Lecture Review: Alphonse Mucha & Auguste Rodin ‘A Lasting Friendship’

Lecture: Alphonse Mucha (1866 – 1939) & Auguste Rodin (1840 – 1947) ‘A Lasting Friendship’
Walker Art Gallery – Rex Makin Lecture Theatre

Words and Photographs, Moira Leonard

This lecture was one of a series of events accompanying the critically acclaimed ‘Alphonse Mucha: A Quest for Beauty’ exhibition at Walker Art Gallery exploring various themes emerging from the exhibition.

Heralded as the ‘greatest decorative painter’ that ever lived, Mucha was a very active character in the Parisian Art Scene when he met Auguste Rodin.

Rodin, at the time, was emerging as a considerable force in the modern art world and Mucha was very taken with him.

National Museums of Liverpool (NML) European Art Director, Xanthe Brooke, presented a picture of an eager young man who formed a lifelong friendship with an older, more experienced sculptor and they soon became firm friends, enjoying the Parisienne nightlife and hosting outrageous parties.

As I approached the lecture theatre about half an hour before the start, I met a charming lady called Diane who was perplexed about the room doors being very firmly shut and locked (although we were both very early!). So, we decided to decant and enjoy coffee and cake in the Gallery Café whilst we waited for the doors to open. Here we met two more of her party: Margaret and her sister Fi. Three adorable ladies, all of whom were singing the praises of the exhibition and the benefits of National Museum Membership Scheme. Great NML ambassadors! They told me of their art international art adventures, and I wished I could have recorded the conversation as it was quite fascinating.

Following this delightful interlude, we made our way to the Rex Makin Lecture Theatre and I squirreled myself away to listen to Ms Penketh’s lecture.

So, what did I learn?

Well…

  • There was a 26-year age difference between the two artists, which didn’t seem to bother either of them
  • Mucha had Slavic origins, whereas Rodin was very much the Bohemian Parisian
  • Rodin was becoming notorious when the two met, but not yet a ‘celebrity’
  • They met in 1891 (or thereabouts) in a Parisian Café as both had studios nearby at the time
  • By 1893 they were sharing a studio in Paris and hosting flamboyant fancy dress parties!
  • Life Drawing was a joint passion of theirs, something they both indulged in daily
  • Initially brought together and inspired by the beauty of nature, they worked very differently in practice: Mucha from photos and Rodin from sketches (although he did collect other people’s photographs)
  • One of their contemporaries, Liverpool Wine Merchant, James Smith championed Rodin’s work and collected 7 of his marble and bronze sculptures over the years so there is a local connection
  • Both artists ended their careers with Monumental Works: Rodin with ‘the Gates of Hell’ from which came such masterpieces as ‘The Thinker’ and the Kiss’; and Mucha with his ‘Slav Epic’ (Slovanská epopej) described by the Mucha Foundation as ‘a series of twenty monumental canvases (the largest measuring over 6 by 8 metres) depicting the history of the Slav people and civilisation’

I enjoyed listening to the stories in this lecture and it inspired me to find out more by visiting the main exhibition, and I’m so glad I did as it is a very beautiful display which draws interesting links with Paul Gaugin, Sarah Bernhardt, Eduard Burne-Jones and 1960s pop art in general. Also on show are projections of the Slav Epic, and some small bronzes by Rodin, illustrating the content of the lecture we had just heard.

It is impressive to see how influential an artist Mucha was, and still is: arguably still the ‘Greatest Decorative Artist in the World’.

The next and final lecture in this series explores ‘’The Della Robbia Pottery, Birkenhead’s contribution to the Arts & Crafts Movement’ on 11 October 2017, 11am at the Rex Makin Lecture Theatre.

‘Alphonse Mucha: In Quest of Beauty’ exhibition runs until October 2017