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Art Nouveau in Europe

The fin de siècle and the approaching millennium, gives us enough time to examine, the phenomenon of Art Nouveau a century later. The movement dates comprises of a highly diversified and beautiful array of designs, roughly dates from 1880 to 1910, in spite of this, the nine years, 1895 to 1904, is a sheer representation of the critical period of vital output. It’s inclusive of a wide spectrum of city centric and individual styles – Brussels, Glasgow, Paris, Barcelona, Nancy, Munich, Prague, Darmstadt and Vienna – ranging from the Glasgow School and Charles Rennie Mackintosh’s elongated silhouettes that to Paris School’s stylized floriations, along with thenaturaliste components present in the School of Nancy in eastern France, which is the epicenter of the movement (Duncan 1994).

The evolution of the European Art Nouveau was quite different in numerous countries during the late 19th century. It evolved with the premier purpose of challenging the order of establishment within the both fine and applied arts. Young designers and artists, found one aspect particularly objectionable, which was the unwillingness and lack of cooperation of the official art institutions in different European countries towards accommodation of exhibitions of the applied or decorative arts. In the 1880s and 1990s, throughout Europe, artists formed and established societies, as an opposition to the institutions that were ruling then. The new groups made arrangements for exhibitions that only featured modern sculpture and painting but also ceramics, furniture, glassware, textiles, jewelry and metalwork (McKean 2007).

Revolt and in the spirit of the same, that ties all movements and styles together, associated most commonly with Modernism; it also underlies Norwest collection’s theme. From the Arts and Crafts Movement of Britain in the late 1880s till the outbreak of the 2nd World War, this was the single most purpose that ignited a fire of collection of imaginations, which got a place and a hold in the whole of Europe. Modernism is a term that is applicable to forward-looking designers, craftsmen and architects who were able to escape the tyranny of past historical styles – Historicism. Servitude from century to revivalist design in decoration and form were liberated for eternity by their effective and ground-breaking visions. Rustic Crafts and Art movement was overlapped by Art Nouveau and it introduced a new, international vocabulary of design, along with the, art movement of the 20th century (Duncan & Collectors’ Club 1998).

Particularly, Art Nouveau marked a rebellion movement that against the Victorian art’s historical and eclectical aspects. It was in the nature that it found its premier forms – the flora and fauna, including the terrestrial and marine species. The clinging vines of flowers, their  tendrils, and leaves of different varieties, gourd-forms, along with, exotic marine life, inclusive of anemones and jellyfish, as well as, insects were rendered respectfully–writhing forms of  zoological and botanical gardens.  The popularity of gardens and the nature’s exaltations was a sheer evocation of inspired designs. Tendrils and blossoms were frozen in space, and it felt like plant food was fed to furniture. The organic abandonment was injected with a clear manner into the style. The naturalistic imagery and beyond, is prevalent especially with the School of Nancy. It was on the basis of a thorough analysis and analysis of artists, plant morphology, as well as, the use of nature for symbolizing an intellectual concept or a state of mind. There were several associations between the Symbolist movement in drama, literature and art and Art Nouveau. Symbolism, for few, represented the thought process of 1900, whereas, Art Nouveau was its sheer source of gesture (Banister 1967).

The adjectives often described Art Nouveau elements – as,, curvilinear, sinuous, tendrilous, arabesque, undulating, whiplash, , florid, sensuous and whiplash capture the  plasticity style of form. Finding the best ways to avoid the straight line and the right angle rather looked like a supreme preoccupation of those artisans, artists and architects, who identified with the movement and were associated with. It was amongst the first of the total styles that were dominant in the design of everything, that from architectural hatpins to interiors. The “new psychology” of the era identified and considered neurasthenia, as the premier, characteristic modern condition. It also located its cause in the urban life’s chaotic and stressful conditions. Withdrawal and escape to a private interior space was considered to be a way for soothing frazzled nerves (Micale 2004).

