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Art Nouveau

Parent categories: art - nouveau

Era: fin de siècle - 1880s - 1890s - 1900s - 1910s

People: Samuel Bing - Rupert Carabin - Antoni Gaudí - Gustav Klimt

Geography: Zurenborg, Antwerpen

Related: applied arts - biomorphism - design - decorative arts - industrial design

Art Nouveau developed first in England and soon spread to the European continent, where it was called Jugendstil in Germany, Sezessionstil in Austria, Stile Floreale (or Stile Liberty) in Italy, and Modernismo (or Modernista) in Spain. The term Art Nouveau was coined by a gallery in Paris that exhibited much of this work.

Istar; from Ver Sacrum (1888) - Fernand Khnopff
Image sourced here.

The erotic nature of many Art Nouveau works is one of the most prevalent features of the style. Nowhere is it more abundantly seen than in small-scale sculptural or decorative arts objects such as ink-wells, carafes, centrepieces, candelabra, lamps and figurines -- the kind of objects that were disseminated widely and could be brought into any middle-class household. The eroticism of these objects is made all the more complex by their utility and domesticity. They often demand physical engagement: furniture or carafes where the handles are naked women that must be grasped; vessels that metamorphosize into women inviting touch; lamps that provocatively pose women in suggestive positions. These erotically charged objects, unlike most sculpture, demand contact. --http://www.fathom.com/feature/122091/ [Oct 2004]

Paris metro art nouveau entrances (1899-1902) by Hector Guimard (86 entrances by Guimard still exist).


Art Nouveau (French for "New art") is an art and design style that peaked in popularity at the turn of the 20th century. Other, more localized terms for the cluster of self-consciously radical, somewhat mannered reformist chic that formed a prelude to 20th-century Modernism, included Jugendstil in Germany, named for the snappy avant-garde periodical Jugend ('Youth') or Sezessionstil in Vienna, where forward-looking artists and designers seceded from the mainstream salon exhibitions, to exhibit on their own in more congenial surroundings.

In Italy, Stile Liberty was named for the London shop that had been distributing good modern design emanating from the Arts and Crafts movement, a sign both of the Art Nouveau's commercial aspect and the 'imported' character it always retained in Italy.

In Catalonia, the movement was centred in Barcelona and was known as modernisme. Antoni Gaudí is the main architect in the movement. --http://www.wikipedia.org/wiki/Art_nouveau [Feb 2005]

Career of Art Nouveau

Art Nouveau started in the 1880s and had its climax in years 1892–1902. The name 'Art Nouveau' derived from the name of a shop in Paris, Maison de l'Art Nouveau, run by Samuel Bing, who showcased some objects that followed this approach to design.

A high point in the evolution of Art Nouveau was the Universal Exposition of 1900 in Paris, in which the 'Modern Style' triumphed in every medium. In the following decade, the new style was so rapidly commercialized in trivial mass-production that Art Nouveau was looked down upon after about 1907, and the term was ascribed a pejorative meaning. --http://www.wikipedia.org/wiki/Art_nouveau [Feb 2005]

Character of Art Nouveau

One of the most important characteristics of the style is a dynamic, undulating and flowing, curved 'whiplash' line of syncopated rhythm. Hyperbolas and parabolas were used in art. Conventional moldings seem to spring to life and 'grow' into plant-derived forms.

As an art movement it has certain affinities with the Pre-Raphaelites and the Symbolist painters, and certain figures like Aubrey Beardsley. Alfons Mucha, Edward Burne-Jones, Gustav Klimt, and Jan Toorop could be classed in more than one of these styles. Unlike Symbolist painting, however, Art Nouveau had a distinctive visual look of its own; and unlike the backwards-looking Pre-Raphaelites, Art Nouveau was not shy about the use of new materials, machined surfaces, and abstraction in the service of pure design.

Art Nouveau in architecture and interior design eschewed the eclectic historicism of the Victorian era. Though Art Nouveau designers did select and 'modernize' some of the more abstract elements of Rococo style, such as flame and shell textures, in place of the historically-derived and basically tectonic or realistic naturalistic ornament of High Victorian styles, Art Nouveau advocated the use of highly-stylized Nature as the source of inspiration and expanded the 'natural' repertory to embrace seaweed, grasses, insects.

