I love the link between nature and architecture and how it creates exciting forms in the shapes and styles of the products and items, central to the outcome of the movement. It is so interesting how unique and distinctive each piece of design is compared to past movements and how popular Art Nouveau was throughout different countries. I chose this topic as I would love to learn more about it and I am going to show what I thought was new about Art Nouveau and how I can prove that through using two pieces of design of which I have chosen, I can then talk about and show the differences in art nouveau and previous art and design movements. My main points will be what is Art Nouveau, what I think is new about Art Nouveau and I will then take two pieces of designs as examples for back up.
What is Art Nouveau? “Art Nouveau was a movement, not a style” (Duncan, 1994, Page 7). The movement that began in the 1880s and lasted up until the First World War (1914) where Art Deco took over after the War. It started in England but got known in France; Siegfried Bing opened a shop in 1895 in Paris where he helped develop Art Nouveau and gave the building its name ‘La Maison du L’Art Nouveau’. ‘Art Nouveau’ is French for ‘new art’. The same style was carried out in many countries including Scotland, Belgium, Germany, Spain, United States, Austria, Italy and Scandinavia; although, it evolved differently in each country but still all belonged to the same movement. Its roots came from the Arts and Crafts movement (1880-1920) and came about as the current style of art was lacking in originality. The main characteristics that identified Art Nouveau from any other style were the curved asymmetrical lines that took different forms like vine tendrils, flower stalks and buds, insect wings and other natural object forms. A good example of this is Georges Fouquet gold serpent bracelet; it was an exceptionally original style and so new, compared to what was being created and designed before the movement from the industrial revolution up to this point. It was widely popular throughout Europe and the United States in 1900 which was when Art Nouveau was at its height. It managed to bring together a variety of different crafts from fine arts to architecture and it was easy to identify that something was in the Art Nouveau style even though there might be two different objects, like a piece of jewelry and a poster, they still have a similar look to them with the similarity in the lines and shapes. Although, because Art Nouveau was such a broad movement, some have said that it never really existed, and the pieces of design were from different styles and movements. Art Nouveau has been praised for “its clarity of vision” while others have criticized it for “tasteless exaggeration” (Duncan, 1994, Page 7).
What I think is new about Art Nouveau is how it brought a refreshing and newness in style to objects compared to the Victorian style which was so much more cluttered and had patterns and clashing designs, where Art Nouveau is a lot subtler but still decorative and the structure looks more ornate creating a perfect mix of the two. “It was a movement concerned primarily with newness, with being different from what had come before” (Sternau, 1996, Page 9). Also, how loose and flowing the movements in the shapes and lines that were used on objects from interior to posters was so new and exciting making them look elegant, giving the feeling of movement and energy through solid objects. Whether it was a handmade object or a machine-made object, it didn’t matter, as long as it was new. Art Nouveau abandoned the idea that art was less critical than design bringing an entirely new thought on how things should look and how they were made. Everything looks so natural and organic which was the reason why it was refreshing for that period. The materials that worked the best were industrial-style materials like iron and silver that were able to be melted as they were more expressive, which is quite ironic for the outcome for those materials leaving such natural and fluent objects. Wood was harder to pull off as there would have had to have been a lot more work put into it to achieve the same style as a molten material would have. The style was brought into a lot of different objects which helped it become so popular and recognizable: architecture, jewelry, interior design, textiles, ceramics and household utensils.
Georges Fouquet gold serpent bracelet (1899) – my first example to demonstrate what I think was new about Art Nouveau. The reason I chose this piece of design was that the color and detail are so beautiful, and it is so clear to see how much thought and detail has gone into such a unique and distinctive piece of jewelry. Made for Sarah Bernhardt, it was decorated within a mosaic of diamonds, rubies, opals and different gems. The reason why I thought it was so new is that before Art Nouveau, there was nothing quite like this before. The exaggeration in the lines and details helped demonstrate the Art Nouveau style in jewelry form. Made to look elegant and sophisticated, a glamourous piece of jewelry for a glamourous style. It was made to naturally look like a serpent; nature was a significant aspect to the style, having a lot of objects took inspiration from insects and butterflies because they had translucent wings which were a significant detail, as glass and transparent objects were used to let light through and create beautiful patterns where the light hit.
Jules Chéret, Folies-Bergère, La Loïe Fuller (1893) – my second piece of example to demonstrate what I think was new about Art Nouveau. I chose a poster design as I am admittedly interested in graphic design and poster design. The reason why I am using this poster as my second piece of example, posters and advertising had only just started to become popular and was the start of the golden era of poster design. Which already in itself is so new and the fact that they were done in Art Nouveau made them even newer. It is clear to see how soft this poster looks, doesn’t look harsh even though there is a black background, the bright colors that are used for the woman’s dress and hair and the text makes it stand out incredibly compared to such a dark background, giving a fun and elegant look to the poster as the dress looks like it is moving fluently. The female form was used quite a lot in Art Nouveau style posters as it was known that women were curvaceous and provided the exaggeration of curves and lines that were needed to exaggerate the style in posters. A lot of the time, the female form and nature were combined to create fairy-like creatures. Women were used a lot in graphic design and were used to sell everything.
It started a modern movement as everything was kept to one style. Being a powerful force, Art Nouveau was directed to change the architecture and design. It took over historicism which was gone entirely and left room for bigger, better and more modern movements.
In conclusion, as I aimed to demonstrate what I thought was new in Art Nouveau, I feel that I have achieved my point as I stated several reasons and different characteristics proving why Art Nouveau was so new at the time. All the flowing and curved lines and delicate features are taken from natural forms seen in the items produced in this style show how new it was.
As one of my main points was to explain what I thought myself what I thought was new about Art Nouveau, I was able to give all my own opinions and my own knowledge about the subject.
Overall, as Art Nouveau was in fact, a movement and not a style, it wasn’t going to stay but created a grand starting point for what was to come after where Art Deco took over, leading the design movement to become more modern leading us up to how everything is designed now in our own modern world.