The Art Nouveau interior appointed luxuriously and approached with a therapeutic function beneficial that to the interior psychological state of an individual. The artists of Art Nouveau responded well, especially to different exotic materials, like, rare woods, semi-precious stones, enamels and ivories. Many graphic artists, made hair of women as a source of a prominent visual device, more like an exotic plant that swirled and swooped and became intertwined with typography, as well as, tool on life on its own. Art Nouveau, for the matter of fact, popularized and made a new feminine chic famous, which was seen in the work of Raoul Larche and Alphonse Mucha and Raoul Larche and others. The strong emergence of female psyche and women emancipation is expressed fantastically in bicycle posters that portray carefree girls who revel and feel free in the new-found mobility machine (Black 2000).

It was during this particular period that a range of ambitious and overwhelming expositions of the world offered venues for their public exposure in a large format, which were sheer spectacles of modernity and progress. The era between Paris Exposition Universelle de Paris of 1889 – also famous for Eiffel Tower and machine glorification – and Brussels’ exposition in 1910, there were 9 fairs of such variants in the world – currently, the Norwest collection features 7 known models or works that were part of the exhibition in Exposition of 1900. The Paris Exposition Universelle of 1900 represented Art Nouveau movement’s apogee. It influenced the legitimization of the style. It attracted closely 50 million visitors and lasted for 200 days, on the Champs-de-Mars to its 83000 exhibits (Gontar 2006)!

The Turin Exposition of 1902 and the Louisiana Purchase Exposition of 1904 in St. Louis were important in an equal manner in advancing and unveiling the avant-garde works in an extreme manner, especially, for their time. Such international gatherings aided in the stimulation of a considerable amount of demand for the new art, as well as, assisted in a great manner towards the promotion of the domestic industry. Yet another source of immense impact in the evolution of Art Nouveau was Japonisme. It developed into a rage in the Western ‘fashionable’ society following the treaty of 1854 between Japan and America. Western artists got into a host of compositional devices that were used by the Japanese counterparts. There was a sudden emergence of numerous imitators, in both the applied arts and fine arts. A profound Oriental influence – in fact – can be seen in every discipline virtually within the movement of Art Nouveau (Impey 1984;O’Neill 2007).

Amongst the most enthusiastic proselytizers of Japan, were Arthur Lasenby Liberty, Julius Meier-Graefe and Siegfried Bing,. They were merchants destined to play key roles later in the marketing and dissemination of the Art Nouveau movement concerning the decorative arts. A naturalized Frenchman – Bing – hailed from Hamburg, relocated to Paris. It was in Paris, he first made the establishment of an emporium for imports from Japan and then made its expansion in his gallery – Maison de L’Art Nouveau that is the origin of the name – Art Nouveau. Prior to receiving its final name – the new art or Art Nouveau –  it was known as, Moderne in French and  Modernismo in Spanish, and also by the Germans, in British Liberty Styleand the youthful style of Central Europe Jugendstil and Stile Floreale or the Italians Stile Liberty (Lancaster 1952;Silverman 1992;Weisberg & Menon 2013).

Le JaponArtistique was published by Bing that was inclusive of every aspect and elements of a Japanese life. Meier-Graefe, another critic from Germany, was a patron and entrepreneur like Bing. As a devout devotee of modern art, Meier Graefe looked towards the application of it in a coherent manner that to interior design and its every aspect. He opened – La MaisonModerne – his gallery, in 1898in the rue des Petits-Champs via which, he manufactured furnishings in his workshops and showcased designs of the same (Moffett 1973;Weisberg & Menon 2013).

Similarly, Liberty did the same – virtually – with his London shop. It went on to become the fashion elite of Europe’s status symbol and aided in the spreading of the message, as well as, legitimization of the ornament’s curvilinear grammar of the new movement.  Notable, especially, under the patronage of Liberty was the advanced metalwork that of Archibald Knox – in a remarkable manner – in both his pewter or Tudric and silver or Cymric lines. Most European countries, while aspiring to the era of modernity, were also searching for a national style, especially one that drew upon heritage influence and emblems and could serve as the unique expression of Art Nouveau of the country. A great amount of success was achieved by Knox towards the end and in finding inspiration and influence in Celtic motifs. Throughout, the glorification of craftsmanship in a consistent manner–machine-aided and handmade–provided a shared foundation for the Art Nouveau movement in Europe (Benjamin 2012).

