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The Influence of Art Nouveau on Femininity and the Perception of Women Today

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Art Nouveau influenced many things along its time one of which is the perception of women. During the late 19th century Art Nouveau was an international movement which encompassed the styles of the Decorative Style (the United Kingdom), Art Nouveau (Belgium and France), Jugendstil - Youth Style (Germany), Stile Liberty (Italy), Modernista (Spain), and Sezessionsstil (Austria). Art Nouveau aims and philosophies were natural forms as inspiration, artistic reformation of all areas of life, ornamentation arising from the construction of an object, embraced technological progress and used new modern materials. Art Nouveau was one of the main art periods that used that used women as their focal point in art and advertising. According to Jan (Thompson 1972, 164): “The Art Nouveau woman was essentially two-faced, embracing a duality of nature representing the dichotomy between good and evil, interpreted by Art Nouveau artists as goddess, witch, virgin or temptress”.

This is one thing that has stayed the same to this day, through the use of women in art and advertising, and even the perception of women, continues to change. Jules Cheret is well-known from the Art Nouveau period for creating Cheret women which represented the social freedoms and the new women of that time such as the advertisement piece for 'job cigarettes', these women are often compare to that of women in this time period. Kim Kardashian is quite well known and her online presences is very popular. Kim, along with the other Kardashians, is the exact opposite of what was known as the perfect body years ago, and for some people still is, for example, as part of the ‘Perfect Body’ campaign run by Victoria Secret. This campaign focused on every woman being the same and every woman being skinny and tall to be classified as beautiful, with many of the Kardashians focus and promote the opposite. However, both of these examples of current time reflect on that of the Art Nouveau period.

Many artists and design focus on women in their work in the Art Nouveau period. It was seemed to be a new age for women, as their rights were being fought for and they started slowly to became more equal such as, their rights to vote, their rights to work and their equal rights. The Art Nouveau graphic posters disclose capitalism as a newly emerging economic and social state through images of café society, leisure, entertainment, fashion, theatre etc. It used sex and sensuality to sell products, appealing to men on the basis of desire and fulfilment, also appealed to women as images of glamour and social freedom. Social freedom for women was an emerging idea and fantasied by many however not everyone agreed with this, many designers tried to relate women to interior design to bring them back and return to being inside the home and domestic. According to Jan (Thompson 1972, 158): “Woman, as a subject for admiration, representation and decoration, assumed a prominent position in the art of the fin-de-siecle period; an art which takes on a decidedly feminine character. Strangely enough, it is the woman who is featured, almost to the total exclusion of the male. Men are cast in roles subordinate to women or to delicate youths, who are all seemingly removed from the pressures of everyday reality. This curious phenomenon may be explained, in part, by what may be considered the essentially male chauvinist attitude of turn-of-the-century men. It was an era in which women were kept as virtual pets, set up on marble pedestals and made to feel helpless and therefore desirable”.

In Henri Van de Velde’s opinion women were just to be seen as another decorative item in their home and nothing more, he created clothing for his wife that matched his furnishings in his house so she would be just another item in his house. Though this maybe the thought of many interior designers at the time a lot of the graphic designers had different views. Some types of representation of women in Art Nouveau graphics are: femme fatale - seductive, sensuous and evil, heroine/goddess-classical figure, unobtainable beauty, idealized, exotic/erotic, seductive figure but innocent of appeal, foreign, bubbly/carefree, fun loving and the liberated woman which is educated and socially free. Some characteristics of Art Nouveau graphics were influenced by Japanese forms and techniques, their use of exotic forms/reference to other cultures, popular culture subject matter, sinuous line/whiplash curves, asymmetrical composition/contrast of positive and negative space, and integration of text and image which was very new in that time as in the past it had often been text or image, and unification of decoration, structure and intended function. Some of these characteristics were shared with that of the modernism period in terms of the idea of change and development. However, Art Nouveau time period was the time for the new women to emerge. According to Jan (Thompson 1972, 158): “Few artists represented women as they really were, and of that few, most cannot be included within the Art Nouveau movement, which may be generally defined as an escapist sort of style”.

Jules Cheret is well-known from the Art Nouveau period for creating Cheret women which represented the social freedoms and the new women of that time. Such as his 'Job cigarettes', in which he used a woman smoking as his focal feature in this piece. This was seen as bizarre as before these women were not really allowed to smoke or at least it was not socially acceptable for them to in public. Like this many aspects of what we now consider normal was not available or acceptable for women to do back then. This movement was part of what made it available for us today.

