Alphonse Mucha Postcards

Coming up in our Vintage Posters Auction on August 3 is a remarkable collection of postcards by Alphonse Mucha. The collection, which represents nearly all of the postcards from Mucha’s French period, is the most complete set ever to be offered at auction. This rare and fascinating archive offers a snapshot of Mucha’s creative output, as well as insight into how the widespread reproduction of Mucha’s designs helped propel his runaway popularity. Overall the condition of the items in this collection is near fine, with only a small handful having been used and bearing writing on the verso.

Lot 72: A near-complete collection of 115 Alphonse Mucha postcards, circa 1898-1911. Estimate $60,000 to $90,000.

The majority of the postcards were produced by the Imprimerie Champenois in Paris, with whom Mucha signed an exclusive contract in 1896. The printing company secured the right to reproduce his work, and in exchange, Mucha received a generous monthly stipend which helped ensure he could sustain his creative work. 

The postcard, as a form of correspondence, was officially born in Austria in 1869. By the late 1890s, Champenois was issuing picture postcards with designs by many artists, with Mucha being one of the most popular. In addition to postcards, Imprimerie Champenois printed Mucha’s work as decorative panels, calendars, theater programs, menus, and many other formats—a variety of which are represented in the sale: Decorative panel Lot 70, Poster Lot 75, Book Plate Lot 73.

Larger, single-figure works, with designs covering the entire piece—such as The Seasons or The Times of Day—originated as decorative panels, while others were made for theater performances, menus, or to advertise products such as bicycles and Champagne. The ways in which these images translate across printing formats is a testament to Mucha’s precision as a designer. 

This design for Waverly Cycles shows a typical Mucha woman, her arm elegantly draped over a bicycle handlebar.

Because most of the postcards reproduced his larger-scale works, the postcards were long considered incidental to his artistic production. One important exception is Mucha’s Peasant Girl (Bowers and Martin, Cat. 602; Weil, Cat. 102), which Mucha appears to have designed specifically as a postcard. The collecting of Mucha’s postcards gained popularity in the 1960s and ‘70s and appreciation for this aspect of his artistic aspect has only grown since. 

Two postcards from the Months of the Year series pictured in the middle row. 

From their early days in the 1870s, postcards have been prized as an inexpensive and easy way of sending a message. That ease also allowed for an immediacy, which made them particularly good for communicating urgent messages, as well as lived experiences, as we might send a postcard from a specific place today. Both senses are evident in this collection. On one card, someone writes to a woman asking if she is available to change the time of their meeting. In another sense, perhaps, the replication of Mucha’s designs as postcards pushes us to consider posters on which they were based as kinds of “originals” of their own. For an artist whose work was so heavily reproduced, such challenges to ideas of originality are particularly prescient. This collection is a remarkable and rare showcase of the full range of those possibilities.

Lot 72: A near-complete collection of 115 Alphonse Mucha postcards, circa 1898-1911. Estimate $60,000 to $90,000.

Related Reading: