Who is the winner in the great Art Nouveau face-off? 

Klimt versus Mucha…

European neighbour countries Austria and Czech Republic have a lot in common, when it comes to culture. Including art. Especially art. Think two 19th-century artists, one from Vienna, the other from Prague. Contemporary, modern, both equally scandalous for their times. Challenging traditions as their ladder to fame. Branded as their home country’s most celebrated artists for posterity. Curiosity piqued yet? Here’s the Art Nouveau’ masters in a face-off…my way. Feel free to take sides.

Captivated by Klimt

Vienna is a little less Viennese without mention of this symbolist painter (1862 – 1918), Gustav Klimt. No understatement to say that Klimt’s individualistic, quirky style has, in fact, become synonymous with Austrian art itself. Judge for yourself.

Limelight on Klimt: Vienna’s 18th-century Belvedere Palace houses one of the city’s most impressive state museums and the largest collection of Gustav Klimt’s paintings. There are 24 artworks in all, one more spectacular than the other! Prepare to be dazzled.

Claims to fame: Even if you try, you can’t possibly erase the images of Klimt’s most famous works from your mind’s eye, especially‘The Kiss’, that iconic canvas with an embracing couple dressed in elaborate robes. Or his famous portrait of Viennese art patron and socialite, Adele Bloch-Bauer, stolen by the Nazis and recovered by American art collector in 2006 for $135 million, making it the expensive art ever bought at an auction. That shimmering ‘Woman in Gold’ (called the ‘Viennese Mona Lisa’), the bold and striking antithesis of the demure and modest Da Vinci portrait.

the kiss-klimt

adele-klimt

Not so cryptic clues: All you need to see one Klimt and you’ll recognise his signature style among a thousand painters. Oil paint with layers of metallic gold leaf. Big on ornamentation with definite Byzantine, Greek and Egyptian influences. Small geometric motifs. Flat, linear, biomorphic forms. Warm colors. An overarching symbolic and subtly erotic theme. Impossible to confuse him with any other, right?

There never was and there never will be another Klimt. His mind-boggling masterpieces literally scream for attention among a million different artworks. Yet, there is a curious subtlety in his bold style that grows on you as you stare at his work, and slowly find yourself drawn into the pigmented depths of his canvas. For me, Klimt’s characteristic genius lies in the ease with which he blends real with abstract. What do you think?

So I took Klimt home: The streets of Vienna overflow with Klimt prints and souvenirs literally overflow everywhere you look. My choice? A solid heavy glass paper weight. Adele smiles at me enigmatically everyday from her spot on the corner table of my living room. A piece of Klimt is mine. For keeps.

klimt.jpg

Mesmerized by Mucha

Ironically, Czech artist, Alphonse Mucha, who is called the father of Art Nouveau (1860 – 1939) is said have disagreed with the term, as he believed that that art was eternal, hence labelling it as ‘nouveau’ was unfair. Mucha is credited with creating not just an appealing design style, but a revolution of sorts in the field of art. His work, like him was liberal, unconventional and free. Prague is prettier because of Mucha. (Read my previous post on Art Nouveau in Prague here)

Mucha Art Nouveau 1

Mucha Art Nouveau 2

Mucha Art Nouveau 3

Limelight on Mucha: Mucha Museum is the only gallery dedicated to the works of Mucha in the world is housed in a small building near Wenceslas Square, Prague. Exhibits include paintings, drawings, pastels, sculptures, photographs, sketches and memorabilia of his trademark beautiful women with flowing hair. Each depiction more picture-perfect than the other. Stay engrossed for hours poring over the fine details on every wall. Wide-eyed with wonder, as you try to decipher the moods and emotions of every lady up there…you could swear that one just toss her hair slightly, and did that one just raise an eyebrow?

Mucha Art Nouveau 4

Mucha Art Nouveau 5

Mucha Art Nouveau 6

Claims to fame: Mucha created a striking poster as an advertisement for the Job cigarette company. No surprise…the subject was a stunning woman with a lighted cigarette. Ooohh!! Scandalous for the times, since respectable women did not smoke in public. Outrageous because women wore their hair tied up and loose hair was a sign of a seductive temptress, wilful and wild. Mucha dared to be different and he made the grade. His other masterpiece is Seasons (1896), the first of his inspirational decorative panels, showing four seasonal maidens, each against a different backdrop, conveying the mood of each season.

Mucha Art Nouveau 7

Mucha Art Nouveau 8

Mucha Art Nouveau 9

Not so cryptic clues: Mucha is Mucha and you can distinguish him anywhere, once you learn to focus on his genre. Delicate, pale women with long wavy, silky hair, large eyes and seductive forms. Painted in water colors for a vivid, yet soft touch. The figures melting into the background of the canvas, yet standing out distinctly because of a dark ink outline. It is said that Mucha made his models pose against a solid black curtain and added fantasy landscapes later from his imagination.

