Beading with the Masters: Alphonse Mucha
If there’s one artist whose work could sum up the Art Nouveau movement, you guessed it—it’s Alphonse Mucha, Czech decorative artist and preeminent Art Nouveau painter born on July 24, 1860. His mass-produced commercial advertisements and playbills were so appealing that people would cut them from billboards with razor blades and steal them!
I’m an art geek and love exploring art history. Learning what inspired artists’ work and tapping into their stories is what fascinates me the most. Drawing correlations between notable artists in history to beadwork and beaded jewelry design is my new favorite game of compare and contrast.
While Mucha enjoyed being frivolous and playful in his studio, which he shared with Paul Gaugin, he took his art seriously and he rejected labels and fame. He believed that art needed to do more than just be pretty; it needed to inspire people and speak to them on a personal level. He wanted to make art that was eternal, had meaning, and held socio-political value. His artistic dream was realized later in life, when he created the Slav Epic, a series of 20 gigantic paintings detailing the Slavic people’s history and their quest for freedom. He is still best known for his commercial art, such as his advertisements for Job cigarette rolling papers and his theater posters for actress Sarah Bernhardt.
Art Nouveau: “Le Style Mucha”
Art Nouveau is all about decoration and shapes inspired by nature, so it’s not hard to find jewelry and beading projects that fit this category! Kerrie Slade’s Eye of the Peacock Lariat features crystal cosmic rings and lapis lazuli beads that form the eye of a beautiful beaded peacock feather, an Art Nouveau icon. Sparkling crystal rivolis surrounded by swirling bezels of crescent beads look like an entrancing gateway into the Art Nouveau world in Kassie Shaw’s Ancient Portals Earrings. The Victorian era was ending right around when Art Nouveau entered the scene, so Victorian styles also tend to have some Art Nouveau influence, as seen in Caren Smith’s Daybreak Necklace. Denise Yezbak Moore encapsulates the love of bold colors and decoration that Art Nouveau is known for in her Fleurs Nouveau Necklace.
The Seasons Series
Mucha loved to produce series of decorative panels, usually in groups of four images on the same theme. His series of the four seasons is embodied by the Raphaelite women with billowing robes and long flowing hair that Mucha loved best. Here are my favorite season-themed Beadwork projects:
- Laura Graham’s Winter Flower Necklace
- Cynthia Rutledge’s Spring Celebration Bracelet
- Reem Iverson’s Summer Garland Bracelet
- Agnieszka Watts’s Autumn Sage Necklace
If you want even more season-themed jewelry, check out Interweave’s awesome pattern collections. For pastel colors and nature-themed pretties, the Springspiration Pattern Collection is for you. If you’re into chunky statement jewelry and washed-out summery colors, the Jewelry Stringing Vintage Summer Pattern Collection will help you wax nostalgic about summers gone by.
The Precious Stones Series
The Precious Stones Series is where Alphonse Mucha really showcases his love for illustrating jewelry. Each of the lovely Mucha ladies shows off her jewelry, representing topaz, ruby, amethyst, and emerald. Peggy Wright’s Topaz Rendezvous Lariat blends color gradations together to create a sparkling, playful rope. Maria Teresa Moran’s Sultan’s Treasure Bracelet features ruby colored beads that are way less expensive than the real thing. It may be low on cost, but this bracelet is still big on wow factor. Cecilia Guastaferro’s Royal Amethyst Earrings are a beautifully elevated pair of birthstone earrings, fit for a queen! You can create a modern bib-style necklace like Smadar Grossman’s Emerald City Necklace using a combination of stitches to turn embellished crystal rivolis into fan-shaped components. Jewel tones are prominent in Mucha’s work, and you can create any of these beautiful designs in other gem colors as well.
The Flowers Series
Another series featuring the lovely Mucha ladies, The Flowers Series is a botanical delight. Depicted are rose, iris, carnation, and lily. The soft colors and bountiful bouquets are the epitome of Art Nouveau femininity.
Here are some of my favorite floral Beadwork designs, paired with the color theme of each Mucha panel above:
- Thistle Blossom Bracelet by Kassie Shaw
- Fan Flower Earrings by Penny Dixon
- Flowerpots Bracelet by Cindy Holsclaw
- Beam Blossom Necklace by Melissa Grakowsky Shippee
Alphonse Mucha’s work has always held a special place in my heart, as my mom has had a full-size reproduction of his La Dame aux Camelias panel on display since before I was born.
If you love learning about art while finding some new beading projects, read the entire series of Beading with the Masters!
Technical Editor, Beadwork magazine