READING, Pa. - In France during the late 1890s, the Industrial Revolution was over and it was the Golden Age, La Belle Epoque in Paris before the horrors of World War I.
Artist Alphonse Mucha had just moved to the city. He wasn't French. He was born in a small town in what is now the Czech Republic. He was a painter, and when he arrived in Paris, he began creating theater and magazine ads in a style for which he would eventually be known as the father of art nouveau.
"Instead of being these kind of very industrial images, we're going back to kind of natural forms, swirling lines," explained Wendy Koller, the Reading Public Museum's manager of education. "His biggest contribution, I would say, were his ladies."
They were in ads around the world from the 1890s through 1910. There was a resurgence of the Mucha-style again in the free-flowing movement of the 1960s.
But back to when it began, it was a means to an end for Mucha. He made money at it, and a meeting with famed actress Sarah Bernhardt would prove to be quite lucrative. She was the lead in a play called "Gismonda," and Mucha was hired to create a fresh poster for the play's extended run. He had about a week to create it.
In January 1895, one of his posters was all over Paris, and it was really the first time people saw posters on the streets that they wanted as decoration in their own homes.
"He created this beautiful poster, and the minute it hit the streets of Paris, it really just became something people talked about and people wanted," Koller added.
He would go on to design the ads for Bernhardt's productions for six years. He was also hired for commercial prints for cigarettes and bicycles, and he designed currency for his home country.
When the World's Fair opened in Paris in 1900, Mucha was at the height of his career and the art nouveau style made its debut to the rest of the world. At that point, Mucha was ready to go back to his roots, and he began creating what he considered his best work -- a set of murals called "Slav Epic," depicting the history of his people.
It's a set of 20 large canvasses that are currently not on display anywhere in the world, but you can see some of the prints. It's a marriage of Mucha's art and heritage, his passion.