Alphonse Mucha

Born in 1860, in what today is the Czech Republic, Alphonse Maria Mucha knew from an early age that he wanted to be an artist. Expelled from school due to poor grades and rejected from a local art academy, he left his home country at 19 to become a scene painter in Vienna. By 22, he had caught the eye of a Count, who funded his art education in Munich and Paris, ultimately subsidizing his living expenses and lifestyle. When the Count withdrew his support in 1889, Mucha finally had to find a way to subsist as an artist on his own, taking commissions as an illustrator from various publishers of books and periodicals.

On December 26, 1894, Mucha’s life changed forever—he was asked to create a last-minute poster for Sarah Bernhardt. The subsequent poster rocked the Parisian advertising world, turning him into a legend overnight. For the next nine years he was one of the most celebrated artists in the world, with recognition in both Europe and America. Unsatisfied with being a mere commercial artist, Mucha decided in 1904 to move to America to be a portrait painter.

From there, his career never quite recovered—he taught at the Art Institute in Chicago, married a woman 22 years his junior, and returned to Bohemia to begin his magnum opus, the Slav Epic painting series celebrating the Czech people. That painting series would dominate the rest of his life. He was arrested by the Gestapo in March of 1939, primarily for his affiliation with the Masons, and would die of pneumonia a few months later.