Alphonse Mucha exhibit on display

The Museum of the Shenandoah Valley will open a display of artwork by Alphonse Mucha today. Here, Nancy M. Huth, museum deputy director, arts and education, left, and Kyle Briner, museum registrar and collections manager, look through a series of books featuring Mucha's artwork. Rich Cooley/Daily
Nancy M. Huth, deputy director, arts and education for the Musuem of The Shenandoah Valley, stands by a grouping of three posters by Art Nouveau icon Alphonse Mucha. Rich Cooley/Daily
This art poster for an advertisement of Perfecta bicycles is part of the Alphonse Mucha display at the Museum of the Shenandoah Valley. Rich Cooley/Daily

WINCHESTER – The Museum of the Shenandoah Valley will showcase its first exhibit featuring Art Nouveau with the works of iconic artist Alphonse Mucha.

Flowing fabrics, twisting flowers and beautiful ladies decorate a number of lithographed prints and large posters that will be on display at the museum today through July 31. Julie Armel, the museum’s deputy director of community relations, said the seasonal timing is perfect – visitors can drink in the floral motifs in Mucha’s work and then take a stroll in the Glen Burnie Gardens.

Mucha was a Czech illustrator around the turn of the 20th century whose work embodied characteristics of the Art Nouveau movement. Nancy Huth, the museum’s deputy director of arts and education, said the style blends elements from Japanese art, Celtic designs and natural, organic qualities.

“All of these things kind of came together, but at the time, it looked like something that was completely new,” she said.

Many of Mucha’s works on display were advertisements – for chocolates and bicycles to liquors and cigarette papers – while others were simply decorative panels. One room of the exhibit focuses on his breakthrough work for actress Sarah Bernhardt, creating a number of different posters for her performances.

“He’d kind of struggled before then,” Huth said. “He went on to do all kinds of stuff for her.”

Huth said he became a pioneer of modern forms of advertisement and product image.

“In fact, the whole idea of using beautiful women to sell products – which Mucha really exploits – becomes part of our way of doing things in the 20th and 21st centuries,” she said. “A couple of things that we take for granted, he was really at the forefront of.”

Other Mucha pieces on display will include sketches and illustrations for magazines and books, even artwork for money that he designed for Czechoslovakia after it was formed in 1918. The final exhibit room includes an 1899 copy of “Le Pater,” Mucha’s illustrated interpretation of the Lord’s Prayer, and pieces from “The Slav Epic,” which tells a history of Slavic peoples with huge paintings.

Not only is this the first Art Nouveau exhibit for the museum, it’ll also be the exhibit’s second stop after premiering through Landau Traveling Exhibitions last fall. All 75 works are part of Raj Dhawan’s Dhawan Collection, and WINC 92.5 FM sponsored the museum’s display.

Corwyn Garman, director of exhibitions at the museum, said he had his eye on a Mucha exhibit for the works’ wide recognition.

“This was art that was made to appeal to people, and it still does – it still reaches people on a level that they can understand,” he said. “I think a lot of people will recognize this art; they just didn’t know his name.”

Huth said that although Art Nouveau was quickly replaced in history, the movement’s -and Mucha’s – legacy continues in the realm of design.

“He’s the most famous artist you didn’t know you knew,” she said.

IF YOU GO

“Alphonse Mucha: Master of Art Nouveau” will be at the museum today through July 31.

• Admission: $10 for adults, $8 for seniors and MSV members and children are admitted free.

• The museum will host a number of themed workshops and gallery talks centered on the exhibit. To see a schedule and purchase admission, visit http://themsv.org/.

Contact staff writer Rachel Mahoney at 540-465-5137 ext. 164, or rmahoney@nvdaily.com

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