Art nouveau

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Art nouveau

Post  eddie on March 29th 2012, 7:36 am

Art nouveau – a magical style

It might not be fashionable, but the whiplash curves and dream-like women of art nouveau have never quite gone away

Stephen Smith

guardian.co.uk, Friday 23 March 2012 22.55 GMT


Highly decorative … an art nouveau mosaic, one of the 'Four Seasons' houses in Antwerp. Photograph: Don McPhee

In genteel hotels and the parlours of elderly aunts, there are ornaments with the unsung magical properties of an Aladdin's lamp. Apply a little loving elbow grease to this brass lampstand, modelled on a willowy woman, or that chair with the unfeasibly high back, and you are transported back to the enchanted world of art nouveau. This highly decorative style, with its trademark whiplash curves, might strike us as fussy or chintzy, more than 100 years after its heyday, but while it might not be fashionable, the style has never quite gone away. It was first revisited in the 1960s, when its taxonomy of dream-like women and exuberant plantlife was a perfect fit with the era of free love and flower power. The last major exhibition of art nouveau at the V&A, in 2000, was one of the biggest hits in the museum's history. And now one of the best collections of it anywhere is on show at the Sainsbury Centre for Visual Arts, Norwich.

There was, in fact, never anything maiden aunt-ish about art nouveau. It was decadent and Darwinian. The all-embracing, all-explaining wonder of Nature (Nature rather than God) inspired everything from women's fashions to the entrances of the Métro stations in Paris, designed by Hector Guimard. The French glassmaker Emile Gallé crystallised Darwinian ideas about nature in vases inspired by plants and insects, while the Parisian jeweller, René Lalique, dressed society beauties in unlikely trinkets modelled on beetles and frogs.

Far from being cosy and twee, art nouveau was the outrageous aesthetic of the bordello and the pornographer, of the daring "new woman". The lovelies who still waft through the pages of art nouveau calendars were modelled on the prostitutes of belle époque Paris. Toulouse Lautrec painted them, and the émigré Czech illustrator Alphonse Mucha effectively invented the modern poster with his rapturous likeness of Sarah Bernhardt. Parisians loved the posters so much that they tore them down and carried them home to brighten their own walls.

Bernhardt begged Oscar Wilde to write a vehicle for her, and he obliged with Salome. The designer for the play was Aubrey Beardsley, whose flair for delicate, wistful penmanship was equalled only by his bracing vulgarity. At the age of 19, he burst on to an art scene suffocated with late Victorian piety. He brought with him the affectless flatness of Japanese art – and its erotic throb. His vision of Salome was dark, sexy and scandalous.

The "new woman" not only figured in art nouveau, but created it as well. Charles Rennie Mackintosh, who designed the Glasgow School of Art as well as those vertiginous chairs, said that while he had talent, his wife Margaret Macdonald had genius. Her forte was painting in gesso on panels. In 2008, her The White Rose and the Red Rose sold for £1.7m, then a record price for a Scottish artwork. At the other end of the country, Mary Watts wasn't content with being the helpmeet of the Symbolist painter GF Watts. At their home in Surrey, she created one of the great hidden curios of British architecture, the Watts Chapel, with its florid riot of fertility symbols, Christian imagery and Arthurian fantasy.

In Vienna the Secession movement championed the Gesamtkunstwerk or the total work of art – your house, clothes and everyday utensils, not just the paintings on your wall, were all part of it. Gustav Klimt, the acknowledged master of art nouveau, suffused his great friezes for the University of Vienna with contemporary ideas on the natural world, faith, and relations between the sexes. In a bleak coda to his career, some of them were looted by the Nazis and set on fire by SS troops fleeing the advancing allies. The world had long since wearied of art nouveau's glitter. But it's time once again to rediscover its beauty, not to mention its edge-of-the-seat boldness.

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Re: Art nouveau

Post  eddie on March 29th 2012, 8:04 am

My shaving mirror is more or less in this style:


F. Champenois Imprimeur-Editeur, 1897 by Alphonse Mucha, a leading artist of the Art Nouveau movement
(Wiki)

Like the student narrator of Flann O'Brien's 'At Swim-Two-Birds', I have to carefully position my stubble in the gaps between the design before I can remove it.

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Re: Art nouveau

Post  eddie on March 29th 2012, 8:07 am


An advertisement for the Art Nouveau gallery "La Maison Moderne" by Manuel Orazi.
(Wiki)

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Re: Art nouveau

Post  eddie on March 29th 2012, 8:10 am


Jugendstil typography, applied to a brewery sign
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Re: Art nouveau

Post  eddie on March 29th 2012, 8:12 am


La tournée du Chat Noir avec Rodolphe Salis (1896) by Théophile Steinlen.
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Re: Art nouveau

Post  eddie on March 29th 2012, 8:17 am


The Peacock Skirt, by Aubrey Beardsley, (1892).

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Re: Art nouveau

Post  eddie on March 29th 2012, 8:21 am


The book-cover by Arthur Mackmurdo for Wren's City Churches (1883)
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Re: Art nouveau

Post  eddie on March 29th 2012, 8:24 am

One for Pinz:


Louis Comfort Tiffany's 1890 window Education.
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Re: Art nouveau

Post  eddie on March 29th 2012, 8:26 am


Poster of Maude Adams as Joan of Arc, by Alphonse Mucha, 1909
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Re: Art nouveau

Post  eddie on March 29th 2012, 8:29 am


Ivan Bilibin's illustration to The Tale of the Golden Cockerel.
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