Artists, architects and designers of Art Nouveau, with the sheer wish for creating a new style that was appropriate for the modern age, turned to various sources for inspiration. In fact, they transformed and adapted unfamiliar historical sources so as to achieve a modern look. Thus, they ranged from Viking and Celtic designs, which were a matter of admiration in respect to their intricate linear patterns, curvilinear rococo and to the delicate style of the 18th century. Designers gravitated frequently toward their native indigenous art – Henrik Bull in Norway, drew from early Norwegian Viking art, whereas, French artists were greatly influenced and inspired by the French rococo style (Evseeva 2011).

The non-European cultures and their art, like, the Islamic world, China and Japan, were attracted to artists and designers of Art Nouveau. After the establishment of commercial contact by the Japanese that with America and Europe in the 1850s, there was a flood of Japanese goods in the market, which had become popular in an immense manner and offered artists with an alternative for the establishment of European styles. Woodblock prints of the Japanese inspired the flat colour patterns, stylized organic and dynamic lines and forms of Art Nouveau. The Islamic countries’ art, was admired for its elegant patterns and technical brilliance, and was also influential, which is quite evident in the work Carlo Bugatti, an Italian designer (Eaglesfield 2013).

It worked towards making art a daily concept for the public. This was a combination of innovations with commercial printing, which made Art Nouveau accessible to the masses. The commercial products and events’ posters exposed the work to the public, rather than paintings in a salon that were exhibited to privileged few. It was known as, “art of the street” and fuelled a boom in posters in the 1890s. Posters were stolen off walls and special editions were created for collectors. Artists, in the process felt liberated and free that from the constraints of the academic Beaux-Arts drawing tradition of academic Beaux-Arts drawing. Art Nouveau started by few talented people and eventually became copied, pervasive, reduced, deformed, bastardized and died in its pure form during World War I. Deco assisted in its revival, and it really saw resurgence during the 1960s and 1970s through   the psychedelic hippie look in the US (Davis 1967).

Currently, a refined and rare aesthetic makes the comparison of the marvels and works of these designers-artists, like, Emile Galle, Rene Lalique, and Hector Guimard. Though many moved on in the pursue of illustrious and lucrative careers in different other modernist styles, the genius and sensibility of Art Nouveau began to vanish – first it was challenged by the new century’s tensions and then forgotten in the World War I’s mayhem and chaos. However, fortunately, there is a presence of a wide range of work amidst the most enduring and accessible era of Modernism (Howard 1997)!

Some Stylistic Characteristics of Art Nouveau

The origin of Art Nouveau was from applied and decorative arts, though Symbolism and Naturalism were its original literary styles. It was visual with a sheer dominance of a sense of sight visual, dominated by the sense of sight. Robert Schmutzler, an expert of Art Nouveau had determined its notable characteristics and the curved and dynamic line. “Art Nouveau ist der Name jenesStils um 1900, dessen ‘Leitmotiv’ die lange, sensitive Schwingungist.” (Vajda 1980)

In spite of the fact that this meandering, arching and quick linearity could not assert as authentically as it is emphasized through the book illustrations, ornaments or posters or even parts of fine craftsmanship. Curves of astounding order can also be found in most of the buildings that are constructed with the Art Nouveau style.

The staircase banisters’ perplexing buoyancy, along with roofs and archways, are some of the examples of elements that were designed by Victor Horta and other architects of Art Nouveau. There is a lot of doubt over the phenomenon of arching, meandering and dynamic lines, which could be applied to either music or literature. However, the dechipering of stylistic elements present in different arts, require utmost caution and care, as far as, handling the same is concerned. If we are to determine the undulating liana line Gustav Mahler’s Art Nouveau music that in the late era of Debussy or in Arnold Schanberg’s youthful music, incorporated with melodic lines that aren’t undulated and absence of repetition and recapitulation, as per the classic harmony’s rules. We would only go ahead and vulgarize these works of art based on the apparent correlations (MacDonald 2008).

We need to locate the common background in either the Lebensstimmung or Welt-empfindung that of the century’s transition, which aided, in the stimulation of the artist  and allowed the formation of the deepest layers of the soul – instinctive, unconscious and the ancient- to surface and  shape in the creation of his artistic values. Especially, in literature, that in the Art Nouveau’s lyrical poetry, dance, sway, emotional and motion onrush might be the manifestations of the similar tensions within that made an appearance in the slender Curves of the melody’s upsurges or Tiffany vases in the Rosenkavalier valse.  However, I would like to note that we shouldn’t diverge from our sole attempt to define some of the common stylistic elements of that of Art Nouveau and further undertake the process of background investigation (Vajda 1980).

