Saturday, August 1, 2009

Art Nouveau

Art Nouveau was an artistic style that peaked at the turn of the 20th Century. It was a style that incorporated beauty into design and believed that an object/building/artwork could be both beautiful and practical. It aimed to make art part of everyday life. Art Nouveau is personally my favourite art movement, as I similarly believe that design ought to be beautiful. The organic shapes and curvilinear lines emanate a grace and beauty that were used in furniture, architecture, art and even typography.

Art Nouveau was successful in several countries, but I am going to concentrate on five specifically- Czech Republic, Germany, Britain, Spain and France.

Czech Republic/France and Alphonse Mucha
Perhaps one of the most recognised and staple Nouveau artists is Alphonse Mucha. Born in what is now the Czech Republic in 1860 and moving to Paris in 1887, Mucha was a painter and a decorative artist. When he first designed a poster for the theatre production, 'Gismonda' in 1895, it was instantly successful and his style - named Mucha Style, and later Art Nouveau - from there cascaded and became an international hit when exhibited in the 1900 Universal Exhibition in Paris. Mucha's artwork often featured beautiful young woman in flowing robes and often adorned with flowers. The sweeping curved lines and the general softness and beauty of his pieces epitomise Art Nouveau itself.

Maud Adams as Joan of Arc- 1909 by Alphonse Mucha

Germany and Typography
In Germany, Art Nouveau was named 'Jugendstil'. The style uses hard edges and precise lines, but still uses an overall curved organic style. Jugendstil typography was particularly popular. Typefaces that worked harmoniously with images were often used. The Jugendstil typography is decorative and beautiful rather than practical. It's use of extended and curved projections gave letters organic shapes.

Jugendstil typography, applied to a brewery sign

Britain and architecture
In the UK, Art Nouveau derived from the Arts and Crafts movement. The style also drew somewhat from Victorian design. In Britain, Art Nouveau was beginning to be recognised in the 1880s. A famous example of Art Nouveau architecture in Britain is the Edward Everard Building in Bristol, built in 1900-01. As shown in the photo below, a Nouveau influence can be seen in the typography as well as the people depicted. The winged figure symbolises the Spirit of Light, while the figure holding a lamp and mirror symbolises light and truth.

Spain and Antoni Gaudi
Antoni Gaudi was born in Catalonia, Spain in 1852. He was an influential architect with many achievements to his name. His style was also somewhat Gothic, and this was particularly evident in his unfinished masterpiece Sagrada Família. As a Catholic, the building facade contains much Christian symbolism. The use of 18 towers represents the twelve Apostles, four Evangelists, the Virgin Mary, and Jesus Christ as the tallest tower of all. Overall, the very detailed facade has the beauty of curvilinear lines with a Gothic influence.

The Sagrada Família.

France and Furniture
France was more or less the Art Nouveau capital of the world, as architecture, poster art, jewellery and furniture with Nouveau influences largely came from France. In terms of furniture, Louis Marjorelle was a great influence. Born in France 1859, Marjorelle's furniture designs in the 1890's drew largely from organic shapes. He drew influences from stems of plants, waterlily leaves, tendrils, dragonflies and the like. He was undoubtedly one of the great artists that helped Paris to become the one of the major centres of Art Nouveau.
The mahogany bed depicted below drew from waterliles. The curved shape creates an elegance and beauty by drawing from natural shapes.

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