Alphonse Mucha
Alphonse Mucha was born in 1860 in Ivancice, Moravia, which is near the city of Brno in the modern Czech Republic. It was a small town, and for all intents and purposes life was closer to the 18th than the 19th century. Though Mucha is supposed to have started drawing before he was walking, his early years were spent as a choirboy and amateur musician. It wasn't until he finished high school (needing two extra years to accomplish that onerous task) that he came to realize that living people were responsible for some of the art he admired in the local churches. That epiphany made him determined to become a painter, despite his father's efforts in securing him "respectable" employment as a clerk in the local court.
Like every aspiring artist of the day, Mucha ended up in Paris in 1887. He was a little older than many of his fellows, but he had come further in both distance and time. A chance encounter in Moravia had provided him with a patron who was willing to fund his studies. After two years in Munich and some time devoted to painting murals for his patron, he was sent off to Paris where he studied at the Academie Julian. After two years the supporting funds were discontinued and Alphonse Mucha was set adrift in a Paris that he would soon transform. At the time, however, he was a 27 year old with no money and no prospects - the proverbial starving artist.
For five years he played the part to perfection. Living above a Cremerie that catered to art students, drawing illustrations for popular (ie. low-paying) magazines, getting deathly ill and living on lentils and borrowed money, Mucha met all the criteria. It was everything an artist's life was supposed to be. Some success, some failure. Friends abounded and art flourished. It was the height of Impressionism and the beginnings of the Symbolists and Decadents. He shared a studio with Gauguin for a bit after his first trip to the south seas. Mucha gave impromptu art lessons in the Cremerie and helped start a traditional artists ball, Bal des Quat'z Arts. All the while he was formulating his own theories and precepts of what he wanted his art to be.
On January 1, 1895, he presented his new style to the citizens of Paris. Called upon over the Christmas holidays to created a poster for Sarah Bernhardt's play, Gismonda, he put his precepts to the test. The poster, at left, was the declaration of his new art. Spurning the bright colors and the more squarish shape of the more popular poster artists, the near life-size design was a sensation.
Art Nouveau ("New Art" in French) can trace it's beginnings to about this time. Based on precepts akin to William Morris' Arts and Crafts movement in England, the attempt was to eradicate the dividing line between art and audience. Everything could and should be art. Burne-Jones designed wallpaper, Hector Guimard designed metro stations, and Mucha designed champagne advertising (at right) and stage sets. Each country had its own name for the new approach and artists of incredible skill and vision flocked to the movement.
Overnight, Mucha's name became a household word and, though his name is often used synonymously with the new movement in art, he disavowed the connection. Like Sinatra, he merely did it "my way." His way was based on a strong composition, sensuous curves derived from nature, refined decorative elements and natural colors. The Art Nouveau precepts were used, too, but never at the expense of his vision. Bernhardt signed him to a six year contract to design her posters and sets and costumes for her plays. Mucha was an overnight success at the age of 34, after seven years of hard work in Paris.
Commissions poured in. By 1898, he had moved to a new studio, illustrated Ilsee, Princess de Tripoli (see image at left), had his first one-man show and had begun publishing graphics with Champenois, a new printer anxious to promote his work with postcards and panneaux - sets of four large images around a central theme (four seasons, four times of day, four flowers, etc. - see below for Stars). Most of these sets were created for the collector market and printed on silk.
There was a World's Fair in Paris in 1900 and Mucha designed the Bosnia-Hercegovina Pavilion. He partnered with goldsmith Georges Fouquet in the creation of jewelry based on his designs. The bronze, Nature (at right) is from this time period. He also published Documents Decoratifs and announced Figures Decoratives. Documents Decoratifs was his attempt to pass his artistic theories on to the next generation. In actuality, it provided a set of blueprints to Mucha's style and his imitators wasted no time in applying them.
His fame spread around the world and several trips to America and resulted in covers and illustrations in a variety of U.S. magazines. Portraiture was also commissioned from U.S. patrons. At the end of the decade he was prepared to begin what he considered his life's work.
Mucha was always a patriot of his Czech homeland and considered his success a triumph for the Czech people as much as for himself. In 1909 he was commissioned to paint a series of murals for the Lord Mayor's Hall in Pragu He also began to plan out "The Slav Epic" - a series of great paintings chronicling major events in the Slav nation. Financing was provided by Charles Crane, a Chicago millionaire. Mucha had hoped to complete the task in five or six years, but instead it embraced 18 years of his life. Twenty massive (about 24 x 30 feet) canvasses were created and presented to the city of Prague in 1928. Covering the history of the Slavic people from prehistory to the nineteenth century, they represented Mucha's hopes and dreams for his homeland. In 1919 the first eleven canvases were completed and exhibited in Prague, and America where they received a much warmer welcome.
