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Friday, August 05, 2016

Alphonse Mucha, Artist and Freemason

Fans of art nouveau will immediately recognize the name of artist Alphonse Mucha, and if you don't recognize the name, you more than likely have seen his artwork (or imitations of it). He came to prominence outside of his home country of what would become Czechoslovakia at the Paris Exposition Universelle in 1900, and despite the waxing and waning popularity of art nouveau over the passing decades, his work has always been a standout. 

When the Republic of Czechoslovakia was formed as an independent state in 1918, Mucha’s artwork played a key role in helping to shape the new state’s national identity - he designed its new banknotes and postage stamps.

What makes him important here is that he is considered to be the father of Czechoslovakian Freemasonry. Mucha joined a lodge in Paris in 1898, and after his return to Prague, he helped establish the first Czech-speaking Lodge, the Komensky Lodge. In 1923, Mucha became Grand Master of the new Grand Lodge of Czechoslovakia, and in 1930 was made the second Sovereign Grand Commander of the Ancient Accepted Scottish Rite in Czechoslovakia. He famously designed an apron and jewels for the Grand Lodge, marked with his unique style. (After Masonry was banned during WWII by the Nazis, it reemerged and the fraternity there today is led by the Grand Lodge of the Czech Republic.) 

Combined with his longstanding interest in spiritualism, Masonic symbolism appears in what many have felt was one of his most important works, Le Pater, published the same year he joined the lodge in Paris. 

From a description by the Mucha Foundation:
Le Pater is an illustrated edition of The Lord’s Prayer created by Mucha. Published in Paris on 20th December 1899 at the passing of the old century, it was meant to be Mucha’s message to future generations about the progress of mankind. Through the archetypal Christian prayer, he wished to present the way for man to reach the Divine Ideal, the highest state in the spiritual world. 
Mucha conceived this project at a turning point in his career.  According to his own account, Mucha was at that time increasingly dissatisfied with unending commercial commissions and was longing for an artistic work with a more elevated mission. He was also influenced by his long-standing interest in Spiritualism since the early 1890s and, above all, by Masonic philosophy. In January 1898, almost two years before the publication of Le Pater, Mucha was initiated into the Paris Lodge of Freemasons as an apprentice and after the independence of his homeland he was to become Grand Master of the Freemasons of Czechoslovakia.  Mucha’s freemasonry was an outcome of his Spiritualism – the pursuit of a deeper Truth beyond the visible world. Through his spiritual journey Mucha came to believe that the three virtues – Beauty, Truth and Love – were the ‘cornerstones’ of humanity and that the dissemination of this message through his art would contribute towards the improvement of human life and, eventually, the progress of mankind.
In order to visualise his vision, Mucha analysed each of the seven verses of the model Christian prayer and reconstructed it in a set of three pages. The first page of each set, in colour, is the relevant verse in French and Latin, framed in a border sumptuously decorated with flowers and a symbolic female figure. The second page, also in colour, is Mucha’s own text, interpreting the verse and decorated with floral patterns. The third monochromatic page, printed in photogravure, contains a full-page allegorical drawing illustrating Mucha’s philosophical response to the verse. Throughout the pages, Mucha’s designs feature an abundance of Masonic symbols. The outcome was an exquisite book published in an edition of 510 copies.
Le Pater was Mucha’s first manifest as an artist-philosopher and he regarded the book as his finest work. In 1900 Mucha exhibited the book and the preparatory drawings at the Paris International Exhibition and was deeply gratified when the illustrations attracted the attention of Emperor Francis Joseph I. 
Only 510 copies of this collection of illustrations were printed at the time, and the printing plates were then destroyed to prevent pirating of his art. For decades, Le Pater has been rarely seen as one complete work. Now, after over a century, Century Guild has announced a new high quality printing of Le Pater will be made available in two limited editions, using a folio of Mucha's original artwork.

The story of Mucha's later life was not a pleasant one. His close association with Freemasonry made him a target for the Gestapo  when the Nazis invaded Czechoslovakia in 1939. They tore through Bohemia and Moravia with savagery, and with the express orders to completely wipe out the Slavs and Jews there—Hitler declared both peoples to be "sub-human." Since Freemasons were deemed handmaidens of Jewry, Masons were targets, too. Mucha's importance within the Grand Lodge made him a valuable prize. Betrayed by a collaborator named Arved Smichkovsky, he was arrested and subjected to harsh interrogation by the Gestapo at the age of 79. He was soon diagnosed with pneumonia and released in frail condition. Mucha passed away on July 14, 1939. In open defiance of the Nazi ban on public assemblies, over 100,000 Czechs attended his funeral, and he was eulogized in speeches given by his fellow anti-fascists.

H/T Adam Kendall


  1. Speaking of Prague, have a long look at the Clementinium Library there. Mucha unquestionably spent time there - probably quite a LOT of time.


  2. Finding out that Alphonse was a mason is amazing because i can go and tell all my Job's daughters sisters about it.


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