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The increase of technologies and especially in this case social media has changed the way of femininity today. The increase of feminine influences in advertisement and social media has a very big impact of many people’s lives. The Kardashians are that of big influences in today’s world, with their own TV show and all having a very present social media presence individually. Kim Kardashian is a huge influencer in this day and age, some may say her influence us a bad thing on women and girls, such as the way she got famous and some of things she has done, however her along with her family have influenced many women and girls to embrace their body shape they have no matter what the shape and not to follow social norms giving them social freedom. The influence this has had on the perception of women. And their femininity is big and has change many people’s views on women over time. Such as Kim Kardashian’s desert photoshoot; this photoshoot consisted on her being completely nude just covered with lines of paint. The photoshoot was about embracing the body you were born with and the beauty of the female body. Kim explained in an episode of Keeping up with the Kardashians: “I have psoriasis, there is nothing I can do about it so there is no reason why I should feel uncomfortable. So, to make myself feel better I lay out all my insecurities before we start a shoot in the hope that no one will be focused on that”. She bared all and exposed to the desert land and being the only thing in sight. This photo shoot was talked about for a while in inspiration for women’s bodies. It was not for advertisement it was just for body positive and was all for empowering women and showing femininity. Alike some of the artworks in the Art Nouveau period where they are artworks not advertisements, often artworks are to be found more body positive now and there is no right or wrong, where advertisements manipulate and adjust women in advertisement to persuade others to purchase what makes them as a 'perfect woman'.

On the opposite side to the Kardashians are Victoria secret models they are very much on the line of one shape is perfect and that skinny and tall is the only way a women can be beautiful. This has been a set standard for many years and like the Art Nouveau period women’s bodies being objectifying is a big thing that has been shown all through-out advertising setting out what is meant to be the norm. An example of this is the ‘Perfect Body’ ad campaign run by Victoria secret. Their ideals of women to be objectified to be a certain way and only then can they be found attractive. Many other companies use this tacit in their sales advertisements. They show the audience a woman in a certain way and make the women viewing this think, that I have to be that woman and I have to be like that woman, therefore I have to buy whatever it is that they are selling.

This is similar to the Art Nouveau time period where they showed freedom to women in posters and the women sore that they don’t have that and that they should. It started out as a good thing in that time, however since has been used as sales tacit and been changed to bad. There are many things like that today but as a society we have developed with much different intentions, we are still fighting for certain women’s rights today such as equal pay, society is slowly growing into a more equal world. Art Nouveau time period and artworks pushing people to starting a more equal world has greatly helped and influenced much of today’s way of life. People are still in some place seen as a piece of furniture just as Henri Van de Velde wanted or sexualized to sell things but women have also been allowed more social freedom, the growth of their political power and are more accepted to do a ‘man’s job’.

What is seen now can be a clear reflection of what was creating in the Art Nouveau period, there are many similarities in the concepts and characteristics in both in the Art Nouveau period and now, such as the sexualization of women, when this started in art nouveau especially in advertisement it never really stopped. The sexualization of women in advertising is still used today both to be used to sell products which appealing to people attracted to women on the basis of desire and fulfilment but also appealed to women as images of glamour and social freedom, which it did through the art nouveau period and today. However, the other side of women in Art Nouveau where women are idolized and represented as a goddess, however this has become a bad things in some ways as it has caused there to be a social acceptance level on the female body, if you do not look or act a certain way then it can be frowned upon, if you do not match what people look like that are famous or in an advertisement then you are not corrected. The objectification of women bodies is still apparent today, in the Art Nouveau period they were objectifying their bodies and pompous, and today that it still true, just in different ways. There have been changes in what is ideal in women and in their body shape.

The perception of women is always changing, everything from the past, specifically the Art Nouveau period and current will influence the perception of women in the future however there may not just be one set perception but a lot more wider and variety of women and what is more accepted in that time. The definition of femininity will likely change itself over time the difference between At Nouveau and now might just be the difference in what is now to what is to come in the future.

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The Influence of Art Nouveau on Femininity and the Perception of Women Today. (2022, August 25). Edubirdie. Retrieved February 29, 2024, from
“The Influence of Art Nouveau on Femininity and the Perception of Women Today.” Edubirdie, 25 Aug. 2022,
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The Influence of Art Nouveau on Femininity and the Perception of Women Today [Internet]. Edubirdie. 2022 Aug 25 [cited 2024 Feb 29]. Available from:
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