Benita (McGinnis) McCormick
(1889 - 1984)
|Alphonse Mucha at the School of the Art|
Institute of Chicago, circa 1907 - 1909.
Photograph from Benita (McGinnis)
One of the photographs in my grand aunt Detty's (Benita) scrapbook was of Professor Alphonse Mucha, who she adored and considered an early influence on her work. Mucha, a Czech artist, was world renowned for his contributions to the Art Nouveau movement.
After he moved from his native Moravia to Paris, the famous actress Sarah Bernhardt asked him to create a poster of her for an 1894 play in which she was starring. The poster, named Gismonda for Bernhardt's production, attracted critical acclaim for its unconventional style. He went on to create many more posters and paintings, illustrations, and commercial art in what became known as le style Mucha.
Mucha's portrait of
In the public domain.
In 1906, the School of the Art Institute of Chicago invited Mucha to teach an advanced class as a guest professor. Aunt Detty, then 17, was one of his students. A year later, while studying under the famous professor, she produced the sketch below. It appears to have been either a Christmas poster or cover. The writing in the border at the bottom notes that it was a "Design for the no. Corpus Christi Record."
I have not been able to find a publication by that name. I cannot tell whether there was such a periodical or whether the caption at the bottom was written at the time of the sketch or years later, when the name of the paper could have been blurred by memory. I do think, though, that this was probably a preliminary sketch and that there may have been a color version somewhere.
Benita McGinnis' Art Nouveau sketch, in le style Mucha, boasts a decorative halo-like border that was a hallmark of many Mucha posters. Three cherubic angels, illuminated by the Star of Bethlehem, burst through the halo as they blow their horns, heralding the arrival of the Savior as the subtly drawn Magi journey to Bethlehem in the lower quarter of the picture. The caption "CHRISTMAS," set in its own simple border, ties the two scenes together in a vignette that is solemn yet celebratory. The sketch is signed in the lower right hand corner by B.E. McGinnis and dated 1907.
Alphonse Mucha and his family returned to Europe in 1910. Fiercely proud of his Slavic heritage, he spent the rest of his life working on his masterpiece project of 20 paintings, each 20 feet high, called The Slav Epic, about the history of the Slavs and the Czechs. In 1939 during the German invasion of Prague, the Gestapo arrested Mucha. He became ill during his interrogation and was released. He would die shortly afterward of a lung infection.
Aunt Detty treasured the above photograph of her beloved teacher and kept it in her scrapbook along with her Christmas design and other memories of her years at the Art Institute. "Mucha, our French artist love of the year. Famous all over the world. His paintings now bring thousands. (Taught) us the rule of 3 to 5."
For a more on Alphonse Mucha, click here to view Part One of a documentary on his life.
Copyright © 2013 Linda Huesca Tully
Did you know Benita (McGinnis) McCormick, or are you a member of the McGinnis or McCormick families? Share your memories and comments below.