The Art Nouveau Postcards of Alphonse Mucha

‘Juin’ from the set of twelve postcards ‘Le Mois’ depicting the months of the year
‘Juin’ from the set of twelve postcards ‘Le Mois’ depicting the months

The artist Alphonse Mucha has been described as ‘monumental figure’ in the Art Nouveau Movement. His postcards are rare and highly sought after.

Art Nouveau was a reaction to academic art of the 19th century schools of Realism and Impressionism. It often combined forms and structures inspired by nature with curved lines.

Toovey’s postcard and paper collectables specialist, Nicholas Toovey, comments “Throughout my career the postcards which have delivered the highest sums of money at auction have been postcards of Titanic interest, those relating to the Suffragettes and the Art Nouveau movement.”

Toovey’s postcard and paper collectables specialist, Nicholas Toovey
Toovey’s postcard and paper collectables specialist, Nicholas Toovey
Alphonse Mucha, postcard, after a design for the Societe de Bienfaisance Austro-Hongroise
Alphonse Mucha, postcard, after a design for the Societe de Bienfaisance Austro-Hongroise

I ask Nicholas about the collection of Mucha postcards already entered by a Sussex collector into his next specialist sale to be held on 11th August 2015. He replies “Alponse Mucha has always been prized by collectors for his artistic expression of the Art Nouveau. In my opinion he is the very best of the Art Nouveau artists.” Influenced by his relationship with Sarah Bernhardt, the leading actress of the Belle Epoch in 1870s France, Mucha produced posters, advertisements and menus in Paris. With the exception of ‘Le Mois’ and some other seasonal designs, his postcards are generally small images of large posters or cover designs. Rich in the symbolism of nature they idealize the female form. The fluidity of the arabesques of their hair and the foliage still engage the senses of the viewer today.

My eye is taken by a postcard of a lady in a white dress, her arms are outstretched and she is seated in a throne-like chair beneath a crescent design. Nicholas explains that this postcard is a copy of a design for the Societe de Bienfaisance Austro-Hongroise which Mucha produced in 1898. He says “This card is very rare. It’s estimated that there are only between thirty-one and seventy-five examples in the world.” The palette is subdued, almost faded, which is typical of Mucha’s work. These particular postcards are chromolithographically printed, a form of colour printing developed in the 19th century.

The series ‘Le Mois’ is the most famous of the sets from the Paris publisher, F. Champenois, who issued most of Mucha’s graphic works. The twelve ‘Le Mois’ postcards have titles reflecting the months of the year, seen here is the card for June. Each provides a romantic Art Nouveau depiction of a young woman emblematic of the season.

‘The Lady in a Pink Dress’, a menu card distributed by Moet & Chandon
‘The Lady in a Pink Dress’, a menu card distributed by Moet & Chandon

Strict postal regulations at this date meant that you could only write the address and fix the stamp on the back of the card. Therefore, space was left for your message on the front. Nicholas explains that, although not detrimental to the value, a premium is always paid for them in such wonderful unused condition as seen in this example. Postcards by Mucha in this condition can achieve over £100 for a single card. But they still represent exceptional value to the collector seeking a period example of Mucha’s work.

In 1900 F. Champenois published a set of ten menu cards after watercolour designs by Mucha. These were distributed by, and bear the name of, the famous champagne house Moet & Chandon. The design allows space to write your menu framed by ‘The Lady in a Pink Dress’ who holds a vine.

Toovey’s next specialist sale of Postcards and Paper Collectables will be held on Tuesday 11th August 2015 and entries are still being accepted. Toovey’s postcard and paper collectables specialist, Nicholas Toovey, is always pleased to offer advice whether you are interested in selling or acquiring postcards in this buoyant market. He is a member of the Postcard Traders Association and can be contacted on 01903 891955 or via auctions@tooveys.com.

Revd. Rupert Toovey. Originally published on 10th June 2015 in the West Sussex Gazette.

August 2014 Postcard Auction Sale Report

Henfield Station at Toovey's Auction
'Henfield Station' postcard, sold for £120

Toovey’s auction of Paper Collectables on 12th August included 146 lots of postcards. With only three lots failing to sell, there is no shortage of talking points:

Partridge Green Station at Toovey's
'Partridge Green Station', sold for £110

Private collectors went loco for a small group of individual postcards of Sussex railway platforms. No less than four successful collectors express-ed an interest, each chuffed with their purchases, once again proving the Sussex postcard market is far from station-ary! Bad puns aside, £120 was paid for an RP of ‘Henfield Station’ with a steam engine entering the now-vanished station. The exact same view with small loss to one corner only made £30, reinforcing the difference condition makes to the private collector. RP views of ‘Partridge Green Station’, ‘The Station, Southwater’ and a different view of ‘Henfield Railway Station’ each sold for £110.