Correspondingly organic forms, curved lines, especially floral or vegetal, etc., began to be used. Japanese wood-block prints with their curved lines, patterned surfaces and contrasting voids, and flatness of their picture-plane, also inspired Art Nouveau. Some line and curve patterns became graphic clichés that were later found in works of artists from all parts of the world. An important fact is that Art Nouveau did not negate the machine as other movements such as the Arts and Crafts Movement but used it to its advantage. In terms of material usage, the principal ones employed were glass and wrought iron, leading to a very sculpturesque quality even in architecture.

Art Nouveau at its best is considered a total style, meaning that it encompasses a hierarchy of scales in design — architecture, interior design, jewellery, furniture and textile design, utensils and art objects, lighting, etc. Today Art Nouveau is viewed as a forerunner of the most innovative cultural movements of the 20th century, such as expressionism, cubism, surrealism, and Art Deco. --http://www.wikipedia.org/wiki/Art_nouveau [Feb 2005]

Art Nouveau media

Glass making was an area in which the style found tremendous expression— for example, the works of Louis Comfort Tiffany in New York and Émile Gallé and the Daum brothers (see illustration) in Nancy, France.

In jewellery Art Nouveau revitalised the jeweller's art, with nature as the principal source of inspiration, complemented by new levels of virtuosity in enamelling and the introduction of new materials, such as opals and semi-precious stones. The widespread interest in Japanese art and the more specialised enthusiasm for Japanese metalworking skills, fostered new themes and approaches to ornament. For the previous two centuries the emphasis in fine jewellery had been on gemstones, particularly on the diamond, and the jeweller or goldsmith had been principally concerned with providing settings for their advantage. Now a completely different type of jewellery was emerging, motivated by the artist-designer rather than the jeweller as setter of precious stones.

It was the jewellers of Paris and Brussels who created and defined Art Nouveau in jewellery, and it was in these cities that it achieved the most renown. Contemporary French critics were united in acknowledging that jewelry was undergoing a radical transformation, and that the French designer-jeweller René Lalique was at its heart. Lalique glorified nature in jewellery, extending the repertory to include new aspects of nature— dragonflies or grasses—, inspired by his intelligent encounter with Japanese art.

The jewellers were keen to establish the new style in a noble tradition, and for this they looked back to the Renaissance, with its jewels of sculpted and enamelled gold, and its acceptance of jewellers as artists rather than craftsmen. In most of the enamelled work of the period precious stones receded. Diamonds were usually given subsidiary roles, used alongside less familiar materials such as moulded glass, horn and ivory. --http://www.wikipedia.org/wiki/Art_nouveau [Feb 2005]


One of the most famous aspects of the Paris metro are its wrought-iron art nouveau entrances by Hector Guimard, which have come to symbolize Paris although not very many remain in use (86 entrances by Guimard still exist). --http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Paris_M%E9tro [Feb 2005]

Tassel house (1893) - Victor Horta

Victor Horta (January 6, 1861 - September 9, 1947) was a Belgian architect. John Julius Norwich described him as "undoubtedly the key European Art Nouveau architect". --http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Victor Horta [Mar 2006]

See also: Art Nouveau - interior design - architecture - Belgium arts

Pan magazine

Cover for the magazine 'Pan', photo-chromo-lithograph, 1895, Museum Number: E.3099-1938 - Joseph Sattler

The German art magazine Pan was a lavish celebration of Art Nouveau. It took its name from the Greek God of nature, who is depicted here in Sattler's cover for the first edition. His goat-like form leers from the background against a sinister red sky. The scene is dreamlike, and suffused with mythological imagery and symbolism.

In the foreground a flower grows, its stamens coiling into the lettering of the title. The petals are square and curled at the edges to suggest scrolls of paper, and each bears an image of Pan's face. There is nothing natural about this flower. It is not nature, but words and images that bloom from the well-tended earth. In using this imagery, Sattler may be hinting at the role of the magazine in cultivating new art and literature.

The art magazines were central to Art Nouveau's dominance across Europe. This was particularly the case in Germany, where both Pan and Die Jugend contributed to the spread of the new style. The latter lent its name to the German name for Art Nouveau, Jugendstil. --http://www.vam.ac.uk/vastatic/microsites/1202_printroom_boxes/art_nouveau/art%20_nouveau_general_notes.htm [Feb 2006]

See also: Art Nouveau - Pan - 1895

Théophile Alexandre Steinlen -

Théophile Alexandre Steinlen (French, 1859-1923), Chat Noir, color lithograph, a poster advertising an event at the Chat Noir, a Paris cabaret from 1881 to 1897.
Image sourced here.

