Alphonse Mucha's Masterpiece of Symbolism
A love letter to the close of the 19th century and a message of hope to the future.
By December 20, 1899, Alphonse Mucha had experienced four years as the most recognizable proponent of Art Nouveau graphics and the most celebrated illustrator in Paris. The massive output of the artist in his first four years in the advertising and decorative world earned much for Mucha's publisher but very little for the artist himself.
As the end of the century grew near, Alphonse Mucha insisted upon the release of a deeply personal work, and printed 510 copies of what he for the remainder of his life considered his works-on-paper masterpiece, Le Pater
Decidedly non-denominational, Mucha's exploration features a female deity protecting humankind and a number of sophisticated occult themes across a series of images of mystical illustrations.
Unlike the advertising art that had dominated Mucha's output since his "discovery" by Sarah Bernhardt in late 1894, Mucha described this series of images to a New York reporter as "the thing I have put my soul into." (The Sun newspaper, 5 January, 1900)
Artworks would be lithographed on numerous mediums ranging from paper to silk, in multiple formats, and Mucha's publisher saw that Mucha was the most printed artist in Paris in the late 1890s. Mucha's concern was likely that the imagery of his spiritual work would be capitalized upon. By 1899, he had earned the right to demand that the Le Pater images would be produced in an edition of only 510 copies, and subsequently saw the plates destroyed- ensuring the work would never be reprinted.
The images from Le Pater are mentioned in numerous Mucha books as his masterpieces and are universally acknowledged alongside his massive Slav Epic paintings as his finest work. However, as a result of Mucha's forced limitation of the publication of this masterwork, the rarity of the lithographs means that most books are limited to mentioning the images in the text and leaving the reader to wonder what these "lost masterpieces" might look like.
The original promotional materials for the Le Pater series name these artworks as of "rare interest and considerable importance". Over 112 years later, the description continues to ring true.