A New Art
Otto Wagner, in his Modern Architecture, states: “new human tasks and views called for a change or reconstitution of existing forms”. Towards the end of the nineteenth century, this change took the form of the Art Nouveau movement in artistic style.
Art Nouveau was born of The Arts and Crafts Movement. This was an endeavor to override industrially produced decorative arts, and return to craftsmanship. The Art Nouveau movement also walked hand in hand with Symbolism, and drew inspiration from the Aesthetic Movement which favored craftsmanship and was deeply interested in Japanese art.
Art Nouveau literally means ‘New Art’, in French. It made its first appearance in the form of a book cover designed by Arthur Mackmurdo for his essay on the city churches of Sir Christopher Wren. This was as early as 1883. By 1902 it became apparent that this new movement in art had gathered the whole of Europe under its wing. At the Turin Exposition in Italy the same year, designers exhibited from almost every country where the movement had flourished.
What was new about Art Nouveau?
Artists of the Art Nouveau style made use of technological innovations. They used wrought iron and irregular shaped glass pieces. Their work was marked by the use of hyperbolas and parabolas.
Artists drew inspiration from nature. Floral patterns, seaweed, grass, insects and curving stems became popular motifs. In fact, the curved lines that were so characteristic of Art Nouveau gave it nicknames such as ‘noodle’, ‘whiplash’, ‘tapeworm’ and ‘cigarette-smoke style’. A very popular theme was a nymph with flowers in her streaming hair.
As an artistic movement, Art Nouveau embraced architecture, interior design, jewelry, furniture, textile, utensil design, as well as glass ware and lighting.
Glass: The Art Nouveau style was noticeable in the works of Louis Comfort Tiffany, Emile Galle and the Daum brothers, among others.
Jewellery: Raw materials such as opal and semi-precious stones were introduced. Gemstones made way for molded glass, ivory and horn. The beautifully set diamond jewelry of the previous two centuries had relied on the skill of the jeweler. Now, the artist-designer rose in importance. Rene Lalique, a French designer-jeweler was at the forefront of this new kind of jewelry.
Architecture: Buildings made in this new style often have asymmetrical shapes. They are characterized by arches and curved plant like designs on their surfaces. Louis Sullivan, Antoni Gaudi and Hector Guimard are some famous Art Nouveau architects.
Drawing: The new art style is noticeable in the works of Henri de Toulouse Lautrec, Edvard Munch and Aubrey Beardsley, among other artists.
Furniture: Some famous Art Nouveau furniture artists are Louis Majorelle and Henry Van de Velde.