History hasn't been kind to either Mucha or to the Czechs - as the current unrest in the area at the turn of this century shows. Mucha's bequest to his country was received with unkindly cold shoulders. The geopolitical world ten years after World War I was very different from the one in which Mucha had begun his project. Moravia was now a part of a new nation, Czechoslovakia (Mucha offered to help the new country by designing its postage stamps and bank notes). The art world was just as changed. And just as the proponents of "Modern Art" cast their slings and arrows at the oh-so 19th century style, varying political groups brought out their personal arsenals of vitriolic prejudice in damning one aspect or other of Mucha's work. The public seemed to appreciate them, but political agendas seldom give much weight to public opinion. Only recently have they been made available again. They are on permanent display in the castle at Morovsky Krumlov. Brian Yoder of the Art Renewal Center saw them when he visited the Czech Republic in 2001 (he says they are quite remarkable!). He says "the castle has certainly seen better days and the location is not ideal (for example it is unheated in the winter and is closed to the public during those months)." But at least the public, the appreciative and constant public, can view these masterpieces again.
The rest of Mucha's life was spent almost as an anachronism. His work was still beautiful and popular, it just was no longer "new" - a heinous crime in the eyes of the critics. When the Germans invaded Czechoslovakia, he was still influential enough to be one of the first people they arrested. He returned home after a Gestapo questioning session and died shortly thereafter on July 14, 1939.

Tamara de Lempicka
Tamara de Lempicka is perhaps the most famous painter of the art deco period. She was born in Poland and moved to Russia where she lived until the Bolsheviks arrested her husband during the Russian revolution. She secured his release and they fled to Paris. there she learned to paint, enrolling at the Academie de la Grand Chaumiere and studying privately. She was quite a prolific artist (in part facilitated by her spare simple style) and was much sought after as a portrait artist. If you are interested in learning more about Tamara deLempicka I highly recommend Passion by Design by her daughter, Kizette deLempicka-Foxhall.

Giclee
There are several printmaking techniques on the market today. While artists have employed some for centuries, others are quite new technologies. Limited edition prints are highly collectible. The faithful translation of original paintings into limited editions enables an artist's work to be enjoyed by more collectors. The total number of impressions an artist chooses to make is called an edition. Each impression in the edition is signed and numbered by the artist. There are various methods of printmaking, each yielding a distinct appearance. Some of the most common techniques are serigraphy, lithography, intaglio, or giclee.
Serigraphy is a stencil technique in which the stencil is painted or exposed to a screen of mesh fabric. Originally this fabric was made of silk, which lends the common name silkscreen to this medium. Paint is forced through the fabric screen onto a sheet of paper by the means of a squeegee. A separate screen is used for each color.
Lithography was invented in 1798. Artists such as Bonnard, and Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec made this medium famous in the 1890's. To make a lithograph, the artist uses a grease crayon to create a composition on a stone or plate. The image is printed by chemically treating the stone to ensure that the drawn areas attract the ink while the unmarked areas repel it. Ink is then rolled over the stone or plate; printmaking paper is set in place. Lastly, a scraperbar is pulled across the paper in order to transfer the ink to paper.
Intaglio is commonly referred to as etchings. Intaglio comes from the Italian word meaning to bite or incise. In order to create an etching, an image is incised with a pointed tool, or bitten with acid into a metal plate. The plate is then covered with ink, and then cleaned so only the incised grooves contain ink. The plate and dampened paper are run through a press to create the print. The intaglio family of printmaking includes, engraving, drypoint, mezzotint, etchings, and aquatint.
Giclee is the newest medium in the printmaking family. Giclee is a French term meaning sprayed ink. An iris ink jet print on watercolor paper produces this fine quality reproduction. First, giclee prints begin as an original work of art. It is then scanned into the computer, where the image is fine-tuned. Then the image is printed using archival inks and paper.

Gustav Klimt
Gustav Klimt was a controversial figure in his time. His work was constantly criticized for being too sensual and erotic, and his symbolism too deviant. Today, they stand out as the more important paintings ever to come out of Vienna.
1862 - Birth of Gustav Klimt in Baumgarten, near Vienna, Austria. His father is a gold engraver but unsuccessful in business. The family lives in poverty.
