You probably don’t know his name. You may not even know that there is a name behind the distinctive design, but you have very likely seen his work or a derivative of it. You will likely recognize it if you see it, even if you don’t know who it is.
His name was Alphonse Maria Mucha and his style has had a considerable and wide reaching influence on art to this very day. His style lends itself particularly well to science fiction and fantasy art.
Mucha was born in Moravia (the present Czech Republic) in 1860 ad he began his art career painting theatrical scenery. He also did freelance decorative and portrait painting and murals. In 1887 Mucha moved to Paris where he worked at producing magazine and advertising illustrations. A chance encounter in a print shop led to him producing a poster for a play featuring Sarah Bernhardt, the most famous actress in Paris. His poster had a huge impact and was followed with a six year contract.
Mucha produced a flurry of paintings, posters, advertisements, and book illustrations, as well as designs for jewelry, carpets, wallpaper, and theatre sets in what was termed initially The Mucha Style but became known as Art Nouveau (French for “new art”). Mucha’s works frequently featured beautiful young women in flowing, vaguelyNeoclassical-looking robes, often surrounded by lush flowers which sometimes formed halos behind their heads. In contrast with contemporary poster makers he used pale pastel colors.
His style has been often imitated in contemporary advertising and art and in recent years in a number of science fiction, fantasy and comic book themed artwork.
Adam Hughes is a comic book artists whose strong line already resembles the Mucha style. Hughes makes use of this by rendering a number of portraits of comic book characters in the Mucha poster style. Probably his best Mucha style rendering is his poster advertising the final, ill-fated cruise of Jabba the Hut’s pleasure barge from The Return of the Jedi. The poster is a bit of an in-joke. Jabba’s entertainment was probably the event of the decade for the elite of Tattooine. One can imagine wealthy Tattooinians seeing this poster and happily shelling out credits for a limited number of exclusive tickets, blissfuly unaware of the disastrous end that will be brought about by the last of the Jedi knights.
One of the most recent and, to my mind, one of the best Mucha inspired artists is Megan Lara.
Megan Lara is a Doctor Who cosplayer (if you have to ask what a cosplayer is… well, go here) as well as a talented artist. She produces Doctor Who fan art done very consciously in the Mucha style. Her portraits are very accurate renderings of the characters from the British SF television show as well as being wonderful works of art in themselves. You can find more of her work at her tumblr or at her deviant art site. Check it out. Her work is well worth a look.
Even I’ve taken a whack at producing art in the Mucha style. Years ago I did a series of Space Princesses in the Mucha Style in pen and ink and watercolour. I work almost exclusively digitally now and I have toyed with the idea of doing more Mucha inspired art, but, as simple as the line looks, it is actually very difficult to do correctly, particularly the Art Nouveau filigree. It tends to tax my patience.
I have only highlighted a handful but there are many other fantasy and science fiction artists who have tried their hand at a Mucha style piece. All you have to do is google Mucha or Art Nouveau in combination with fantasy or science fiction and lots of images will come up.