Alphonse Mucha, ‘Job.’, 1896, Rennert’s Gallery

This is Mucha's single most famous work. It seems impossible that such flamboyant effort would be devoted to selling cigarette papers. But: the exotic tendrils of her hair conjure up the fractal whorls of smoke from an idle cigarette. The image is breathtaking; the beauty intoxicating. Photographs are seldom able to capture the metallic gold paint used for the hair, which gleams and radiates in the light, delivering an experience not unlike a religious icon. At auction: see www.rennertsgallery.com for details.

Publisher: F. Champenois, Paris

About Alphonse Mucha

Alphonse Mucha is synonymous with Art Nouveau, a style of fine art, decorative art, and architecture that broke with the academicism of the 19th century in favor of florid lines inspired by the natural environment. A lithographed advertising poster he was commissioned to create for a play featuring the celebrated actress Sarah Bernhardt in 1894 catapulted him out of obscurity and brought him instant success as a commercial artist. Rendered in pale pastels, much of his work depicts beautiful young women draped in Neoclassical robes set amidst flowers, feathers, and other sensuous natural forms. He was celebrated not only for illustrating advertising posters, but also for painting, book illustrations, sculpting, and designing theater sets, jewelry, and wallpaper.

Czech, 1860-1939, Ivančice, Czech Republic, based in Paris, France