Alphonse Mucha
June 1896

June 1896

Original lithograph printed in colors on wove paper.

Signed on the stone lower left Mucha.

A superb impression of the definitive state, from the edition on this paper (there was also a small edition printed on Japan paper).  Transcribed from Mucha’s 1894 poster of the same title by artisans at Atelier Chéret and issued as plate 27 (of 256) in the series Le Maîtres de l’Affiche, bearing the blindstamp of the program (Lugt 1777c) in the sheet lower right.  Published by Jules Chéret; printed at Impremiere Chaix (Atelier Chéret), Paris.

Catalog: Masters of the Poster pl. 27.

This is the poster which made Mucha famous.  The story of its creation has entered the realms of legend, with less imaginative commentators quibbling over factual details.  There is no question that Mucha himself saw the hand of Fate at work in the circumstances which led to him creating the poster on which this Maîtres de l’Affiche plate is based.
The story is briefly told.  It was Christmas Eve 1894.  The artist was doing a favor for a friend, correcting proofs at Lemercier’s printing works, when Sarah Bernhardt called Brunhoff, the printer’s agent, with an immediate demand for a new poster for her production of Gismonda.  All the regular Lemercier artists were on holiday, so he turned to Mucha in desperation.  A demand from “la divine Sarah” could not be ignored.
Gismonda, the poster which Mucha created, was to revolutionize poster design.  The long narrow shape, the subtle colors and the stillness of the near lifesize figure introduced a note of dignity and sobriety which were quite startling in their novelty.  The poster was so popular with the Parisian public that collectors were known to bribe bill stickers to obtain them or simply to go out at night and, using razors, cut them down at the hoardings.
Sarah Bernhardt was delighted with the poster and immediately offered Mucha a five year contract to produce stage and costume designs as well as posters.  At the same time he signed an exclusive contract with the printer Champenois to produce commercial and decorative posters.  Thus, the most illustrious career in the realm of Art Nouveau was launched.