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The new heroine of the “History of Things” column is Alphonse Mucha’s poster for the play “The Lady of the Camellias”. This poster was printed in May 1900 for the tour of the Parisian Renaissance Theater in Belgium and is now kept in the collection of the A.A. Bakhrushin.

Old poster symbols

For the first time, Mucha painted a poster for “The Lady of the Camellias” in 1896. It was the third of seven posters that he created for Sarah Bernhardt in six years. The actress had a special sympathy for this poster and used it on all of her world tours until 1911.

The poster can serve as an excellent visual aid to the Art Nouveau style that prevailed at that time. Its main features were the rejection of straight lines and angles, the use of natural and floral motifs, as well as the combination of fine art with applied art. The folds of the heroine’s clothes fall in waves, the letters in the title are rounded, in the upper part of the poster there is a frame drawn with the lines “wave” or “whip” characteristic of Art Nouveau.

The heroine stands against the background of the starry sky in profile to the viewer, pensive, she squeezes a luxurious fur cape on her chest with her hand. White camellia flowers in her hair and at her feet are a symbol: they speak of the death of the heroine at the end of the play. If you look closely at the top of the picture, you can see that two more symbols lurked over the woman’s head: on the left – a heart entwined with thorny stems of roses, on the right – it is pierced and bleeding. One glance was enough for the viewer of that time to understand what the plot is represented by the poster: Dumas’s novel about the tragic love for a lady of the semi-world, sick with consumption, until recently did not leave lips throughout Europe, as well as the motives of the arias from the opera La Traviata, based German

A novel taken from life

The history of “Ladies with Camellias” began almost half a century before the creation of this poster. In 1847, the name of Alexandre Dumas, his son, thundered in Paris: his novel about the love of the courtesan Marguerite Gaultier and the young man Armand Duval was published. He has a strict father, and she is terminally ill. Their romance is doomed, and the lovers part. The next time Armand hears the name of Margarita only after her death.

The story was taken from life. The prototype of the heroine was the famous Parisian courtesan Marie Duplessis, Dumas’s mistress. In one evening with her, he spent his month’s supply of money, and he had to borrow it. She was sick with tuberculosis, and the smell of flowers made her dizzy, so she wore camellias on her dress, flowers without scent.

A year later, the writer remade the novel into a play, but it was played on stage only three years later. Theaters were afraid of a scandal; later the play was banned by censorship. The premiere of the first production based on “The Lady of the Camellias” took place in February 1852.

Favorite role of Sarah Bernhardt

In 1881, the role of Marguerite Gaultier was played by the actress Sarah Bernhardt, “divine Sarah”. On stage, she was so accustomed to her role that, in her words, she “abandoned herself.” All nine hours that the performance went on, she kept the audience in suspense, and when at the end of the play her heroine died, some spectators fainted – and not at all from fatigue. It was enough for Bernard to drop the handkerchief for the audience to feel how life was leaving her heroine.

“On stage, her personality undergoes a split, she plays as if she is dreaming in reality, and fatigue is not commensurate with the dizzying waste of thought. She merges with her characters and imbued with their atmosphere with amazing power, “wrote a contemporary of the actress, journalist Henri de Wendel (quoted from the book” Sarah Bernhardt “by Sophie-Aude Picon).

The role of Marguerite Gaultier was the best in Sarah Bernhardt’s career. She even had something in common with the heroine: for example, as a child, the actress suffered from tuberculosis. In addition, she, like Margarita, had to part with her beloved – the relatives of the Dutch prince Henri de Ligne were against his connection with the actress. And she was also very fond of camellias.

At the time of the tour in Belgium, for which this poster was printed, the legendary actress was already 56 years old, but she continued to brilliantly play a young girl. In 1912 – at the age of 68 – she starred in the film “Lady of the Camellias”, where her partner was 35-year-old Paul Capellani.

How an artist became famous in one day

The story of Alphonse Mucha and Sarah Bernhardt dating began in 1894. On the eve of Christmas, the actress called Brunhoff’s printing house and placed an urgent order for a poster for the new play “Gismonda”, where she played the main role. All the artists left for the holidays, the owner of the printing house was in despair – – it was impossible to refuse “divine Sarah”. He called Mukha and offered to draw this poster by January 1. He immediately agreed.

The artist portrayed the actress in the scene of a solemn procession from the final act – with her hair loose, in a wreath of flowers, in a gold dress similar to the festive vestments of a priest, and with a palm branch in her hand. Bernard was delighted and immediately signed a contract with him for six years. The artist received a monthly amount unheard of for those times – three thousand francs, in addition, the actress paid him 1500 francs for each new poster.

On January 1, 1895, Paris was hung with posters for “Gismond”. Parisians liked them so much that many did not hesitate to cut them off the walls. One day Alphonse Mucha became famous.

There were rumors of his affair with Sarah Bernhardt, but judging by their surviving letters, there was only friendship between them. Fly admired the actress, she patronized him. Before his first exhibition in 1897, she wrote to him:

“Listen, dear friend, to my advice: exhibit your work. I will put in a word for you … The subtlety of the line, the originality of the composition, the amazing coloring of your paintings will enchant the public, and after the exhibition, I promise you glory. I squeeze both of your hands in mine, my dear Fly. “

Fly Style

Alphonse Maria Mucha was born in the Czech region of Moravia in 1860. As a child, he sang in the choir, then decided to become an artist. He was not admitted to the Prague Academy of Arts, and the young man went to serve as a clerk. At the age of 19 he was taken as an apprentice by a decorator of a Viennese theater company. The theater became a source of inspiration for Mucha for many years.

After two years of work in the studio, the artist returned to Moravia, where he painted the palace and family castle of Count Karl Kuena-Belassi. He was so impressed by Mucha’s work that he paid for his studies at the Munich Academy of Fine Arts, and later in Paris. In France, Mucha began making a living making advertising posters, calendars, menus, and business cards.

There he also bought a camera in order to shoot models in theatrical poses he needed for sketches and later draw from photographs. Mucha himself developed the negatives and printed the pictures. A long session of a professional model cost a lot of money, and they agreed to pose for a photo of the model for a modest fee.

Women with flowing hair, adorned with flowers, in flowing pleated dresses, looking like goddesses or fairies, have become the hallmark of Alphonse Mucha’s style. And after 1906, the same beautiful red-haired girl began to appear in many of his illustrations – the artist’s wife Marishka.

EDITOR’S NOTE: This article is a translation. Apologies should the grammar and or sentence structure not be perfect.

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