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Much About Mucha

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Reader Vanessa requested a post on Alphonse Mucha, the Czechoslovakian artist who started the Art Nouveau movement, known at the time as "le style Mucha". Although he is most well-known for his theatrical (Sarah Bernhardt) and commercial (Chambord) posters, Mucha was frustrated with such fame, because he felt that art existed only to communicate a spiritual method; he wanted to concentrate on, and be known for, projects that would ennoble art and his birthplace. His masterpiece, "Slovanská epopej" (The Slav Epic), is such a project.

1. Alphonse Mucha's childhood dream was to create a series of paintings in celebration of Slavic history. The 20 huge paintings that comprise "Slovanská epopej" took Mucha more than 18 years to complete and were made possible through the sponsorship of American millionaire Charles Crane. Mucha bestowed the series, which depicts the history of the Czech people (and Slavic peoples in general) to Prague in 1928. Just ten years later, during the war, the paintings were rolled up and stored away for 25 years before being put on display in 1963 in the castle at Moravsky Krumlov.

2. Although Mucha exhibited artistic interest and skill as a child, his early years were spent singing, as he attended the Church of St. Peter school in Brno (the capital of Moravia) on a choral scholarship. At age 18, he applied to the Prague Academy of Fine Arts, but they rejected his application, advising him: "Find yourself another profession where you'll be more useful."

3. While the Academy didn't recognize Mucha's talent, Count Khuen Belasi did. He hired the teenaged Mucha to decorate Hrušovany Emmahof Castle with murals. The count's brother, an amateur artist, also took note of Mucha's skill, and sponsored his formal studies at the Munich Academy of Art (which apparently didn't have the same opinion as the Prague Academy).

4. Mucha lived in Paris for some time, staying in a studio above a cremerie. There he met Paul Gauguin before Gauguin departed for Tahiti. Upon his return to Paris, Gauguin shared Mucha's studio.

5. During his career, Mucha tried just about every artistic pursuit possible. In addition to producing the paintings, posters, and advertisements for which he's famous, Mucha also illustrated and wrote books; created bronze sculptures; designed jewelry, carpets, wallpaper, and theatre sets; participated in the Lumiere brothers' cinematographic experiments; and took up photography. He even designed the postage stamps, banknotes, and other government documents for Czechoslovakia when it won its independence after World War I.

6. When the German troops marched into Czechoslovakia in the spring of 1939, Mucha was one of the first people arrested by the Gestapo, as his work and his Slavic nationalism were deemed "reactionary." During the course of his interrogation, he developed pneumonia; although he was later released, he never recovered. He died on July 14 of a lung infection. The Nazis banned the public from his funeral, but more than 100,000 Czechs attended anyway.

For more about Mucha: ARC's Mucha gallery, Ian Johnston lecture on Mucha & Art Nouveau,  and the judgment on a Mucha lawsuit.

A larger version of "Introduction of the Slavonic Liturgy," part of the Slav Epic, is available here; a few of the other Slav Epic paintings are available here.

'Feel Art Again' appears every Tuesday and Thursday.

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10 Facts About The Ten

In 1897, ten painters seceded from the Society of American Artists in protest of the group's increasing focus on “too much business and too little art.” These 10 artists signed a charter for their own new group, agreeing to hold an annual exhibition, for each person to exhibit at every annual show, and to only admit new members who were unanimously supported, yet they assigned no name for themselves. They became known as “Ten American Painters,” or simply “The Ten,” by the press after their first exhibition, called “Ten American Painters,” which featured a Roman numeral X on the program.

Today, to celebrate this day of tens, we present 10 facts about The Ten.