Embroidered silk postcard, from an album that sold for £1500
Embroidered silk postcard, from an album that sold for £1500

Topographical postcards were popular throughout the auction but Sussex views continued to steal the headlines. An RP titled ‘Sussex Pruning Camp’, offered with a similar RP, sold for £95. A group of 4 postcards of Partridge Green, including a scarce RP of ‘Jolesfield Windmill’, achieved £140. A similar group of 13 postcards of nearby Cowfold and Shermanbury realised £240 and 31 postcards of Henfield sold for £420. All of these lots went to private collectors.

Outside of the Sussex scene, notable prices included 8 postcards of Barnes and Isleworth, which topped £120. An album of 52 postcards of the Channel Islands, predominantly Jersey, went at £320. A group of 160 of Middlesex reached £340 and £20 was paid for a slightly faded RP of ‘Finchley Rd Station’. A private collection of postcards published by LL performed well too, including a 286-postcard collection of London, which sold for £480.

Little Nap the Chimpanzee postcard, sold for £60
Little Nap, sold for £60

Topography was not the only area of interest. Leading the fray at £1500 was an album of 74 postcards, including a brilliant selection of regimental embroidered silks, which went to an internet bidder despite the busy room. One of the surprising results of the sale came in the form of a single RP of ‘Little Nap’, a chimpanzee dressed-up as Napoleon, which, after a battle between a private collector and the internet, sold for £60 in the room.

1 of 6 by Brunelleschi postcards, sold for £380
Brunelleschi postcards, sold for £380

A good selection of Art Nouveau, Art Deco and glamour postcards also attracted serious interest and stiff competition among bidders. A group of 6 Art Nouveau colour postcards by Umberto Brunelleschi was hotly contested, largely due to their great condition, selling at £380, just over £60 per postcard and nearly double their mid pre-sale estimate. 4 Italian Art Deco postcards by M. Montedoro achieved £130 and 9 postcards by Raphael Kirchner realised £160.

Arguably among the scarcest of postcards included in the auction was a large group of composite puzzle postcards, divided into 11 lots. Highlights included a set of 4 colour printed postcards titled ‘Fridtjof Nansen Nord Polar-Expedition’, which sold to a collector at £130, and a set of 6 French hand-coloured postcards of Barnum Circus, which went for £140. To view all the previous sale results click here.

Toovey’s next auction of Paper Collectables, including postcards, stamps, cigarette cards, photographs, autographs and ephemera, will be held on 4th November 2014. Whilst this auction has now deadlined,  four have been scheduled for 2015 due to the popularity of the Paper Collectable auctions at Toovey’s. Contact us to discuss your postcard collection for one of our future specialist sales.

By Nicholas Toovey, a member of the Postcard Traders Association. Originally published as a Sale Report in Picture Postcard Monthly October 2014 issue.

Members of the Postcard Traders Association

2013 has seen TOOVEY’S become members of the Postcard Traders Association.

The Postcard Traders Association (PTA) was formed in 1975 by a group of pioneering dealers who felt that the rapidly expanding hobby required a more professional approach, with regard to its organisation, regulation and direction. Today the PTA represents the foremost dealers from around the globe, auctioneers, fair organizers, publishers and accessory distributors among its members. All have been vetted to ensure that the high standards and objectives set upon its foundation are maintained to help in protecting collectors against unfair or dubious trading practices. It is, in effect, a guarantee or badge of fair trading, known by collectors and other dealers and has agreed a code of ethics which all members are required to adhere to.

Brighton Corporation Tramways Postcard
Lot 3045

Toovey’s are one of only a few auctioneers that have been accepted by the PTA and received membership to the association. It is largely attributable to Nicholas Toovey’s personal interest in postcards and is recognition for his continuing promotion of the Sales of Paper Collectables and the field of collecting postcards.

Toovey’s next auction of Paper Collectables is on 16th April 2013, the catalogue is now online and can be viewed by clicking here. The auction includes 90 Lots of postcards, including numerous vintage postcards of Sussex, the rest of the UK, China, Hong Kong and elsewhere, artist postcards by Louis Wain and Mabel Lucie Attwell, Military and Sport postcards. Also included in the specialist auction is a rare postcard of a Brighton Corporation Tramways tram showing various advertisements and the destination as ‘Seven Dials’, offered as a single item (Lot 3045) this rare postcard carries an estimate of £30-50.

Entries are currently invited for the next specialist postcard auction to be held as part of the August Sale of Paper Collectables, please call our offices for deadlines and further information.