In Quest of Beauty – La Nova Singers visit Alphonse Mucha at the Russell-Cotes

Champenois Imprimeur image by Alphonse Mucha - image from Wikipedia

As well as some unexpected sunshine, April has brought with it one of Bournemouth’s most eagerly anticipated cultural events: an exhibition of work by the influential Art Nouveau poster artist Alphonse Mucha, at the Russell-Cotes Art Gallery and Museum.

Since the museum is also the venue for our special gala concert in July, we sent soprano and Art Nouveau aficionado Holly Stroud to see the exhibition and report back…

Seeing the tall, elegant posters Mucha created for the actress Sarah Bernhardt in person, you can understand why residents of findesiècle Paris might have torn them down overnight and smuggled them home. The linework within each image ranges from delicate and flowing, to bold and very modern-seeming. There is a flair for composition, and a magpie’s eye for decorative detail (Mucha also designed stage jewellery).

A particular favourite of mine is the poster for Bernhardt’s appearance as the tragic courtesan Marguerite in ‘La Dame Aux Camellias‘ – a story familiar to us in La Nova Singers, as it is also the basis for Verdi’s opera La Traviata. Mucha’s poster features the camellia as a decorative and symbolic device, adorning a stunning full-length portrait of the heroine against a background of iridescent stars.

La Dame Aux Camellias, 1896 - Alfons Mucha; image via Wikimedia Commons.

One thing that the curators at the Russell-Cotes always do really well is planning exhibitions that complement the museum’s permanent collection. In this case, although the work in the exhibition-proper comes from the collection of The Mucha Trust,  the curators have chosen to juxtapose artwork from the Aesthetic Movement in Britain – including Rosetti’s ‘Venus Verticordia‘. By drawing parallels with this so-called ‘cult of beauty’, they highlight what is perhaps the most salient aspect of Mucha’s work – that it is beautiful. A far cry from the shock tactics and appeals to fear and ignorance that are such a frequent feature of today’s advertising. The product placement in Mucha’s commercial work is subtle; the effect always stylish.

Moët & Chandon Crémant Impérial, 1899 - Alfons Mucha. Image via Wikimedia Commons

As we plan our celebratory concert, the setting of the Russell-Cotes seems more appropriate than ever for our pursuit of ‘bel canto’ – beautiful singing.

‘Alphonse Mucha: In Quest of Beauty’ runs until the end of September 2015 at the Russell-Cotes Art Gallery & Museum, Bournemouth.

The exhibition alone is reason enough to visit; but if you’d appreciate some elegant classical singing with a backdrop of fine art, visit our website for booking details for La Nova Singers’ 10th Anniversary Gala Concert on Saturday 25 July.

Find out more:

Images © The Mucha Trust

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