1. The title “The Ten” is not the most applicable description for the group.

Originally, the founding members intended for there to be 12 members of the group: Frank Weston Benson, Joseph DeCamp, Thomas Wilmer Dewing, Childe Hassam, Winslow Homer, Willard Metcalf, Robert Reid, Edward Simmons, Edmund Charles Tarbell, Abbott Handerson Thayer, John Henry Twachtmann, and J. Alden Weir. Homer rejected the group's invitation, though, as he reportedly wasn't a fan of official organizations. The New York Times announced “Eleven Painters Secede” on January 9, 1898 (the day after the artists resigned), but after the article went to press, Thayer changed his mind, leaving the final tally at ten members. Despite their signed agreement, most of the members didn't exhibit every year; most of the annual exhibitions featured works by only nine artists. During the group's 20 years, membership at any given time never surpassed 10 artists, but by the time they stopped exhibiting in 1919, eleven artists had been members—William Merritt Chase had joined the group in 1902 upon the death of Twachtman.

Pictured above are the 1908 members of The Ten, with Chase and not Twachtman.

2. The Ten were known for their Impressionist works, but at least one member had originally despised Impressionism.

While studying in Paris, J. Alden Weir was first exposed to Impressionism, and it sure left an impression on him. “I never in my life saw more horrible things,” he said about the style. “They do not observe drawing nor form but give you an impression of what they call nature.” That's not all, though – he went on to say, “It was worse than the Chamber of Horrors.” Eighteen years later, he was singing a different tune, having adopted the style fully by 1891.

Above is Weir's "Autumn Rain," 1890.

3. Childe Hassam was the most prolific member, which may be why he's also the most well-known of The Ten today.

Hassam's first forays into the art world were as a wood engraver and a “black-and-white man” (a freelance illustrator), jobs that necessitated high levels of output. He was successful enough as a freelance illustrator to afford an apartment with a maid for him and his wife in the center of the art community in Paris. Even as a painter, Hassam continued to produce works in larger quantities than his peers. Hassam's output was so large between 1910 and 1920 that one critic complained, “Think of the appalling number of Hassam pictures there will be in the world by the time the man is seventy years old!” By the time Hassam died at age 75, he had created more than 3,000 works of art—mainly paintings, watercolors, etchings, and lithographs.

At left is Hassam's "Flags, Fifth Avenue."

4. They were natural leaders.

For many of the members, The Ten wasn't the only group they helped form. William Merritt Chase established the Chase School—known today as Parsons The New School for Design—in 1896 and taught there for more than 10 years. He also served as president of the Society of American Artists for 10 years. Edmund Charles Tarbell, a popular teacher whose followers were dubbed “The Tarbellites,” co-founded The Guild of Boston Artists in 1914 and served as its president for 10 years. Tarbell also served as co-director of the Boston Museum School with fellow Ten member Frank Weston Benson. J. Alden Weir was the first president of the Association of American Painters and Sculptors, though he only served for one year; he later served as president of the National Academy of Design.

At left is Willard Metcalf's "Au Cafe," 1888.

5. Their artwork doesn't just hang in museums and collections; it also graces the walls and ceilings of public buildings.

Artists like Robert Reid and Edward Simmons are as well-known, perhaps more so, for their decorative work as they are for their Impressionistic paintings. Reid developed a name for himself painting murals and creating stained glass designs. He was also a contributing artist for the frescoes of the dome of the Liberal Arts Building at the 1893 World's Fair in Chicago. Simmons was awarded the first commission from the Municipal Arts Society: a series of murals for the Criminal Courthouse in Manhattan; he also decorated the Waldorf-Astoria (NY), the Library of Congress (DC), and the Capitol at Saint Paul (MN).


Above left is Reid's "Knowledge" mural, 1896, from the Library of Congress Thomas Jefferson Building.

At left is Simmons' "Melpomene" (Tragedy) mural, 1896, from the Library of Congress Thomas Jefferson Building.

6. Like any turn-of-the-century artists worth their salt, they all studied in Europe.

Paris was, of course, the place to be if you were an artist—nine of the eleven members of The Ten studied in Paris. The Académie Julian was attended by John Henry Twachtman, Robert Reid, Thomas Wilmer Dewing, Frank Weston Benson, Willard Metcalf, Edmund Charles Tarbell, Edward Simmons, and Childe Hassam. J. Alden Weir was the sole member of the group to attend the École des Beaux-Arts. Twachtman also studied in Munich, as did William Merritt Chase and Joseph DeCamp. Both Twachtman and Chase studied at the Academy of Fine Arts, while DeCamp attended the Royal Academy of Munich.

