The place where the fine arts and the applied arts meet. Art Nouveau was all about modernity, although it shared affinities with the Pre-Raphaelites. Developed in the late 19th century, it was created as an international style of art in both Europe and North America that was largely a response to the Industrial Revolution.
The period between 1890 and 1914 was the beginning of urbanization as we know it today. So many people were shedding the past and moving into this new age of society and the artists and designers of the day were moving along with them. The very first signs of Art Nouveau actually came along in the 1880s in the progressive designs of architect-designer Arthur Mackmurdo. High Victorian design also was a precursor in the 1880s.
The name itself was taken from a shop in Paris called Maison de l’Art Nouveau. The shop was run by Siegfried Bing and it carried the type of new and stylish art that became the obsession of the world of art and design. Despite its French beginnings, Art Nouveau took the world by storm and it had a different name depending on the region you were in. It did not even go by the name Art Nouveau in France, where it was called Guimard, after French designer Hector Guimard. In Italy it was known as Floreale (floral style). It was called Liberty in Britain, after British Art Nouveau designer Arthur Lasenby Liberty. In Spain it was known as Modernisme, in Austria as Sezessionstil (Vienna Secession), and in Germany as Jugendstil.
One of the biggest drives to Art Nouveau, was the attitude that art should be all-inclusive, that it should create a total or “holistic” work of art. By this they meant to incorporate every aspect of a space into the art, not just the paintings and sculptures. Therefore, the buildings, furniture, textiles, clothes, and jewelry were all a part of the artist’s palette. Everyday objects were invited into the picture, no matter how inconsequential they appeared to be. It was a time to break all ties to the classical period and go beyond mere style.
It was the job of the artist to bring joy, beauty, and harmony into everyday life.
Artists include Gustav Klimt, Alphonse Mucha, Aubrey Beardsley, Georges Lemmen, Georges de Feure, Edmond-Francois Aman-Jean, Theophile Alexandre Steinlen, Giovanni Segantini, and Ferdinand Hodler. Klimt primarily painted the female body, whether in portrait or in indolent nudes, although he did also take some time to work with landscapes and natural scenes.
Mucha also often featured women in his paintings, although young and dressed in Neoclassical-looking robes. They were generally surrounded by lush flowers and glowing. On the flip side, Beardsley was the most controversial artist of the Art Nouveau movement. He was well known for his perverse images and grotesque erotica, often using history and mythology as his inspiration.
Due to the advancements in technology, there were many more art forms from which to choose besides just the traditional paintings and sculptures. Prints were now available and magazines were becoming popular. There were new materials from which to sculpt and create art such as cast iron. Glass working was also popularized during this time period. Art was characterized by flowing, undulating, lines and generally depicted floral subjects, birds, or the femme fatale. The abstract flourished in the lines and shapes used in art and design. Hyperbolas and parabolas were also commonly found in Art Nouveau art.
The Arts and Crafts movement that occurred during the time of the Art Nouveau movement was more concerned with the hand created pieces, whereas Art Nouveau employed the use of modern technology and machinery with all its benefits. Art Nouveau artists were more than happy to use new materials as well and took to the new industrial developments as key to their work and as something of which to take full advantage.
So, what happened to Art Nouveau? It was certainly short-lived, but a very powerful force as it managed to change the way art was viewed forever. One of the unfortunate things about the style was the expense that it cost to produce it. Because art was no longer just about the painting on the wall or the sculpture in the foyer, an immense amount of money went into building design, furniture, fabrics, clothing, and the fine arts.
By the time the First World War came upon the world, Art Nouveau fizzled out in favor of less expensive, more streamlined styles that we are familiar with today. This was Art Deco and was more rectilinear than the Art Nouveau style. However, Art Nouveau did leave its mark as it influenced a number of smaller movements including De Stijl, a Dutch design movement in the 1920s, and the German Bauhaus school in the 1920s and 1930s.