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Art Nouveau

Late in the 19th Century, the Arts & Craft Movement influences had largely been replaced by Art Nouveau ("new art") style. The Aesthetic Movement and Japonaiserie formed the basis of Art Nouveau style in England, but more innovative Art Nouveau styles developed in Scotland (Glasgow), Austria (Vienna), Begium (Brussels), Spain (Barcelona) and France (Paris). Art Nouveau styles tend to lean toward strict geometric forms or very organic, curvilinear ('whiplash') forms: Glasgow and Vienna belong in the first category, whereas Brussels and Paris belong in the second category. Different terms are used for various regional Nouveau styles:

  • Art Nouveau in Britain, France, Belgium and US (eg: CR Macintosh)
  • Jugendstil in Germany (eg Peter Behrens)
  • Sezessionstil in Austria (eg J Hoffmann, K Moser)
  • Modernista or Modernisme in Spain (eg Gaudi)
  • Stile Liberty in Italy.

Despite many regional variations and several outstanding individual designers. Art Nouveau styles are linked by their focus on the creation of a new style befitting the new century, their opposition to borrowing styles from history or from other cultures, their concern for simplicity of design and their return to natural form as a source of decorative ideas. - From P. Garn-Jones' handout.

Definition of Art Nouveau: An international, late 19th- and early 20th-century decorative style characterized by organic foliate forms, sinuous lines, and non-geometric, "whiplash" curves. Art Nouveau originated in Europe in the 1880s, and reached the peak of its popularity around 1900. In America, it inspired, among others, Louis Comfort Tiffany (1848-1933). The name is derived from "La Maison de l'Art Nouveau," a gallery for interior design that opened in Paris in 1896. The German term for Art Nouveau is Jugendstil.
Ref: www.cmog.org

More details about the Art Nouveau movement's regional differences can be seen in my Design & Cultures 1 unit (for Furniture and Design for Industry students).


Gustav Klimt (1862-1918)

Artist of great influence in the Art Nouveau scene in Vienna. He used gold leaf extensively, and his work was very much influenced by Japanese prints.

Google Image Search for Klimt

"Art Nouveau" is French for "New Art" - but in what ways was it new?

It offered a new vocabulary of form. Various Victorian styles, including the Arts & Craft Movement, had revived and developed historical styles such as Gothic, Classical and Rococo. Art Nouveau, however, introduced new forms, often based on nature. Flowers such as lilies, tulips and stylised roses were widely used, as were birds - in particular swans and peacocks.

Another defining characteristic of Art Nouveau is it's emphasis on symbolism. The biomorphic forms were not just intended as decoration, they were meant to represent something, such as purity. In this aspect, Art Nouveau was particularly influenced by Symbolist poets and painters. In fact, some Symbolist painters and poets ended up becoming what we'd call today Industrial Designers. Henri van de Velde (1863-1957) is one such example - began as a painter and ended up not only designing for Industry, but writing a philosophical paper about the relationship between designer and machine production.

It is this embracing of mass production that most clearly divides Art Nouveau designers from their Arts & Craft Movement forefathers.

Another vital aspect of Art Nouveau that not only made it "new" but revolutionised design was the emphasis on the relationship between function and form. In Victorian England, things may have been functional but it was almost in spite of any deliberate aesthetic design. Certainly there are very few examples from that period where the function of an object was the driving force in it's aesthetic design.

Technological developments were key to Art Nouveau design. Speed (such as that of stream-trains) and electricity inspired some of the most fundamental forms of Art Nouveau. The curvilinear "whiplash" motif (curved line) dominanted much Art Nouveau design, in particular that of Spain, France, England, Vienna & the US. Rectilinear (rectangular lines) dominanted Viennese, German and Scottish Art Nouveau - although there were designers using both rectilinear and curvilinear lines simultaneously, and designers with their own personal style that wasn't necessarily typical for their local version of Art Nouveau.

The Japanese Influence previously discussed also had a major impact upon Art Nouveau. The simplicity of forms, the use of "whitespace" and other characteristics of Japanese art can be seen clearly in the work of such Nouveau poster artists as Tolouse Lautrec, Aubrey Beardsley and Alphonse Mucha.
Google Directory - Art Movements - Art Nouveau
the-artists.org/MovementView.cfm?id=8A01F00 0%2DBBCF%2D11D4%2DA93500D0B7069B40

Aubrey Beardsley (1872-1898) was a writer and illustrator whose works, although being very beautiful have been much criticised for their coldness. It is stylised eroticism, and he's a good example of how some aspects of Art Nouveau were influenced by the growing decadence of the era in reaction to the stuffiness of Victorian society. The writer Oscar Wilde was a good friend of Beardsley, and Beardsley illustrated some of Wilde's books. Beardsley died at 26. The peacock feather motif is very common in his work.

Google Image Search for Aubrey Beardsley

Amazon link for Alphonse Mucha : The Spirit of Art Nouveau

Alphonse Mucha (1860-1939)

"Alphonse Maria Mucha is most often remembered for the prominent role he played in shaping the aesthetics of French Art Nouveau at the turn of the century. As a struggling and relatively unknown artist of Czech origin living in Paris, Mucha achieved immediate fame when, in December 1894, he accepted a commission to create a poster for one of the greatest actresses of this time, Sarah Bernhardt. Though the printer was apprehensive about submitting Mucha´s final design because of its new unconventional style, Bernhardt loved it and so did the public. ´Le style Mucha´, as Art Nouveau was known in its earliest days, was born. The success of that first poster brought a 6 years contract between Bernhardt and Mucha and in the following years his work for her and others included costumes and stage decorations, designs for magazines and book covers, jewellery and furniture and numerous posters. Mucha returned to Czechoslovakia in 1910, where he dedicated the remainder of his life to the production of a an epic series of 20 paintings depicting the history of the Slav people, the Slav Epic". mucha.cz/index.phtml?S=home&Lang=EN

Google Image Search for Alphonse Mucha

Exotic eastern influences, in particular Japanese styles and designs, were of great importance. This particular influence within the Aesthetic Movement is known as Japonisme or Japonaiserie.

There were exibitions of Ukiyo-e art in Paris during the 1860's, and the resulting popularity of anything Japanese in style spread through all fields of both Fine and Decorative arts, as well as design.

The Ukiyo-e "Floating World" school of printmaking in 18th-19th-c Japan included such artists as Hiroshige. Their subject matter was non-heroic, based on a notion that all is transient. The subjects were often everyday. They were mass-produced as woodcuts, cheap enough for the average Japanese person to afford. They weren't considered Fine Art in their native context, but they had a huge impact both on Fine Art (eg: French Impressionism) as well as the decorative arts.

Characteristics of Ukiyo-e included:

  • Limited depth (flattened picture space)
  • emphasis on shapes
  • use of outline
  • asymmetrical composition
  • open form
  • flat areas of colour (ie, not modulated or varied)
  • limited or no chiaroscuro
  • unusual viewpoints
  • often a diagonal emphasis in composition
  • everyday subject matter
  • often includes calligraphy
  • identified by the artist's stamp
  • quite large production runs (100+)

Toulouse Lautrec


Some graphic design links:


Contextual factors to consider:

  • The Victorian era was coming to a close and World War One was looming.

Some key technical innovations:

Meanwhile, in Fine Art:

  • Symbolism evolves into Expressionism
  • Impressionism and Post Impressionism evolve into Fauvism
  • Cubism begins - will evolve into Modernism.

retrokat.com quite nice sites

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