Born in Ivancice, Moravia near the city of Brno in the modern day Czech Republic, Alphonse Mucha began his artistic training taking drawing lessons at the Academy of Visual Arts in Prague and continued his studies in Munich. In 1890, the young artist moved on to Paris and enrolled in the Academie Julien where he was the student of J. P. Laurens, Gustave Boulanger and Lefebvre.
While in Paris, Mucha began to draw illustrations for books and magazines. In 1894, almost overnight, based on a poster he designed for a play starring Sarah Bernhardt, Gismonda, he became a success.
Although widely regarded as one of the premier artists of the Art Nouveau period, Mucha shared much in philosophy and artistic temperament with the artists of the Symbolist movement. The composition of his posters was influenced by Dante Gabriel Rossetti and Carlos Scwabe and the atmosphere surrounding the Salons de la Rose + Croix as well as by Byzantine and Japanese art. Although most renowned for his poster designs, the artist himself set more store by his other projects. In 1898-1899, he did a series of illustrations for The Lord's Prayer adding personal comments which echoed those of the founder of the Rose + Croix, Joseph Peladan. The crowning achievement of his career was the monumental series, The Slav Epic; twenty huge canvases that marked his return to the history painting of his youth.
Spring Night has been identified by Jiri Mucha as a fully worked-out study for Rusadla, which represents a scene from a Slavonic spring festival (fig. 1). The two lovers, intertwined, appear in the top right hand corner of the larger composition. Although technically a study for the larger work, Mucha has composed the two figures in such a way that they create a complete and satisfying composition, even without reference to the larger work.
The palette is closely controlled in hues of green and grey, punctuated only by the flesh tones of the figures and white and pink of the apple blossoms. The subject matter is wholly symbolist in concept while the palette brings to mind Franz von Stuck, and the dreamlike quality of the surface and the composition recalls Odilon Redon.
John Mucha has confirmed the authenticity of this work.
(fig.1) Alphonse Mucha, Rusaldla, reproduced in Zlata Praha, 30 July 1919, issue 45/46.
(fig. 2) Illustrated cover for Hearst's International Magazine, with Spring Night on the cover, May 1921.