Eroticism is defined in the dictionary as: “the use of sexually arousing or pleasing symbolism in literature or art.” Octavio Paz believed imagination was the invisible character weaving the erotic psyche. If both of these concepts came together to create something wonderful it would probably look like Alphonse Mucha’s Art Nouveau’s work, full of beautiful, passionate, and idealized female sensuality.
Alphonse Mucha was born in 1860, in a small town in Moravia, now the Czech Republic. From a young age his stubbornness to write with his left hand caused him to be locked for hours while being scolded. It was with this hand that he made his first drawings inspired by Christian motifs.
After his country was occupied by the Austro-Hungarian empire, he left for Vienna to pursue an artistic career. Despite his talent as a singer, his passion was drawing.
In 1881, Count Kart Khuen of Mikulov hired Mucha to decorate the walls of the Hrusovany Emmahof Castle. His employer was so astounded by the results that he financed the rest of his studies at the Academy of Fine Arts in Munich. After finishing, he did print and advertising work, but his career seemed to be going nowhere.
Then, at the age of 35, his big break came in the form of Sarah Benhardt, a famous theater actress who asked him to draw the poster for the play Gismonda. The artist was so marveled by Mucha’s work that she began to promote his work.
Mucha began taking his art down a particular style: presenting a sensual woman, in an elegant outfit, painted in flashy colors. His unique style of sophisticated women led him to make posters, sculptures, and paintings of an esthetic that was deemed overly erotic for showing the models’ ankles, legs, and shoulders.
Mucha’s women are elegant, sensual, seductresses connected to nature. The artist knew how to blend the female body with the natural world through ornamentation, creating timeless pieces that withstand the passing of time.
His works always seemed to include mystical elements that give the female form an erotic touch that remains quite subtle. Mucha’s Art Nouveau reveal his patriotic spirit and utopian ideology. His art tells the story of an artist who fought against all odds to develop his own vision and style.
For Mucha, art was not a fad or a trend, but a constant. He never took an interest in following a particular current or style of his contemporaries, as was Expressionism, Surrealism, and others.
Art Nouveau was an attempt at including all possible forms of expression. This is why the artist was inspired by jewelry, packaging, interior designs, as well as photography, sculpture, and print making.
Mucha’s work influenced several artists who continued with his idea of female sensuality. The Art Deco style took over the artist’s esthetic, changing the trend. Yet his work continues to be a reference for those in advertising, who repackaged his style in the sixties with the wave of psychedelic posters.
Translated by María Suárez