“Alfons Mucha doesn’t seem to trust women very much, he sought them out. It was only in fantasy that he raised them and turned them into impersonal carriers of all beauty.” At least that’s how the his son Jiří’s relationship with his wives is mentioned. Despite the composure and confidence he had shown in the neighborhood, Alfons was apparently dubious, contradictory and vulnerable. His statement, “When a woman approaches you, kick him,” then doesn’t sound like rudeness, but rather knowledge. Why did he cover the faces of the models?
When a woman approaches you, kick her…
When he left the unsuitable workshop of the Grande-Chaumière and the dining room of Madame Charlotte, he moved to rue du Val-de-Grâce. It was the summer of 1896. And since he never threw anything away, things piled up around him in picturesque order, beginning with a peacock feather and ending with velvet draperies. The necessary accessories for models or decoration accessories in the living room always traveled with him. The hat on the stepladder was a hat on the stepladder, even though the stepladder had been moved to other places. Its decorative panel was one of the few human artifacts for which there was no social difference. She stood out just as well at the castle, so at the castle it seemed like a rarity, everyone could afford it, and Mucha became famous. He no longer ate in the canteens, had a servant, rented a cookbook. Her name was Mademoiselle Louise Papillard.
Louise was born into a family of winegrowers from the town of Arbois in Burgundy. It is not known who recommended her to Mucha, but it is absolutely certain that the relationship between the Master and the cook, as Marta Kadlečíková writes about her, was surprisingly immediate. Perhaps because they both came from a wine-growing background, from the same social class. However, social status was not determined by origin, but by Mucha’s talent and fame. She was also a devoted secretary, faithfully following his instructions (“Go to the framer…”, “Tell the editor…”), in a way also a confidante and in tacit agreement with the sister of Alfonso Anna and a caregiver for his health. The lively correspondence between Paris and the Moravian family, which was mainly provided by Louise, suggests something like this and at the same time suppresses various speculations about their relationship.
Alfons Mucha: Dreaming (1898). Source: Richard Fuxy Endowment Fund
Louise was barely twenty years old when she entered her studio. She certainly admired him, perhaps it was the love she turned into selfless service. She also witnessed her breakup with her longtime friend Berthe de Lalande, who had to make way for the beautiful young Czech Maria Chytilová. “It just came to our knowledge at that time. I could take it here or there, and I had to do something to defend myself. If so, I wanted to have a Czech… We came to Paris especially for me. ‘marry. Růžena Jesenská. She came to me, introduced herself as a Czech writer, and I immediately understood what she was doing. I was determined not to marry at all, and if that was the case, she had to have this and that, be like this and that – no way. Růžena Jesenská barely walked from door to door.” However, their relationship lasted more than two years. Alfons calls her Růžička, she includes love and warm kisses in her letters, she just doesn’t want to get married, let alone have a family that thirty-eight-year-old Jesenská was hoping for. Their relationship, or rather that of Alfonso, was influenced by the fact that she lived in Bohemia and was a kind of bridge between her home and Paris. In addition, there was the charming Frenchwoman Berthe de Lalande.
Berthe was Mucha’s long-time companion, whom he perfectly retouched with her life before her marriage to Maria Chytilová. Why? Of course, in the presence of a being close to us, we do not exhibit a love correspondence with an old love: either we put it in a shoebox, or we throw it in the stove. The relationship just ended. However, Mucha’s efforts were to make it seem like he didn’t exist at all. Where have the eight years gone? And then there is Bert’s portrait from 1896. A girl reading on a chair by the window. The journal La Plume, in its 1897 special issue devoted to Mucha, printed it full-page. After years, Jiří Mucha discovered that none of Alfonso’s documentary copies contained a portrait of Berthe, he withdrew them. And he carefully removed his name from all notes and notebooks. So we get rid of the memories of the man who hurt us.
“Love is a source that grows with obstacles“- Alfons Mucha
Berthe did no harm, she was just redundant. Trying to erase his tracks in front of the future wife was foolish, because he was only destroying them. For example, Mucha’s letter to M. Bourrelier, who had written to him on his way from Munich to Moravia when he was leaving Berta for a few weeks, has been preserved. “I spent the afternoon before my departure with my mistress, who then accompanied me to the station. She will be left very alone. Would you (Berthe) agree to visit your wife?”
Alfons Mucha: Model posing in a studio, rue du Val-de-Grâce, Paris (circa 1900). Source: Richard Fuxy Endowment Fund
How was she? One can get an idea of this preserved letter: apparently very impenetrable. His photo with Alfons was also found. The alterations were really nonsense, unless, for conventional reasons and especially on the part of Maruška, he wanted to hide the fact that he had lived with Berthe “in a heap” for years. And Louise has always been faithful to Mucha, she could keep quiet. However, there are small fragments from which one can compile a sort of mosaic of Alphonse’s life in Paris.
Breaking up with him was very hard for Berthe. Louis’ letter to Mucha’s sister, Anna, also attests to this. She apologizes for not being able to write because she was with Berthe by the sea and “M. Mucha did not want to”. When she went to visit him shortly after Alfonso’s marriage to Maruška, she wrote, “We don’t speak with her, she is very unhappy and she is still crying.” A testimony that arouses compassion even after several decades. He is also working on a copy of Ilsee written in pencil ex libris by Mrs. Berthe Mucha.
Mucha’s critical attitude towards women could emerge only after marriage.
It was only after Mucha’s death that it became clear that he supported her until the end of her life, that she received a regular monthly stay, that she remained single and that she had a niece, Lucy, who was Alfonso’s goddaughter. . What if Lucy was more than a godson? But that’s pure speculation. Alfons Mucha denied having lived with Berthe for eight years, but it is true that he had not forgotten her. Cook Louise, the only credible witness, died poor and forgotten in 1966. No one knew she had survived Alfonso, Berthe and Maruška. There’s no one to ask anymore.
Alfonso’s relationship with women
Marta Kadlečíková, who participated in the preparation of Jiří Mucha’s books about her father and published about him, wrote: “Here and there, with a little amazement, I realize that I know him in many ways better than my living friends. This strange feeling of intimacy is probably due to the fact that I lived in a house furnished with his furniture, sitting on a chair in which his models posed, mixing tea with spoons to his monogram… I cataloged his artistic legacy after the death of his wife, I read hundreds of letters, categorized many photos, business cards, newspaper clippings, and in addition to important facts, I also found a lot of details.
Alfons Mucha: Gems: Topas (1900). Source: Richard Fuxy Endowment Fund
All of this, individually perhaps insignificant, combined into a whole, created an unsettling sense of an almost tangible presence'” Perhaps for this reason she could admit the possibility that Mucha’s critical attitude towards women only arose after marriage. “His young wife, who was looking for him in Paris as a follower of painting, soon forgot his undeniable talent, but she eagerly set about playing the role of the famous man’s wife.” The idea of living together “each at his own stepladder” did not materialize, but they were different.
Finding out about Mucha’s relationships with women makes no sense, as does researching specific names, since none of them could have influenced him like Mary. Maybe she was protecting him somehow. The question is before what…
photo: Richard Fuxa Endowment Fund, source: New Phoenix