Cutting-edge technology is not just a characteristic of our age

Born in Moravia in 1860, Alphonse Mucha moved to Paris in his 20s and went on to become one of the greatest exponents of the art nouveau style, of which Job is a superb example. Job displays all of Mucha’s trademark characteristics. The poster shows a woman sensually involved in the act of smoking. Respectable women, however, did not smoke at the turn of the century. On the other hand, there was a popular custom in France of linking ‘l’amour, le vin et le tabac’ [love, wine and tobacco], with women being employed to advertise tobacco in order to impart a sense of illicit glamour to the product.

In Job, the extravagantly stylised hair reinforces the underlying erotic content of the poster. Closer  examination also reveals several coded sexual references, such as the curled-up toe that peeps from beneath the woman’s flowing gown – a symbol of female sexual arousal – and the raised tip of her cigarette.

A detail often overlooked in Alphonse Mucha’s Job is the repeated use of the interconnected letters spelling out the name of the cigarette papers: Job. The brand name was developed from the initials of the French craftsman Jean Bardou, who invented the idea for a booklet of rolling papers made of rice paper. Originally ‘JB’ was separated by a diamond and as the brand grew in popularity people began referring to them as Job. In the poster, Mucha uses the letters as the background pattern as well as the shape of the clasp that holds the woman’s dress together, drawing the eye to her breasts.

The poster Job exemplifies another very identifiable characteristic of Mucha’s work: what at first appears to be a rather sweet and innocent image is, in fact, a very sexually charged one.

Text © National Gallery of Australia, Canberra 2010


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