1876 - At the age of 14, Klimt enters the Vienna Public Art School. Noticed for his talents, he receives his first commissions while studying.
1883 - Klimt, his brother Ernst and Franz Matsch form the Kanstlercompanie (Company of Artists) and start a productive cooperation. Works for theaters, churches and museums were ordered by several patrons.
1886-1892 - Klimt executes mural decorations for staircases at the Burgtheater and the Kunsthistorisches Museum in Vienna. He contributes for a series called Allegories and Emblems. Its success leads to a second large order, containing Klimt's painting "Tragedy", announcing all of his stylistic characteristics: gold paint, areas of detail and areas of abstract space, symbolism, the female figure.
1891 - He becomes a member of the Co-operative Society of Austrian Artists.
1892 - Death of his father and brother Ernst. He moves to a larger studio.
1893 - Klimt and Matsch are commissioned to decorate the ceiling of the Great Hall of the new University of Vienna. Due to a falling-out between Klimt and Matsch, the works are greatly delayed. The series of paintings, "Philosophy", "Medecine" and "Jurisprudence", provoked widespread controversy. He is never to accept a public commission again.
1897 - As Klimt feels his integrety as an artist is under threat, The Secession Mouvement is formed, focusing on exposure for young, unconventional artists, bringing quality foreign art to Vienna and publishing a magazine.
1898-1905 - The first large exhibition of foreign work organized by the Secession attracts 57.000 visitors. "Ver Sacrum", its monthly magazine, starts to publish. The Secession completes its own exhibition building and rapidly becomes the leading Artist Association in Vienna. Klimt will remain at the center of Secession activity until 1905.
1898 - Klimt paints "Sonia Knips" at the Dumba Palace Music Room.
1900 - His first painting for the University of Vienna, "Philosophy" is exhibited unfinished at the Paris World Fair and wins the Grand Prix. He paints the portrait of Rose von Rosthorn-Friedmann.
1901 - Klimt paints "Medicine" and "Judith and Holofernes".
1902 - In the Secession Building, the statue of Max Klinger, "Beethoven", is accompanied by Klimt's "Beethoven Frieze". He also paints the portrait of Emilie Floge in a dress that she designed.
1903 - Klimt travels to Ravenna and Florence and paints "Jurisprudence".
1904 - Klimt paints "Water Snakes" and is commissioned to paint the series of mosaic murals (1905-1909) for the Palais Stoclet, an opulent private mansion in Brussels.
1905 - Several artists and Klimt himself resign from Secession and form a new association called "Kunstschau" (Art Show). The artist paints "The three ages of Woman".
1907 - The works "Danae", a very erotic work depicting the conception of Perseus by Zeus, and "Adele Bloch-Bauer" are painted.
1908 - Klimt paints "The Kiss", in which he celebrates the attraction of the sexes.
1909 - Klimt paints "Judith II" and "Hope" in which he juxtaposes the promise of new life with the destroying force of death.
1911 - Klimt travels to Rome and Florence, paints "Death and Life".
1913 - Klimt paints "The Virgin".
1914 - Klimt paints "Elisabeth Bachofen-Echt".
1917 - Klimt paints "Baby" (unfinished). Paints "Schonbrunn Landscape" among other landscape scenes.
1918 - On January 11th, Klimt suffers a stroke in his apartment and dies on February 6th from pneumonia.

Art Deco
Art Deco or art deco - An art movement involving a mix of modern decorative art styles, largely of the 1920s and 1930s, whose main characteristics were derived from various avant-garde painting styles of the early twentieth century. Art deco works exhibit aspects of Cubism, Russian Constructivism and Italian Futurism -- with abstraction, distortion, and simplification, particularly geometric shapes and highly intense colors -- celebrating the rise of commerce, technology, and speed.
The growing impact of the machine can be seen in repeating and overlapping images from 1925; and in the 1930s, in streamlined forms derived from the principles of aerodynamics.
The name came from the 1925 Exposition Internationale des Arts Decoratifs Industriels et Modernes, held in Paris, which celebrated living in the modern world.
It was popularly considered to be an elegant style of cool sophistication in architecture and applied arts which range from luxurious objects made from exotic material to mass produced, streamlined items available to a growing middle class.
So what distinguishes this style from all of the rest? Basically it was a "modernization" of many artistic styles and themes from the past. You can easily detect in many examples of Art Deco the influence of Far and Middle Eastern design, Greek and Roman themes, and even Egyptian and Mayan influence. Modern elements included echoing machine and automobile patterns and shapes such as stylized gears and wheels, or natural elements such as sunbursts and flowers.