Above is Chase's "An Italian Garden," 1909.

7. They painted into their old age.

All of The Ten continued painting up until their deaths, whether they died relatively young, like Twachtman (age 49), or after a long life, like Simmons (age 79). While they remained creatively productive through the years, the critics didn't always reflect kindly on them. At the 1913 Armory Show, Childe Hassam and J. Alden Weir were nicknamed “the mammoth and the mastodon of American Art” because they were the oldest exhibitors there at ages 54 and 61, respectively.

At left is Twachtman's "Fishing Boats at Gloucester," 1901, painted the year before he died.

8. They retreated from the cities—Boston and New York—to summer houses, farms, and artist colonies.

A 1902 article in the New York Times observed that The Ten “appear to live in some realm apart from mankind where the important things are not the struggle for existence or the Boer war, but whether Jack Jones has succeeded in painting a child in the full sunlight just right...whether Robert Robinson has managed to get the proper atmosphere in his townscape...” The artists' retreats to artist colonies or their own farms probably helped cultivate this distance from worldly concerns.

William Merritt Chase, Edmund Charles Tarbell, and Frank Weston Benson all had summer homes, in Shinnecock Hills, NY; New Castle, NH; and North Haven, ME, respectively. Willard Metcalf and Thomas Wilmer Dewing spent summers at the Cornish Art Colony in New Hampshire, while the artist colony at Cos Cob, CT (outside of Greenwich), was frequented by Childe Hassam, John Henry Twachtman, and J. Alden Weir. Hassam also visited the artist colony at Appledore Island, off the coast of New Hampshire, and Weir owned two farms—one in Branchville, CT, and another in Windham, CT. Weir's Branchville farm and studio are now a protected National Historic Site, while his Windham farm remains in his family.

Above left is Dewing's "In the Garden," 1892-1894.
Directly above is Benson's "Eleanor Holding a Shell," 1902.

9. Many of the women in their paintings are their wives and daughters.

Edmund Tarbell, Frank Weston Benson, and William Merritt Chase all earned fame for their glowing paintings of their wives and daughters. Tarbell and his wife Emeline had four children: Josephine, Mercie, Mary, and Edmund. All four kids and Emeline, as well as other relatives, feature prominently in Tarbell's paintings. “In the Orchard,” which cemented Tarbell's standing in the art world, depicts Emeline with her siblings. Benson, too, established himself with a series of paintings featuring his family. He spent some 20 summers painting his wife, Ellen, and their daughters at the family's Maine summer home. Chase and his wife Alice had eight children, but only two of his children frequently posed for him—his oldest daughters, Alice and Dorothy.

Above is Tarbell's "In the Orchard," 1891.

10. The Ten's tenth anniversary exhibition in 1908 was, fittingly, their biggest.

The 1908 exhibition was one of the rare exhibitions when all the members actually fulfilled their agreement to exhibit: all 10 of the 1908 members exhibited that year. Amongst The Ten, they had nearly 100 works entered for the exhibition. 1908 was the group's apex; the group began a slow decline not long after the exhibition. By their 20th anniversary, their annual exhibition was considered “a retrospective of artists whose days together had served a purpose that was now a part of the past.”

The 1908 exhibition catalog is available here.

At left is DeCamp's "The Cellist," 1908, which was included in the 1908 exhibition.

Larger versions of all the works shown here are available; just click on the images.

Fans of The Ten should check out the William Merritt Chase gallery and Wikimedia category; the Joseph DeCamp gallery and Wikimedia category; the Childe Hassam gallery and Wikimedia category; the Edmund Tarbell gallery and Wikimedia category; the John Henry Twachtman gallery and Wikimedia category; the Wikimedia categories for Robert Reid, Thomas Dewing, J. Alden Weir, Willard Metcalf, and Frank Weston Benson; and 2008's Quick 10: The Ten.

