The beginnings of Art Nouveau
The advent of Art Nouveau - literally "New Art" - can be attributed to two different influences: the first was the introduction, around 1880, of the British Arts and Crafts movement, which, like Art Nouveau, was a reaction against the messy design and compositions of decorative art from the Victorian era.
The second was the current fashion for Japanese art, particularly woodblock prints, which swept many European artists in the 1880s and 1890s, including the likes of Gustav Klimt, Emile Gallé, and James Abbott McNeill Whistler. Japanese woodblock prints, in particular, contained floral and bulbous forms, and "whiplash" curves, all key elements of what would eventually become Art Nouveau.
Japanese Art Nouveau - The Wave by Katsushika Hokusai
It is difficult to pinpoint the first works of art that officially launched Art Nouveau. Some argue that the patterned, flowing lines and floral backgrounds found in the paintings of Vincent van Gogh and Paul Gauguin represent the birth of Art Nouveau, or perhaps even Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec's decorative lithographs such as Moulin Rouge: La Goule (1891).
However, most point to the origins of the decorative arts, and in particular to a book jacket by English architect and designer Arthur Heygate Mackmurdo for the 1883 volume Wren's City Churches.
Mackmurdo, Arthur: Attributed as the first representation of Art Nouveau
The book's design features serpentine stems of flowers emanating from a flattened pad at the bottom of the page, clearly reminiscent of Japanese-style woodblock prints.
Art Nouveau exhibitions
Art Nouveau was often most conspicuous at international exhibitions during its heyday. The new style enjoyed center stage at five private fairs: the 1889 and 1900 Expositions Universelles in Paris; the Tervueren Exhibition of 1897 in Brussels, where Art Nouveau was used extensively to show the possibilities of craftsmanship with the exotic woods of the Belgian Congo; the International Exhibition of Modern Decorative Arts in Turin of 1902; and the 1909 International Exposition de l'Est de la France in Nantes.
At each of these fairs, the style was dominant in terms of the decorative arts and architecture exhibited, and at Turin in 1902, Art Nouveau was truly the style of choice for virtually every designer and every nation represented, excluding any other.
Poster International Exhibition of Modern Decorative Art
the art nou vezau: an art movement with a thousand names
Siegfried Bing, a Paris-based German merchant and connoisseur of Japanese art, opened a shop called L'Art Nouveau in December 1895, which became one of the style's leading purveyors of furniture and decorative arts. In a short time, the name of the store became synonymous with the style in France, Great Britain and the United States. However, the great popularity of Art Nouveau in Western and Central Europe meant that it had several different titles. In German-speaking countries it was usually called Jugendstil (youth style), borrowed from a Munich magazine called Jugend which popularized it. Meanwhile, in Vienna, home to Gustav Klimt, Otto Wagner, Josef Hoffmann, and the other founders of the Vienna Secession, it was known as Sezessionsstil (secession style).
It was also known as Modernismo in Spanish, Modernismo in Catalan, and Stile Floreale (floral style) or Stile Liberty in Italy, the latter after Arthur Liberty's fabric store in London, which helped popularize the style. In France it was commonly called Style Moderne and occasionally Style Guimard after its most famous practitioner there, the architect Hector Guimard, while in the Netherlands it is often called Nieuwe Kunst (New Art).
Notably, its numerous detractors also gave it various derogatory names: Style Nouille (noodle style) in France, Paling Stijl (eel style) in Belgium, and Bandwurmstil (tapeworm style) in Germany, all names playfully referring to the tendency of Art Nouveau to use sinuous and flowing lines.
Art Nouveau: concepts, styles and trends
The ubiquity of Art Nouveau in the late nineteenth century must be explained in part by many artists' use of popular and easily reproducible forms found in the graphic arts. In Germany, Jugendstil artists such as Peter Behrens and Hermann Obrist printed their work on book covers and exhibition catalogues, magazine advertisements, and posters.
But this trend was by no means limited to Germany. English illustrator Aubrey Beardsley, perhaps the most controversial Art Nouveau figure for his combination of the erotic and the macabre, created a number of posters in his brief career that employed graceful, rhythmic lines. Beardsley's highly decorative prints, such as The Peacock Skirt (1894), were both decadent and simple, and represent the most direct link we can identify between Art Nouveau and Japonisme/Ukiyo-e prints.
Aubrey Beardsley's Peacock Skirt - Art Nouveau
In France, the posters and graphic output of Jules Chéret, Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec, Pierre Bonnard, Victor Prouvé, Théophile Steinlen, and a few others popularized the lavish and decadent lifestyle of the belle époque, roughly the era between 1890-1914. , usually associated with the seedy Montmartre cabaret district in northern Paris.
His graphic works used new chromolithographic techniques to promote everything from new technologies like telephones and electric lights to bars, restaurants, nightclubs, and even individual artists, evoking the energy and vitality of modern life. In the process, they soon elevated the billboard from the ranks of pedestrian advertisement to raised art.
