucha’s formal training at the Munich Academy of Fine Arts.

Mucha moved to Paris in 1887, and continued his studies at Académie Julian and Académie Colarossi while also producing magazine and advertising illustrations. Around Christmas 1894, Mucha happened to drop into a print shop where there was a sudden and unexpected demand for a new poster to advertise a play starring Sarah Bernhardt, the most famous actress in Paris, at the Théatre de la Renaissance on the Boulevard Saint-Martin. Mucha volunteered to produce a lithographed poster within two weeks, and on 1 January 1895, the advertisement for the play Gismonda by Victorien Sardou appeared on the streets of the city. It was an overnight sensation and announced the new artistic style and its creator to the citizens of Paris. Bernhardt was so satisfied with the success of that first poster that she entered into a 6 years contract with Mucha.

Mucha produced a flurry of paintings, posters, advertisements, and book illustrations, as well as designs for jewellery, carpets, wallpaper, and theatre sets in what was initially called the Mucha Style but became known as Art Nouveau (French for ‘new art’). Mucha’s works frequently featured beautiful healthy young women in flowing vaguely Neoclassical looking robes, often surrounded by lush flowers which sometimes formed haloes behind the women’s heads. In contrast with contemporary poster makers he used paler pastel colors. The 1900 Universal Exhibition in Paris spread the “Mucha style” internationally, of which Mucha said “I think [the Exposition Universelle] made some contribution toward bringing aesthetic values into arts and crafts.” He decorated the Bosnia and Herzegovina Pavilion and collaborated in the Austrian Pavilion. His Art Nouveau style was often imitated. However, this was a style that Mucha attempted to distance himself from throughout his life; he insisted always that, rather than adhering to any fashionable stylistic form, his paintings came purely from within and Czech art. He declared that art existed only to communicate a spiritual message, and nothing more; hence his frustration at the fame he gained through commercial art, when he wanted always to concentrate on more lofty projects that would ennoble art and his birthplace.
Mucha married Maruska (Marie/Maria) Chytilová on June 10, 1906, in Prague. The couple visited the U.S. from 1906 to 1910, when their daughter, Jaroslava, was born in New York City. They also had a son, Jiri, born on March 12, 1915 in Prague - April 5, 1991 in Prague) who later became a well known journalist, writer, screenwriter, author of autobiographical novels and studies of the works of his father. There he expected to earn money to fund his nationalistic projects to demonstrate to Czechs that he had not “sold out”. He was supported by millionaire Charles R. Crane, who applied his fortune to promote revolutions, and after meeting Thomas Masaryk, Slavic nationalism. The family then returned to the Czech lands and settled in Prague, where he decorated the Theater of Fine Arts, contributed the murals in the Mayor’s Office at the Municipal House, and other landmarks of the city. When Czechoslovakia won its independence after World War I, Mucha designed the new postage stamps, banknotes, and other government documents for the new state.
Mucha considered Le Pater his printed masterpiece, and referred to it in the January 5, 1900 issue of The Sun Newspaper (New York) as the thing he had “put [his] soul into”. Printed on December 20, 1899, Le Pater was Mucha’s occult examination of the themes of The Lord’s Prayer and only 510 copies were produced.
He spent many years working on what he considered his fine art masterpiece, The Slav Epic (Slovanská epopej), a series of twenty huge paintings depicting the history of the Czech and the Slavic peoples in general, bestowed to the city of Prague in 1928. He had dreamt of completing a series such as this, a celebration of Slavic history, since he was young. Since 1963 the series has been on display in the chateau at Moravsky Krumlovat the South Moravian Region in the Czech Republic.
The rising tide of fascism in the late 1930s led to Mucha’s works, as well as his Slavic nationalism, being denounced in the press as 'reactionary’. When German troops marched into Czechoslovakia in the spring of 1939, Mucha was among the first people to be arrested by the Gestapo. During the course of the interrogation the aging artist fell ill with pneumonia. Though eventually released, he never recovered from the strain of this event, or seeing his home invaded and overcome. He died in Prague on July 14, 1939 of a lung infection, and was interred there in the Vyšehrad cemetery.

By the time of his death, Mucha’s style was considered outdated. However, his son, author Jiri Mucha, devoted much of his life to writing about him and bringing attention to his art. Interest in Mucha’s distinctive style experienced a strong revival in the 1960s (with a general interest in Art Nouveau) and is particularly evident in the psychedelic posters of Hapshash and the Coloured Coat, the collective name for two British artists, Michael English and Nigel Waymouth, who designed posters for groups such as Pink Floyd and The Incredible String Band.
In his own country, the new authorities were not interested in Mucha. His Slav Epic was rolled and stored for twenty-five years before being shown in Moravsky Krumlov and only recently has a Mucha museum appeared in Prague, run by his grandson, John Mucha.

It has continued to experience periodic revivals of interest for illustrators and artists. It is a strong acknowledged influence for Stuckist painter Paul Harvey whose subjects have included Madonna and whose work was used to promote The Stuckists Punk Victorian show at the Walker Art Gallery during the 2004 Liverpool Biennial. the japanese manga artist Naoko Takeuchi released a series of official posters depicting five of the main characters from her manga series Sailor Moon mimicking Mucha’s style. Another manga artist, the 1962 born Masakazu Katsura has also mimicked Mucha’s style several times. Comic book artist and current Marvel Comics Editor in Chief Joe Quesada also borrowed heavily from Mucha’s techniques for a series of covers, posters, and prints. Grindcore and sludge metal band Soilent Green used a picture by Mucha for the cover of their album Sewn Mouth Secrets.
One of Mucha’s paintings, Quo Vadis or alternately Petronius and Eunice, was the subject of a legal dispute in 1986. The judgment handed down by Richard Posner describes parts of Mucha’s life and work biographically.
Among his many other accomplishments, Mucha was also the founder of Czech Freemasonry

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