Alphonse Mucha: Jewellery moved by art
Alfons Maria Mucha’s creations go back to the end of the XIX century, during a period of changes and reinterpretations. “Le Style Mucha” became the embodiment of artistic searches, the Art Nouveau that originated in Belgium and France.
This Moravian artist created an extraordinary image of a woman. Like a demigoddess she lives in the world, not knowing about the existence of worldly vanity, surrounded by flowers and leaves, symbols and arabesques. To a graceful and cold femme fatale Mucha gave softness and charm, without depriving her of mystery or grace.
Splendid, infinitely long hair is gathered or dissolved, tiaras with stones, headbands, flowers, beads, necklaces, corsage adornments, light fabrics — everything flows into one another and leaves a stamp of unearthly lightness. The meandering and intertwining stems are imbued with the organic strength and vital energy of plants, like lines on Hermann Obrist’s embroidered decorations.
In 1898 Mucha created a poster with Sarah Bernhardt for the famous Greek tragedy Medée, in which the heroine, having discovered her husband Jason’s infidelity, killed their two children. The horror of the tragedy is embodied in the intense, wide-open eyes of the actress. With the use of colors the artist revealed the tragedy and irreversibility of this act. The stylized landscape in the background shows the influence of Japonisme on contemporary fashion.
This poster was seen by George Fouquet, a well-known jeweler who recently inherited his father’s business. He was in search of new ideas and could not help but notice an amazing snake bracelet, wrapped around Medée’s hand.
In 1899 the jeweller realized this bracelet for Sarah Bernhardt, using Mucha’s drawing. It became an integral costume part for her Medée, Cleopatra and other fateful female characters she portrayed.
The scaly snake head is made in the technique of cloisonné enamel and supplemented with opals, rubies and diamonds. A thin chain connects the bracelet with a ring also made as a small snake head. The bracelet was very flexible due to the hidden hinge system, which allowed free movement of the arm.
Georges Fouquet, who wanted to compete with the magnificent René Lalique, decided to follow the example of his colleague Henri Vever, who joined forces with Eugène Grasset. For the Exposition Universelle of 1900, Fouquet suggested that Mucha should create the same jewellery that he had admired on the artist’s posters and illustrations. Splendid necklaces and diadems decorating the female head on the poster “Zodiac”, tiara and rich adornments, wrapping Salammbô, beautiful jewels in the hair of Byzantine girls, Salome’s strap.
In 1895 Sarah Bernhardt impersonated Mélisande in Edmond Rostand’s play “La Princesse Lointaine” at the Renaissance Theater in Paris. Alphonse Mucha designed a tiara with lilies and a pendant for this character.
At the Exposition Universelle of 1900, Georges Fouquet’s showcase, containing stunning suites to adorn the hair and the bodice created by Mucha, aroused a glowing admiration. These works of art were like theatrical parures for some exotic princess, which are known to us today only through old photographs, a few fragments or partial replicas.
This long chain enriched by colored stones and pearls, mystical circles and semi-moons finished on one side in an enameled floral element between two eagle heads with two symmetrical miniatures and on the other side in an oval-shaped enameled pendant. It combined oriental and western styles. The jewel perfectly demonstrates Mucha’s original conceptual design: shape, motifs, techniques and materials derive an aesthetic power from Oriental-style symbolism. He completely revived and renewed the use of the miniature in jewelry art.
Mucha created this poster for actress Leslie Carter. Actually her name was Caroline Louise Dudley. She was the millionaire’s former wife and took his name for her career as theater actress to spite of him.
She wears one of the Mucha’s favorite works, recognizable in at least six other panels and posters: a richly ornate bodice decoration formed by six epauletts linked by chains to a large central plaque with a miniature, completed by elements hanging from each side.
From this magnificent jewel, realized by Fouquet for the 1900 Exposition Universelle in Paris, only the central element remained: an oblong miniature crowned with enameled gillyflowers enclosed in an openwork frame.
Mucha created rings with stones and floral ornaments, hairpins with lotuses, butterflies, brooches in the form of orchids from mother of pearl and pendants with medallions with images of beautiful women. Fantastic and natural motifs mixed in the imagination of the artist.
This pendant reflects the artist’s desire for a new approach, in which the choice in favor of extraordinary materials and design prevails. The beauty of the jewellery depends on its artistic concept and not on the cost of materials.
Alphonse Mucha realized many drawings of jewellery.
Mucha created only a limited number of pieces on his own, infact the majority was made in collaboration with Georges Fouquet. This cooperation led to the opening of Fouquet’s boutique in 1901 in Rue Roayle. Mucha designed all aspects of his shop — both exterior and interior, and the contents, including the furniture, light fittings and showcases. Mucha conceived the shop as a complete work of art. Everything was perfectly thought out and harmonized with the style of the jewellery.
Mucha’s designs remained in place until 1923 when they were supplanted bymore up-to-date fittings. In 1941 Fouquet gave every piece to the Musée Carnavalet for safekeeping and in 1989 the Musée Carnavalet completed the reconstruction of the boutique. It remains one of the most spectacular examples of Art Nouveau decorative design.
This pendant was realized by Amalric Walter according to Mucha’s drawing. He was a French glass-blower, known for his work in the pâte de verre technique.
His posters and decorative panels were so popular that the figures of women were transposed into enamel as ornaments for precious boxes and jewelry destined to a larger market. This mass production was carried out, it seems, by British, German and Austrian manufacturers. For example, a necklace with an oval medallion portraying the bust of a young woman with an oriental haircut from the decorative panel “La plume”.
The jewelry inspired by Mucha’s drawings influenced by ancient oriental motifs, was permeated with the sensuality of “Fin du siecle”. It is filled with memories, it evokes many images and books: Herodias, Cleopatra, Salammbô, Baudelaire’s “Flowers of Evil”, “blue hydrangeas” by Robert de Montesquieu the immortal image of Baron de Charlus by Marcel Proust.
- Marilena Mosco. Art of jewelry and artists’ jewels in the 20th century. Giunti Editore, 2001.
- Patrizia Runfola. MUCHA. Giunti Editore, 1995.