Amongst the renowned stylistic features and elements of Art Nouveau in respect to architecture and fine arts, are the stylistic elegance and decorative splendor, which have been found through the expression of the undulating, arching wave lines and representation of distinguished stature of the beautiful bodies. Therefore, Art Nouveau opted to make the peacock and swan represent amongst the fowl, as the most decorative and smartest birds. Slender and lithe lily is amongst its favorite flowers, offering its intoxicating fragrance. Actress of Proust made an appearance in Faubourg Saint Germain’s drawing room, holding a lily in her elegant hand but Salome of Herod of Oscar Wilde praised the white peacock’s beauty. In Art Nouveau, elegance held more value and not just a symbol of stylistic mask. In fact, it was a way of living!

The Picture of Dorian Gray by Wilde is a typical novel of this era, which presented a model of perfect elegance that in its hero. However, Wilde had also exposed this harmonious behavior’s complete reverse aspect, one which is pregnant, grotesque and obscure; with perverse sins that ultimately causes destruction in its sheer elegance.  “Funny side” of Art Nouveau, is a combination of colorful blast, splendor and intellectual poses that exalts and is counter-balanced by decadence and evanescence. The beautiful colors, resounding and suggestive pomp of different words and the dance of senses and images or the sheer idea of death aids in the creation of Rainer Maria Rilke, Stefan George’s poems that are wholesome and comprehensive or the famous Hungarian poet – EndreAdy’s early love poems (Duncan 1994;Kaleigh 2010;Webb 1978).

Through the lyrical impressionism that is objectivized and its suggestive images that combines with the sensuous Naturalism – “Sweet-scented, happy, fervent couples’ and Symbolism of mystical loftiness – “Our death-pale faces we in dark veils bury” are expressed. One might go ahead and make an assertion that Art Nouveau is completely understandable, only when it is synthetizes current literature and art that both unites and integrates every accumulation of the art of the nineteenth century. Art Nouveau is a unification of contradictory and contrasting trends. Yet another basic feature of the trend is functionalism that appears to be in a diametrical opposition that to the lofty elegance, distinguished poses and stylized decorativeness.

Art Nouveau’s masters’ artistic activity often served for the fulfillment of a function that was beyond the generic formulation of function by John Ruskin, along with William Morris and in his wake – that suggested – Art was an embellishment of lives and urges of people for combating the industrial society’s drabness through the flood of fine objects in the entire environment. With this sole idea, The Firm was established by William Morris that employed prominent artists for designing furniture and wallpapers (Silverman 1992;Weisberg & Menon 2013).

The trend’ another aspect, belongs amongst Art Nouveau’s contradictions, which was, neither the furniture, nor the artistic wallpapers that were available to the poor.  Robert Ashbee, with the same idea made the establishment of the Arts and Crafts Movement, which was Art Nouveau’s ‘democratic’ wing in England, and a combination of  craftsmanship  and  art and further launched the notion that every  item of personal use should be a thorough work of art, as if  it had been fashioned that by a medieval master (Weisberg & Menon 2013).

Ashbee and Morris’ ideas proved nothing but fruitless in a concrete and industrial society. However, both the men had made a powerful impact on industrial design. In fact, it was natural that functionalism and beauty should become a strong combination in the architecture of Art Nouveau. This is the reason behind the application of architecture and art that become the sole domain of Art Nouveau and its most prominent influence. A new era started in the history of architecture  with the buildings that were designed by the Belgians Henri Van de Velde, Victor Horta and, the Catalan Antonio Gaudi, along with the Austrian Otto Wagner, Hungarian OdanLechner and the American Louis Sullivan (Long 2002;Weisberg & Menon 2013).

After Neo-Classicism’s architectural trend came to an end, paving the path to the eclectic pseudohistorical styles that of the nineteenth century’s second half, Art Nouveau’s architects were the first ones to come up with the sole conceptions that made a suggestion towards something that was both modern and original. Their works were characteristic of monumentality and materialistic respect, along with modern life’s adaptation. Though the architects varied from region to region, nation to nation and had no observation of overt unity in their stylistic means that they applied, but their modern and conscious stylistic efforts enabled them to get positioned amongst the twentieth century’s pathfinders of ‘new style’ – according to Nikolaus Pevsner (Lancaster 1952).

