Alphonse Mucha: In Quest of Beauty
Beautiful show, but audiences want more than superficial interrogation of popular Czech artist's work
The style of Alphonse Mucha is so central to defining the art nouveau movement that his work remains both instantly recognisable and hugely popular today. The first exhibition in Scotland since the major show at the City Art Centre in Edinburgh in 2000 places works from the Mucha Foundation in Prague next to his British and Glasgow contemporaries, including Charles Rennie Mackintosh.
Mucha became an overnight success in Paris in the mid 1890s after an impromptu opportunity to design a poster for the actress Sarah Bernhardt. He built a reputation as a designer for advertising - his curvaceous ladies with flowing hair advertised everything from cigarette papers to bicycles - and 'decorative panels', a low-cost option to beautify the home. His later years were devoted to an epic series of paintings supporting the cause of Czech independence.
The show draws interesting parallels with the Pre-Raphaelites, and with Mackintosh: there are similarities in their designs for print, and in the sense that both have a 'total art' aesthetic, but the Glasgow Style quickly becomes distinct from the Czech. While Mucha is always easy on the eye, this show lacks the breadth and depth of the Edinburgh show, and leaves the viewer with a sense of superficial beauty, rather than a more muscular interrogation of his ideas and sense of himself as an artist.
Kelvingrove Art Gallery and Museum, until Fri 19 Feb, 2017.