"Feel Art Again" usually appears three times a week. Looking for a particular artist? Visit our archive for a complete listing of all 250+ artists that have been featured. You can e-mail us at feelartagain@gmail.com with details of current exhibitions, for sources or further reading, or to suggest artists. Or you can head to our Facebook page, where you can do everything in one place.

Today is October 10, 2010—10.10.10! To celebrate, we've got all our writers working on 10 lists, which we'll be posting throughout the day and night. To see all the lists we've published so far, click here.

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The People's Artist: Qi Baishi

Thursday was the 53rd anniversary of the death of Qi Baishi (1864-1957), who is considered an “obscure Chinese artist” by westerners but “the Picasso of China” by the Chinese. So, in the hopes of educating the west about this influential Chinese painter, today's post is devoted to Qi Baishi.

1. Copying figures and motifs from The Mustard Seed Garden, a famous Qing Dynasty painting manual, Qi Baishi taught himself to paint. He was never formally trained at an art school, though he went on to teach at them, but he did find professional artists to mentor him. It was in training with his mentors that Qi realized art was something he could actually pursue professionally. The first paid painting gig he landed was as a family portraitist. He went on to become the most popular 20th-century painter in China, as well as a skilled seal-carver and calligrapher.

2. Qi is perhaps known as much for his clever titles and inscriptions as he is for his painting skills. The painting of baby chicks, shown above, is titled “The sex of the chicks not yet determined,” while a painting of two chicks fighting for the same worm is inscribed “Friends in the past.” It's probably no surprise, then, that Qi was also a poet. He formed the Longshan poets society in 1895 with several of his friends, who then elected him the director. His poetry collections, Jieshanyinguan Shicao and Baishi Shicao, were published in 1928 and 1933, respectively.

3. During the Sino-Japanese war, Qi was adamant that he did not want the Japanese purchasing his work. In 1937, when they gained control of Beijing, Qi locked his door and refused to admit any guests. He posted a sign outside that read, “Old Man Baishi has had a recurrence of heart sickness and has stopped receiving guests.” (Some sources say he went so far as to put a sign stating, “Old Man Baishi is dead.”) He also quit his job teaching at the Beijing Art College.

4. Qi is most famous for his paintings of flowers and animals, especially prawns, many of which were created while he was over the age of 70. Interestingly, though, Qi actually preferred painting landscapes, and considered his landscape painting skills superior to his skill at painting birds, flowers, and other objects.

5. If you research Qi on the internet, you may come across reports that he received the Nobel Peace Prize in 1956. Pretty impressive for a painter, right? Well, those reports are wrong—Qi didn't receive the Nobel Peace Prize in 1956 (in fact, it wasn't awarded to anyone that year) or any other year. What he actually received in 1956 was the World Peace Council's International Peace Award... which is still pretty impressive.

6. Westerners received a bit of a surprise this past March when it was announced that Qi is the third best-selling artist at global art auctions, based on Art Price's market data. Qi's $70 million in auction sales last year comes behind only Pablo Picasso and Andy Warhol, who each had $220 million in auction sales last year. While he is virtually unknown in the US and the UK, Chinese art lovers have been collecting Qi for years, with Qi's work in “every important Chinese collection.” Qi's past sales have been almost exclusively in Chinese auction houses, which makes his spot on the best-selling list even more of an accomplishment.

Larger versions of the four works shown above are available: the first landscape, the birds in the tree, "The sex of the chicks not yet determined," and the second landscape.

Fans should check out the collections of Qi's paintings at China Online Museum, About.com, and China Page; a sampling of his woodblock prints; and CCTV's documentary, "Civilization and Innovation: Qi Baishi."

"Feel Art Again" usually appears three times a week. Looking for a particular artist? Visit our archive for a complete listing of all 250+ artists that have been featured. You can e-mail us at feelartagain@gmail.com with details of current exhibitions, for sources or further reading, or to suggest artists. Or you can head to our Facebook page, where you can do everything in one place.

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