Art Nouveau painters’ program did not lack any commitment whatsoever as the Naturalists. As per Pevsner, the painters who were against the 1890s Impressionists – Paul Cezannezanne, Paul Gauguin, Vincent Van Gogh, Edvard Munch, and other minor ones   like, Georges Seurat, Henri Rousseau, James Ensor, Jan Toorop, or Ferdinand Hodler joined together to revolt for shorter or longer periods – They also blamed the Impressionist school for working only after the sheer “self-expression” rather than providing objective-oriented spectacles that will serve the human community (Dorra 1994).

At the end of the century, Cezanne made an exhibition of his paintings, along with the Art Nouveau’s painters from Berlin and Vienna, irrespective of his stylistic shifts and objective utterances of the painters, as well as idiom expressions. Cezanne’s career was a link between Impressionism and Naturalism, Cubists and art that of the century’s end and he was regarded as the master and source of the same. Humanism and ardor of Van Gogh and Gauguin’s march towards the primeval and primitive, was a representation of negation from the nuances of Impressionist-Symbolist and Naturalist (Dorra 1994).

They opted for an object-oriented visual idiom, rather than the epic character of Naturalism and Historicism or even the Impressionism’s lyrical effect in painting. There was a predominance of expression in the famous picture of Munch ‘The Scream’ that, resonated the waves, which appeared to surround the figurine’s head, which did not reflect, whether it was a female or male.

The painting of The Scream dates back to 1893 and is mentioned quite often in the scholarly literature on the element of Expressionism. However, a question often rose – How the painting can be a part of Expressionism, if it dates back to the era, when the trend had just begun? The picture also expresses the scary loneliness, which depicts the solitude and abhorrence of the world during the era of August Strindberg. His later works comprised of the elements of The Scream and other similar creations of Art Nouveau (Berman 1994).

We need to approach Auguste Rodin’s great compositions. The best example is the Gate of Hell, which was expressed in the same functional aspect of Art Nouveau. Though this piece of work was inspired architecturally and designed to fill up the pace, we should also note that the creator used the accomplishments and methods of Symbolism, Naturalism and Impressionism’s pictorial aspects in most of his compositions, which he preserved whatever was inherited from the Great Michelangelo. We need to pay a reference to the character synthesis of Art Nouveau (Elsen 1985).

The turn of the century’s music too, you can discover the phenomenon that made a parallel functionality of visual art’s expressions. Amongst the musical creations that were greatly influenced by Art Nouveau is Program Music. This particular musical creation suggests a message of specific order – like – Igor Stravinsky’s Firebird or Richard Strauss’ poems. Pure lyricism, on the other hand, comes back in the early music of Schanberg. This is not a continuation of the classical harmony or Wagner because it searches a new way of expression. Nothing will be complete, without the examples of Art Nouveau’s stylistic expressiveness concerning prose and poetry (Brandt 2013).

For the matter of fact, we can consider the lyric poetry of Art Nouveau as an effort to strike us with rhymes, phrases, words, as well as, images with clarity, which is either based on the high artistic level of poetic style of Stefan George or the harsh vulgarizing features of Rudyard Kipling. Meticulousness and suggestiveness of expression is found dominant even in Oscar Wilde’s most simple proses and also in Marcel Proust’s analytical precision. The ideal model for the expressive style of Art Nouveau can be that of ZsigmonMoricz Gold in Mud, as far as linguistic point of view is concerned.

The stage of Art Nouveau and its drama production, was characterized by Karl Wedekind or Strindberg’s or Wilde’s violent characters depicted in each of the artist’s plays and was completely opposite of the Impressionist mode of ‘Floating’. The drama expressed through it a stylistic quality and was no longer a sheer subject of the ‘laws of beauty’ and Symbolist lyricism. It also refused to serve Naturalism’s mimetic method. Instead, it endeavored towards the shaping of true characters. Art Nouveau’s expressiveness was not a type of ‘self-expression’. It was objective expression that gave out a message that expressed world outlook, philosophy and ideology.

