Art Nouveau, “New Art”, initially began in Europe and the United States during the latter part of the nineteenth century. The movement aimed to unite the varying design movements that had resulted from the Industrial World, and combine the many different fields of art into a uniform style. This style was characterized by calligraphic line drawing, organic linear movements, flat color, and decorative patterns. Additionally, it focused on interaction and had a goal of creating an impression on viewers. Many artists helped to shape this movement; however, it has been said that the movement was “…started entirely by the work of Alphonse Mucha before inspiring others to follow a similar style with in their own work…” (“Alphonse Mucha – Artist Biography with Portfolio of Prints, Posters and Paintings”).
Alphonse Mucha (1890 – 1939), a Czech illustrator working out of Paris, helped to shape Art Nouveau with his signature style. Featuring elongated figures, muted colors, and arabesque patterns, his work is easily recognizable from other artists who worked during this movement. Mucha focused on young women as his subjects, often sexualizing them by displaying their beauty – a task that was not often done in this time period. In 1902, Mucha used his signature style and favorite subject to create an advertisement poster for a “Cycles Perfecta” (Figure 1), a British bicycle company.
The poster features a young woman with windblown hair draped atop a bicycle. At the top of the design, “Cycles Perfecta” is advertised in display text. The poster shows many indications that it is from the Art Nouveau movement. To begin, the lines are very calligraphic, using a bold black ink to outline each shape. Although bold, the lines do manage to remain organic – showing each curve of the woman and the cycle how they would appear three-dimensionally. The hair of the cycle model almost looks three-dimensional, creating a decorative pattern that takes up a majority of the space.
When looking at this poster, it is clear that Mucha understood not only artistic principles of Art Nouveau, but also the mental principles. Rather than selling an object (the cycle, in this case), posters in this period aimed to sell an impression. In “Cycles Perfecta”, “… he is barely showing a piece of the bicycle-not enough to tell one brand from another, anyway-but as to the pleasure of riding…” (Rennert/Weill, p. 294). Rather than making the cycle the main subject, the artist focuses on the woman’s interaction with the cycle, aiming to sell the adoration of the bike. This emotional approach was often taken in advertising posters during Art Nouveau and remains an approach to this day. Not only did Art Nouveau greatly shape design, but it also introduced methods of advertising not seen before the Industrial Revolution.
“Alphonse Mucha – Artist Biography with Portfolio of Prints, Posters and Paintings.” Alphonse Mucha Paintings & Biography. N.p., n.d. Web. 29 Sept. 2016
Rennert, Jack, and Alain Weill. Alphonse Mucha: The Complete Posters and Panels. Boston, MA: G.K. Hall, 1984. Print.