Art Nouveau modernist architecture
In addition to graphic and visual arts, any serious discussion of Art Nouveau must consider architecture and the great influence it had on European culture. In urban centers like Paris, Brussels, Glasgow, Turin, Barcelona, Antwerp, and Vienna, as well as smaller cities like Nancy and Darmstadt, along with Eastern European places like Riga, Prague, and Budapest, Art Nouveau architecture prevailed. greatly, both in size and appearance, and is still visible today in structures as varied as small townhouses to large institutional and commercial buildings. Especially in architecture, Art Nouveau was exhibited in a wide variety of languages.
Many buildings incorporate a prodigious use of terracotta and colorful tiles. The French potter Alexandre Bigot, for example, became famous largely through the production of terracotta ornaments for the facades and fireplaces of Parisian residences and apartment buildings. Other Art Nouveau structures, particularly in France and Belgium, in which Hector Guimard and Victor Horta were important practitioners, show the technological possibilities with iron structures joined by glass panels.
Casa Batllo – Barcelona - Art Nouveau
In many areas of Europe, Art Nouveau residential architecture was characterized by local stone such as yellow limestone or a random course rocky rural aesthetic with wood trim. And a sculptural white stucco skin was used in several cases, particularly in Art Nouveau buildings used for exhibitions, such as the pavilions at the 1900 World's Fair in Paris and the Secession Building in Vienna. Even in the United States, the plant forms that adorn Louis Sullivan's skyscrapers, such as the Wainwright Building and the Chicago Stock Exchange, are often among the best examples of Art Nouveau's broad architectural reach.
The Arch that remains of the Chicago Stock Exchange - Art Nouveau
Art Nouveau furniture and interior design
Like the Victorian stylistic revivals and the Arts and Crafts Movement, Art Nouveau was intimately associated with interior decoration at least as much as it was conspicuous on exterior facades. Also like these other styles of the 19th century, Art Nouveau interiors also strove to create a harmonious and cohesive environment that left no surface untouched. Furniture design took center stage in this regard, particularly in the production of carved wood that featured sharp and irregular contours, often made by hand but sometimes machine-made. Furniture makers produced pieces for every conceivable use: beds, armchairs, dining room tables and chairs, cabinets, dressers, and chandeliers. The sinuous curves of the designs were often fed by the natural grain of the wood and were often installed permanently as wall paneling and trim.
In France, leading Art Nouveau designers included Louis Majorelle, Emile Gallé, and Eugène Vallin, all based in Nancy, and Tony Selmersheim, Édouard Colonna, and Eugène Gaillard, who worked in Paris, the latter two specifically for Siegfried's shop. Bing called L'Art Nouveau, later giving the entire movement its more common name.
Designer Furniture - Louis Majorelle Art Nouveau
In Belgium, the whiplash line and the more angular and reserved contours can be seen in the designs of Gustave Serrurier-Bovy and Henry van de Velde, who admired the works of English Arts & Crafts artists. Italians Alberto Bugatti and Augustino Lauro were well known for their forays into the style there. Many of these designers moved freely between mediums, which often made them difficult to categorize: Majorelle, for example, made his own wooden furniture designs and opened a blacksmith foundry,
Alberto Bugatti Art Nouveau Furniture
Art Nouveau painting and the high arts
Few styles can claim to be represented in almost all forms of visual and material media as completely as Art Nouveau. In addition to those who worked mainly in graphics, architecture and design, Art Nouveau has some outstanding representatives in painting, such as the Vienna secessionist Gustav Klimt, known for Hope II and The Kiss (both 1907-08), and Victor Prouvé in France.
Klimt's Hope II - Art Nouveau
But Art Nouveau painters were few and far between: Klimt had virtually no students or followers (Egon Schiele went in the direction of expressionism), and Prouvé is equally well known as a sculptor and furniture designer. Instead, it can be said that Art Nouveau was responsible, more than any other style in history, for bridging the gap between the decorative or applied arts of utilitarian objects and the fine or purely ornamental arts of painting, sculpture and art. architecture, arts that had traditionally been considered more important, purer expressions of talent and artistic skills, it being debatable whether that gap was completely closed.
Drawing by Victor Prouvé Art Nouveau
Art Nouveau jewelry and glassware
Art Nouveau's reputation for luxury was also evident in its exploitation by some of the best-known glass artists in history. Emile Gallé, the Daum Brothers, Tiffany, and Jacques Gruber first found renown, at least in part, through their Art Nouveau glass and its applications in many utilitarian forms. The firms of Gallé and Daum established their reputations in vase design and glass art, pioneering new techniques in acid-etched pieces whose sinuously curved, shapely surfaces seemed to flow between translucent hues effortlessly.
The Daum and Tiffany brothers also exploited the artistic possibilities of glass for utilitarian purposes, such as lampshades and stationery. Both Tiffany and Jacques Gruber, who had trained in Nancy with the Daum Brothers in jewelry, as well as René Lalique, Louis Comfort Tiffany and Marcel Wolfers, created some of the most prized pieces of the turn of the century, producing everything from earrings to necklaces, bracelets and brooches, thus ensuring that Art Nouveau would always be associated with fin-luxury de-siècle, despite the hope that its ubiquity might make it universally accessible.