We have made the establishment based on artistic grounds that the Art Nouveau was in fact, a synthetizing trend. It is based on the ideas of the world, inclusive of contrasting elements. Henry R. Hope, from the US in 1942 – was the first one, who tried giving a systematic presentation and churned out a fact: “Its roots were entwined in a turbulence of ideas and movements, Pre-Raphaelitism, Naturalism, Socialism, Symbolism, and Neo- Impressionism. This diversity of influence nourished the movement until at length it flowered in the peculiar shapes and patterns now recognized as peculiar to Art Nouveau.” Stephan Tschudi Madsen made a repetition of the views of Hope and further enhanced them by adding that it did not resort to imitating the earlier styles, rather Art Nouveau, made the most out of their accomplishments. RoberSchmutzler, on the context of Art Nouveau’s background stressed that the movement came into existence because of the upper middle class or haute bourgeoisie out of their own benefits and personal motives (Howard 1997;Weisberg & Menon 2013).

The artists of Art Nouveau, worked solely for the affluent clients – from designing, decorating to furnishing the homes of the rich. They themselves, hailed from the upper middle class section of the society – Louis G. Tiffany, Oscar Wilde, William Morris, Count Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec-Monfa, were some of the ancestors who made paintings of prostitutes in some of the most expensive and lavish nightclubs of Paris. Art Nouveau architects were also supported by some major tycoons too.

Gaudi acquired solid support from Count Gilell – the industrialist. Sullivan designed in Chicago, skyscrapers that the Carnegie steel works commissioned. F.C. Shekhtel from Russia constructed a palace in Moscow for Rabushinsky – a business mogul. During the same era, Morris also advocated his socialistic ideas and Baron – Victor Horta’s masterpiece was completed in the People’s House in Brussels in 1899. Therefore, Art Nouveau’s social background can be described as synthetized that from the aristocracy, Fabian reformism to the elite and affluent lifestyle of the upper middle class people (Gontar 2006;Howard 1997).

The Impact of Art Nouveau

Art Nouveau originated when consumerism hit the markets. Ready-made, factory-made goods flooded the market, sweeping out the concept of architects hand-crafting each and every aspect of an intricate architectural design. Modern designs, which saw a shift towards organic, simple and innovative designs, paved the way for a sort of renaissance or modernism in architecture and artistry.

Art Nouveau brought in the concept of integrated art, as opposed to a distinction between fine arts in the traditional sense of the term and the application of that art to create functional designs. Though some schools of art like the Dutch De Stijl of the 1920 decade or the German Bauhaus of the 1920 and 1930 decades had been patronizing this concept from beforehand, the Art Nouveau movement first brought the concept into prominence. Art Nouveau has undergone adaptations, modifications and simplifications over the decades, the fundamental concept of integrated art has percolated into modern art and architecture.

Towards the late 20th century, furniture designs were also seen as an effect of the precedingArt Nouveau movement. From industrial fittings and structures to sophisticated medical furnishings, from renditions of antique furniture to unassembled readymade modern household furniture, a consumer had to be spoilt for choices browsing through the hundreds of modern designs.

Like any movement, Art Nouveau also appeared in public discussions and debates. In 1900, the Paris Exhibition sparked the debate within the British Press. After that, the prime of the Art Nouveau movement saw two significant events, which gave oxygen to the brewing debate and controversy regarding the modernistic approach towards art and design. In 1901, the Victoria and Albert Museum was a gifted a piece of modern Continental and American furniture, which many conservatives perceived as a breach of tradition. Two years later, as the Art Nouveau was gaining prominence all over Europe, a conference titled ‘L’Art Nouveau: What is and hat is thought of it’ was organized in England. Quite naturally, when the summary of discussions in the conference was published in the Magazine Of Art in the following year, difference of opinion arose among different schools of thought, regarding the acceptance and the impact of this modern trend in art and design. Reluctance of the British to accept modernism and fear among conservatives about overwhelming foreign influence in British traditions came to the fore through this. At exactly the same time, across the border, France was embracing Art Nouveau with arms wide open. According to Debora Silverman, the movement became an integral part of the French national spirit and sentiment, which actually helped it to become so very popular sweeping aside any conservative argument that appeared as an obstacle in its path. It can be argued that the French influence on this movement made the British apprehensive and prevented them from accepting it. The Art Nouveau movement had the sole philosophy of good art at its core; hence quite obviously it was totally distant from any kind of political alignment and also commercialism. These were against Victorian Britain’s traditional beliefs and hence the movement was stopped from making headway in the country. The British though witnessed its own movement, the Celtic Revival, in the early part of the twentieth century. This movement could be considered as Britain’s very own substitute to the Art Nouveau (Howard 1997;Newton 1999).


