19 July 2017 by Simon Birtall
I am in the extremely fortunate position at present of being a tour guide at the Walker Art Gallery’s exhibition of work by Art Nouveau master Alphonse Mucha, ‘In Quest of Beauty’. The exhibition presents visitors with a rare and privileged opportunity to spend time amongst the beautiful artwork of an artist and illustrator whose story is at once fascinating, moving and unexpected.
The intention of the tour guide team at the Walker is both to illuminate this story, uncovering aspects of the incredible man behind this artwork, and to shed light on – and share our passion for – Alphonse Mucha’s art, most of it from the Mucha Foundation collection.
Having immersed myself in Mucha’s work since the opening of the exhibition, I can say with some confidence that you have not seen Mucha’s work until you have seen it ‘up close and personal’. To stand before an original lithograph of ‘Gismonda’ or ‘la Trappistine’ – in all their 2-metre high glory – is to experience Mucha’s work as it was intended.
Furthermore, it is a chance to analyse the exquisite mark-making and beautiful textures in Mucha’s lithographs and across his other work. Only in person can the fragile beauty of these artworks, their immensity, originality, and skill with which they were produced, be truly comprehended and appreciated. From this perspective, their revolutionary effect on Fin de Siècle Paris and beyond can be felt and understood.
It is our job as tour guides to enhance the experience of our visitors, helping to establish an understanding of the man, the artist and his work, whilst filling in important background historical details.
We explore recurring themes, motifs and underlying ideologies that pervade Mucha’s work and which helped to shape both the artist and his artwork: how his upbringing in a Moravia under Austro-Hungarian domination effected his lifelong beliefs and his sense of peaceful nationalism; the influence of the Church; how ‘le Style Mucha’ became synonymous with what we perceive to be ‘Art Nouveau’. We journey through Mucha’s life and career – his aspirations, influences, experiences, triumphs and more.
‘Alphonse Mucha: In Quest of Beauty’, in partnership with the Mucha Foundation, is currently running at the Walker Art Gallery, Liverpool (to 29th October 2017). Entrance tickets £7 for adults, £5 for concessions, aged 18 and under free. Guided tours £5 for adults, aged 18 and under free. Audio guides available at £2.50 or £4.50 for two at the venue only. Admission and guided tour tickets may be bought on the day at the venue or you can book online in advance.
New National Museums Liverpool members receive their first visit to ‘Alphonse Mucha: In Quest of Beauty’ free and then 50% off subsequent visits. Find out more.
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