The Czech artist famously known as Mucha revolutionised poster design in the early 19th century. Although not a student of the Prague Academy of Fine Arts, 19 year-old Mucha landed his first job as a professional artist by displaying a unique artistic talent. Later, portraits the young boy drew attracted the attention of a wealthy landowner called Count Khuen Belasi, who became Mucha's patron and sponsored his education at the Academy of Art in Munich for two years, then Paris. But after three years in Paris, the Count withdrew his support and Mucha was forced to eke out a living by creating a new style of illustrations for a variety of magazines and books. Soon, fate brought Sarah Bernhardt, the star of the Parisian stage, to his doorstep. He was doing a friend a favour, correcting proofs at Lemercier's printing works, when the actress commissioned him to create a new poster for her production of Gismonda. The poster which Mucha created was to revolutionise poster design. The long narrow shape, the subtle pastel colours and the 'halo' effect around the subject's head were to remain features of Mucha's posters throughout his life. Most importantly, these elements combined with the stillness of the near life-size figure was to introduce a note of dignity and sobriety to what had been up to then garish street-art - qualities which were quite startling in their novelty.
The effect created was astonishing and the poster for Gismonda was so popular with the Parisian public, that collectors bribed bill stickers to obtain them or simply went out at night and, using razors, cut them down from the hoardings. But that did not deter the Czech artist. In fact, Sarah Bernhardt was so impressed with the result that she hired young Mucha to produce stage and costume designs as well as posters. This established Mucha as the preeminent exponent of Parisian Art Nouveau. Thereafter, he gained a solid reputation among the Parisian art community and the commissions started rolling in. Nevertheless, his big opportunity came when in 1899, the Austrian Government asked him to design the interior of the Pavilion of Bosnia-Herzegovina which was to form part of the Paris International Exhibition of the 1900s. The design took 18 months to complete, during which Mocha travelled through the Balkans gathering ideas to sketch. He then decided to move to America to seek greater opportunities. But after more than a decade living in the US, Mucha returned to Bohemia to achieve a long held desire to create a monumental series of paintings called the Slav Epic. The 20 grand canvases, measuring 6 by 8 metres, celebrate more than a thousand years of Slav history, which was presented as a gift to the City of Prague.