Corporate identity in Art Nouveau
Art Nouveau rose to prominence at the same time that retailing expanded to attract a truly mass audience. It featured prominently in many of the leading urban department stores established in the late 19th century, including La Samaritaine in Paris, Wertheim's in Berlin, and Magasins Reunis in Nancy.
In addition, it was aggressively marketed by some of the most famous design outlets of the day, beginning with Siegfried Bing's L'Art Nouveau store in Paris, which remained a bastion of the style's spread until its closure in 1905 shortly after. after Bing's death. His was far from the only store in town that specialized in Art Nouveau interiors and furniture.
Meanwhile, Liberty & Co. was the main distributor of objects of the style in Great Britain and Italy, where, as a result, the Liberty name became almost synonymous with the style.
Liberty & Co - Art Nouveau
Many Art Nouveau designers made a name for themselves working exclusively for these retailers before moving in other directions. Architect Peter Behrens, for example, designed just about everything from teapots to book covers, billboards, exhibition hall interiors, utensils and furniture, eventually becoming the first industrial designer when in 1907 he was in charge of the entire design. design work for AEG, the German General Electric.
The influence of Art Nouveau on culture: what came after
If Art Nouveau quickly took Europe by storm in the last five years of the 19th century, artists, designers, and architects abandoned it just as quickly in the first decade of the 20th century.
Although many of its practitioners had made the "form must follow function" doctrine central to their ethos, some designers tended to be lavish in their use of decoration, and the style began to be criticized for being too elaborate. In a sense, as the style matured, it began to revert to the very habits it had spurned, and a growing number of opponents began to claim that instead of refreshing the design, it had merely swapped the old for the superficially new. Even using new methods of mass production, the intensive craftsmanship involved in much of Art Nouveau design prevented it from becoming truly accessible to a mass audience, as its exponents had initially hoped it might be. In some cases, such as in Darmstadt, lax international copyright laws also prevented artists from profiting monetarily from their designs.
Art Nouveau's association with exhibitions also soon contributed to its downfall. To begin with, most of the fair buildings were temporary structures that were demolished immediately after the event closed. But more importantly, the expositions themselves, while held under the guise of promoting education, international understanding, and peace, tended to fuel rivalry and competition among nations due to the inherently comparative nature of the exhibition. exhibition. Many countries, including France and Belgium, considered Art Nouveau as potential candidates for the title of "national style", in the face of accusations of foreign origins or subversive political overtones of Art Nouveau, for example in France, it was variously associated with designers Belgians and German merchants, and was sometimes the style used in socialist buildings, turning public opinion against it. With a few notable exceptions where it enjoyed a committed circle of dedicated local patrons, by 1910 Art Nouveau had almost completely disappeared from the European design landscape.
From the Wiener Werkstätte to Art Deco
The death of Art Nouveau began in Germany and Austria, where designers such as Peter Behrens, Josef Hoffmann, and Koloman Moser began adopting a more restrained, more severely geometric aesthetic as early as 1903. That year, many designers formerly associated with the Vienna Secession founded the collective known as the Wiener Werkstätte, whose preference for sharply angular and rectilinear shapes recalled a more precise, industrial-inspired aesthetic that omitted any overt reference to nature.
This reification of machine-made design qualities was underscored in 1907 by two key events: the installation of Behrens as head of all AEG corporate design, from buildings to products to advertising, making him the world's first industrial designer; and the founding of the German Werkbund, the formal alliance between industrialists and designers that increasingly attempted to define a system of product types based on standardization. Combined with a newfound respect for classicism, and inspired in part by the 1893 Chicago World's Fair and the official blessing of the City Beautiful movement in the United States, this machine-inspired aesthetic would eventually develop after World War I. , in the style that we now belatedly call Art Deco .
Its purely commercial character was most succinctly expressed at the Exposition Internationale des Arts Décoratifs et Industriels Modernes in Paris in 1925, the event that, in the 1960s, would give Art Deco its name. Combined with a new respect for classicism, inspired in part by the World's Fair in Chicago in 1893 and with the official blessing of the City Beautiful movement in the United States, this machine-inspired aesthetic would eventually develop after World War I, in the style we now belatedly call Art Deco .
Postmodern influences of Art Nouveau
Despite its short life, Art Nouveau would be influential in the 1960s and 1970s for designers who wanted to break free from the restrictive, austere, impersonal, and increasingly minimalist aesthetic that was prevalent in the graphic arts. The free-flowing, uncontrolled linear qualities of Art Nouveau became an inspiration for artists such as Peter Max, whose evocation of a dreamlike, psychedelic alternative experience recalls the imaginative, ephemeral, free-flowing aesthetic world of the turn of the century.
Always recognized from the beginning as an important step in the development of modernism in both art and architecture, today Art Nouveau is understood less as a transition bridge between artistic periods and is an expression of style, spirit and the intellectual thought of a certain time frame, centered around the turn of the century, in the 1900s. In its quest to establish a truly modern aesthetic, Art Nouveau became the defining visual language of a fleeting moment in time.