So I took Mucha home: The museum shop is a treasure trove of Mucha souvenirs. I picked a wooden wall hanging with a sturdy rope string. Mucha’s delicate Slavic lady inspires me every morning when I sip my cup of coffee in my library.

mucha.jpg

Do you think Klimt and Mucha would have personally known women in such avatars…women who would break the mould, stray off the beaten path, be themselves in a world full of restrictions and stereotypes? And more that that, do you wonder how they would paint women if they returned with a brand new canvas today…

 

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Which of the art nouveau masters wins? Klimt or Mucha?

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63 thoughts on “Who is the winner in the great Art Nouveau face-off? 

  1. thank you so much for this! i’m not quite familiar with austrian or czech artist, especially not the 19th century.. in fact, i suppose i only know some history in general, but never about art. from the pictures you show here, i think the only one that i was familiar with was klimt’s the kiss. seen its replica in one of the most antique hotel in indonesia. 🙂

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  2. It always amazes me how cultures and mores change through the years. How something as innocuous today as a loose lock of hair could be scandalous not so long ago. I personally love art about kissing. Munch’s The Kiss adorns the office at my house as “Took a little Munch” home from a trip to Oslo.

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  3. I don’t really know what art nouveau means, but you definitely seem passionate about art. I like that in Vienna you can buy small items with Klimt’s art on it. It means that you can look at it and be reminded of the original pieces that you saw in the museum. This style of art isn’t really to my taste but I can appreciate the hours of hard work that it would have taken to create.

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  4. It is an interesting comparison. I am completely new to art, but your post has piqued my interest. The pictures are stunning. I am finding myself googling both Klimt and Mucha.

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  5. Fantastic post! I loved the way you talked about Klimt and Mucha – I love Klimt and his works, so the fact that you got the beautiful paperweight made me so glad!

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  6. I saw Mucha’s exhibit in Seoul and loved his work. they are so beautiful and the style is stunning. Klimt’s got amazing style as well. now way could i choose between these great artisst, i feel they have unique styles and express their own unique message.

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  7. This is a great post. I had no idea of who are Mucha and Klimt and even though I just visited Vienna & Prague and I don’t recall seeing any of their work. When I look at their artwork, I see a lot of similarities maybe because I am not familiar. However, reading the contrast helps.

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  8. What a cool post, I feel like I’ve learnt loads! I studied Klimt a little at school (obviously through his famous picture The Kiss) but had never heard of Mucha at all and am not too familiar with Czech art. Mucha’s paintings are truly beautiful and I especially love the plate you have photographed!

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  9. I have to say I really love art nouveau and this post was so informational on it! I actually somehow never really recognized that all these artists were from the same genre. Where is the best museum to see it? I really like Klimt but I feel like all the museums I’ve visited are only with 17th century art – I would love to see his artwork in real life!

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  10. You really took your time to come up with this one. Till now I didn’t know much about the 19th century art scene in austrian or czech regions. I will check out some youtube videos to come up to a final decision.

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  11. I like both of the artists work and I would like to see their work in real life, as their work is spectacular. I have not been to Vienna or Prague yet, both on the bucket list so, I will look out for these works of art when I go.

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  12. Who is the winner? Like you, I love both and would take both home. Thank you for introducing me to their art…legends of art nouveau, lovers of women!

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  13. These paintings are really beautiful and they surely have something unique in them. The usage of mettalic gold leaf by Klimt in the paintings, so these desrve to be really expensive. Muchas work is exlusive too.Both the piece you brought are really nice. It is really confusing to say who is the winner.

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  14. I think I have to toss my hat to Klimt, but it is a close call. Both are so original, and both use difficult media (gold leaf and water colors). But, Klimt speaks to me a little more. Our daughter is an aspiring artist, so many travels involve trips to museums. Now, we have two more museums to add to our list.

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  15. Klimt and Mucha both seem to have been extraordinary personalities who dared to think differerently and gave expression to their thoughts through their paintings. Mucha for me at least as far as his art is concerned seems more classic while Klimt stands unique in a niche of his own with his quirky style.

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  16. This is something that would never have been on my radar, but thanks to your post it will be on my next visit to Prague! You looked like you picked up the perfect souviner and took some amazing pictures, but I won’t lie,after reading about his “scandalous” ad, I was looking for a cigarette in all of the Mucha paintings. 😁

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  17. I always love reading your articles! They are always very culturally inspired! Having studied architecture, Art Nouveau is definitely one of my favourite styles, for architecture as wel as for other arts. Great article, and lovely pictures!

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  18. What a comparison, and an introduction to two great artists and their forms of art. Both are inspiring and their artwork unique and one of a kind. Somehow, I am more attracted to the work of Mucha. Can’t say that the work is better than his competitor but just that I like the more intrinsic and neat presentation in his art forms.

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