The Art Nouveau style appeared in the early 1880s and was gone by the eve of the First World War. For a brief, brilliant moment, Art Nouveau was a shimmering presence in urban centers throughout Europe and North America. It was the style of the age--seen on public buildings and advertisements, inside private homes and outside street cafés--adorning the life of the city.

Art Nouveau was a response to the radical changes caused by the rapid urban growth and technological advances that followed the Industrial Revolution. This timeline establishes a counterpoint between major moments in the development of Art Nouveau and world events to provide a context for understanding the style's many and varied influences. --http://www.nga.gov/feature/nouveau/exhibit_time.shtm [Feb 2006]

Symbolism and Art Nouveau -- A Brief Chronology

--http://www.boards.greaterthelema.org/viewtopic.php?pid=132 [Sept 2004]

Charles Baudelaire, Les Fleurs du Mal; poetry.
Gustave Moreau, Oedipus and the Sphinx; painting.
Franco-Prussian War.
Walter Pater, The Renaissance; criticism.
Gustave Moreau, Salome; painting.
Stephane Mallarme, "L'Apres midi d'un faun;" poetry; also Mallarme's translation of Edgar A. Poe's "The Raven."
Les XX; first exhibition in Brussels.
Joris-Karl Huysmans, Au Rebours; novel. Antonio Gaudi begins the church of the Sagrada Familia, Barcelona (unfinished at his death in 1926); architecture.
Revue Wagnerienne founded in Paris; journal.
Le Symboliste founded in Paris; journal.
La Vogue founded in Paris; journal.
First performance in Paris of a complete work of Wagner: Lohengrin; music.
Paul Gauguin, The Vision After the Sermon: Jacob Wrestling with the Angel; painting.
Paul Serusier, The Talisman; painted under Gauguin's direction. The Nabis founded.
Edouard Dujardin, Les Lauriers sont coupees; novel with first direct interior monologue.
La Plume founded in Paris; journal.
La Revue Blanche founded in Paris; journal.
Maurice Maeterlinck, Serres Chaudes; poetry.
Le Mercure de France founded in Paris; Alfred Vallette, ed.; journal. L'Ermitage founded in Paris; journal.
Maurice Maeterlinck, L'Intruse; drama. Ferdinand Hodler, Night; painting.
Puvis de Chavannes commissioned to murals for the new Boston Public Library.
Salons de la Rose+Croix established in Paris by Josephin Peladan; continued until 1897.
L'Art et l'Idee founded in Paris; journal.
Maurice Maeterlinck, Pelleas et Melisande; drama.
Victor Horta, Tassel house, Brussels; first Art Nouveau building.
Edvard Munch, The Scream; painting.
Jan Toorop, The Three Brides; paintng.
The Studio founded in London; journal.
Claude Debussy, "L'Apres midi d'un faun;" music.
Salon de l'Art Nouveau opened in Paris by S. Bing.
Pan founded in Berlin; journal.
Fernand Khnopff, The Caresses; painting.
Gustave Moreau, Jupiter and Semele; painting.
Kelmscott Chaucer published by William Morris; illustrations by Edward Burne-Jones; book.
Victor Horta begins the Maison du Peuple in Brussels (finished in 1898); architecture.
Jugend founded in Munich; journal.
Stephane Mallarme, "Un coup de des" published; poetry.
Charles Rennie Mackintosh begins the Glasgow School of Art (finished 1909); architecture.
Paul Gauguin, D'ou venons nous? Que sommes nous? Ou allons nous? painting.
Vienna Secession established; exhibition group.
Ver Sacrum founded in Vienna; journal for Vienna Secession.
Arthur Symons, The Symbolist Movement in Literature published; criticism.
International Exposition, Paris; art nouveau architecture.
Hector Guimard, Paris Metro stations; architecture.
Fernand Khnopff's house constructed in Brussels; architecture.
International Exposition, Turin; art nouveau architecture.
Claude Debussy, Pelleas et Melisande; music for Maeterlinck's drama.
Josef Hoffmann, Palais Stoclet, Brussels; architecture.
Fernand Khnopff elected to Belgian Academy.--http://www.boards.greaterthelema.org/viewtopic.php?pid=132 [Sept 2004]

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