cover image Alphonse Maria Mucha

Alphonse Maria Mucha

Rizzoli, Jiri Mucha. Rizzoli International Publications, $75 (300pp) ISBN 978-0-8478-1019-2

Best known for his posters of Sarah Bernhardt and his Art Nouveau-ish nymphs, Czech-born Alphonse Mucha (1860-1939) has been unjustly pigeonholed as a decorative artist. Certain to raise Mucha's reputation, this engrossing, profusely illustrated biography by the artist's son shows that Mucha saw himself as an uncompromising independent, an interpreter of the Slavonic soul, even as he was touched by the swirling eddies of Symbolism, Art Nouveau, the Viennese Secession and other movements. In turn-of-the-century Paris, Mucha found an ally in outcast Gauguin; his loose circle included Whistler, Strindberg and Verlaine. Caught up in the Symbolists' heady mix of occultism and theosophy, he attended seances and recorded dialogues with spirits. Later, in New York, where he finally settled down to married life, great wealth eluded him despite theatrical projects with Maud Adams and Ethel Barrymore. Mucha's Slav Epic , a cycle of idealized, luminous historical paintings, is worthy of its name. Anyone who thinks of him primarily as a flowery artist will have second thoughts after seeing Dead Woman with Child (1900), the intense charcoal-and-pastel sketches and other strong works reproduced here. (May)