Sunday, June 15, 2008

Mucha and Emotional Color

Color doesn’t have be used in a literal or naturalistic way. Alphonse Mucha (1860-1939), best known for his Art Nouveau posters, was also an accomplished oil painter with an unusually evocative sense of color.

His color conception for “Madonna of the Lilies” (1905) changed from the sketch stage (left) to the finished painting. In the sketch, which appears to be created from his imagination, he keeps everything pale and warm, with reds, greens, and oranges giving a spiritual glow to the figures.

In the finished work, painted over a careful drawing after the benefit of models, the background stays high-key, but relatively cool. The warm notes and dark accents are reserved for the figures and for the areas of the picture nearer the earth.

He restricts the values mainly in the light or middle range, avoiding strong tonal contrasts and large expanses of dark. The adjacent tints take on a richness beyond reality. Mucha wrote in his “Lectures on Art,” (Academy Editions, London): “If we wish to add to the luminosity of a color, it is placed in a higher key.”

Above is one of his Slav Epic paintings. The color scheme is extremely disciplined, just pale blue and orange. The dreamy feeling comes from the light value range, reserving the darks for the upper left and lower right of the composition.

Mucha’s artistic choices serve emotion rather than illusionism for its own sake. “The expression of beauty is by emotion,” he said. “The person who can communicate his emotions to the soul of the other is the artist.”

Alphonse Mucha Foundation website, link.
Article in Lines and Colors, link.


Anonymous said...

Ah Mucha...! A couple of years ago there was a Mucha exhibition in my country which covered just about everything the man made (including jewelry, sketches etc) and of I course we, my friends and I, went.
The famous posters were fun but slightly disappointing. Not that the art wasn't marvellous - it was. Not because the posters were excellent examples of perfunctionary art (if that's the right word to use; they are advertisements, art to sell you something), because I actually enjoy that sort of thing (I once aspired to be an illustrator myself and can really enjoy a good ad for that reason)
No, the posters were pretty, but their images had been.. overused. They are just too iconic, like Rembrand's Nightwatch or the Mona Lisa.
I very much enjoyed the sketches, though. That effortless that comes from great skill, and they have a beauty all of their own.
But the oils! My god! The oils just *blew me away*! They had the sense of 19th century opera, all that drama and emotion and they were so *beautiful*.
Yes, the pretty poster ladies are pretty (and very skillfully done and beautiful in their own right) but they were Mucha's bread and butter. The oils were his soul, and it shows!

Unknown said...

What a fascinating post! Thanks for posting this. I've always felt very close to artists whose colouring was used for expressive means.The awareness of emotional properties of colour probably exists to some degree in all painters. I love the quality here of restraint in order to push one colour forward. This seems really Victorian to me. Rackham, Dulac etc.

JR said...

You know when i think emotional, non literal color I think of Basil Gogos and those CRAZY monster paintings. Drawing so you can recognize it and color so you can feel it.

Michael Damboldt said...

Awesome post. Thanks!

Anonymous said...

This is the kind of blogg entry that does make me happy. =)

Anthony VanArsdale said...

This is great to know! I admire artists like Mucha who comprehend this and execute it in a work that is really from pure imagination... they know what they want to achieve and they achieve it

Thank you for posting this!