Perfumes and projections: new immersive Mucha exhibition opens in Paris

'Eternal Mucha' exhibition

A long-awaited exhibition opened in Paris on Wednesday, using huge projections, 3D animation and music to bring the work of Czech painter Alfons Mucha to life. A so-called “immersive” exhibition, it uses the power of smell and sound as well as sight to recreate his world. The exhibition also focuses on his legacy, from the “Flower Power” movement of the sixties to Japanese manga, street art, and even tattoos.

Poster for the première production of Victorien Sardou's Gismonda starring Sarah Bernhardt at the Théâtre de la Renaissance in Paris. | Source: Wikimedia Commons,  public domain

Housed in the Grand Palais Immersif, a new venue in Paris dedicated to immersive exhibitions, the ‘Eternal Mucha’ exhibition is a feast for the senses, playing with more than just the visual, as Mucha’s great-grandson, Marcus Mucha, elaborates.

“We wanted to make everything immersive. It’s not just pictures but also music and perfumes. The perfumes convey the scent of Alfons' favourite flowers from Moravia and the smell of the church in Ivančice where he sang.”

The smell of incense, Mucha’s favourite scent, wafts through the air, and visitors can also get a whiff of the perfume that Sarah Bernhardt, the French actress that Mucha famously immortalised in an 1895 theatrical poster, received from the celebrated French perfumer Jacques Guerlain in 1900.

The director of the Grand Palais Immersif, Roei Amit, says that modern technology also played a big role in creating the immersive experience of the exhibition.

"We are also showing the Bosnia and Herzegovina pavilion, in which Alfons Mucha was directly involved. All this was possible thanks to modern technologies."

He expects the exhibit, which will remain open until early November, will attract hundreds of visitors each day.

Mucha’s success and fame in Paris came mostly thanks to his design of the aforementioned Sarah Bernhardt poster – before that he was just a humble illustrator. To his own surprise, the popular French actress adored the poster, says the artist’s great-grandson.

“It was close to Christmas 1894. Sarah Bernhardt had a play in Paris that wasn’t successful. Alfons designed a poster for the play and when she saw it, she told him that he had made her immortal.”

Alfons Mucha,  'Job' | Source: Museum of Decorative Arts in Prague

Mucha also designed dozens of other advertising posters which appeared on everything from cigarette papers and chocolate to baby food and champagne. But his designs were very different from the norm for advertising at the time, says Tomoko Sato, curator of the exhibition.

“The typical example is if you look at a cigarette ad, the normal way of doing it is that someone is prominently smoking. But his way is always subtle. He designed them to draw people’s attention to the beautiful women’s faces and their facial expressions. A half-opened mouth and an ecstatic face – that draws people’s attention and actually shows the pleasure of the experience. He doesn’t show the product prominently, but he inspires the viewer to imagine.”

But why ‘Eternal Mucha’? The curator explains the thinking behind the name of the exhibit.

'Eternal Mucha' exhibition | Source: Grand Palais Immersif

“It is partly because of our understanding of his amazing impact on contemporary artists, especially from the 1960s, when he was rediscovered at the exhibition in London. So we wanted to pay homage to that fact but at the same time, certain aspects of Mucha’s influence, his philosophical message, which is inspiring socially concerned artists. And therefore we would like to tell people: we are carrying Mucha’s torch, let’s think about the future and today’s problems. Because really this is the essence of Mucha’s message – it is eternal.”

Mucha’s great-grandson, Marcus, is also certain that his great grandfather’s works are still changing the world of art, even more than 80 years after his death.

“People all around the world see something in Mucha’s work that speaks to their hearts.”