Spain was also swept over by the wave of Art Nouveau. Architect Antoni Gaudi y Cornet’s designs portrayed the radical and innovative thinking of the Art Nouveau artists. His greatest creation, the TemploExpiatorio de la SagradaFamilia, Spanish for Church of the Holy Family, in Barcelona, appears to be an extension of the earth on which the church is constructed. The most significant features of the church are the four spires of uneven heights. The uneven cuts and designs find their use in another of Gaudi’s famous architectures, the Casa Mila of Barcelona. During 1905-07, Gaudi designed this apartment complex, carved from stone, resembling an uneven, naturally formed, limestone ridge (Orman 2013).

Belgium and France 

Belgian designers like Victor Horta and Henry van de Velde adopted the distinct style of Art Nouveau architecture in their works, which was radically different from the contemporary architectural traditions. Though the material they used for creating their structures – wrought iron and cast iron – were standard during the days, but the designs they created were truly unique and outstanding. A brilliant exposition of Horta’s architectural work is the supporting pillar, holding aloft the second floor of Hotel Tassels in Brussels, done in the year 1892-93. The pillar resembled the stem of a plant, with some tangled branches originating from one end and linking with the other structures (Dorra 1994;Howard 1997;Tshiahlias 1996).

France was also not lagging behind in the aspect of Art Nouveau architecture, especially under the patronage of famous designer Hector Guimard. The 4 year span from 1898 to 1901 saw several highly distinguished specimens of Art Nouveau architecture being developed, in the form of Metro station entrance gates. Hector Guimard merged wrought iron with metal and glass to produce these outstanding to decorate France’s renowned Metro (Charles 2013).

Glass designer ÉmileGallé from Nancy, France, also contributed to the Art Nouveau architecture. His work was primarily on glass, creating organic forms like leaves and flowers. The glass canvas Galle used to work on was basically a fusion of different coloured layers of glass. Galle used to carve his designs, at varying depths, to bring out the colour he wanted (Silverman 1992).

Czechoslovakia born Mucha, worked in the Art Nouveau domain, primarily as a graphic designer. His stylishly portrayed posters were colourful specimens of Art Nouveau architecture (Howard 1997).

Germany and Austria 

Art Nouveau had its fair share in the German cities of Munich, Darmstadt and Weimar and also in the German speaking Austrian city of Vienna. The fresh and new style of the Art Nouveau architecture was known as Jugendstil, meaning ‘youth style’ in German (Wichmann & Heron 1984).

Herman Obrist, a Swiss designer from Germany, initiated the Art Nouveau movement in the country, with his famous embroidery exhibition in Munich in 1896. Obrist’s embroidered designs, bordered on the edge of the mythical (Howard 1997).

Another linchpin in the Art Nouveau architecture was August Endell, who believed in strongly impacting his viewers through his vibrant architectural forms. Just like Obrist, Endell also like to fascinate his viewers through fantasy, proof of which can be found in the exterior decoration of the Elvira Photo Studio in Munich. In 1896-97 this famous architect carved a mythical design on the exterior of the Elvira, which consisted of dragons, sea creatures and tidal waves (Howard 1997;Lancaster 1952).

Vienna in neighbouring Austria was also not lagging behind as far as Art Nouveau was concerned. Here the baton was carried forward by the Wiener Sezession, meaning the Vienna Secession, a collaboration of young artists, designers and architects under the able leadership of the renowned Austrian artist Gustav Klimt. In contrast to the mythical designs of German designers, Austrian designers believed in simple art forms. This belief was embodied by the architect Charles Rennie Mackintosh, who designed simple, yet captivating symmetric, geometric designs. The Sezessionstil, meaning the Secession style, became highly prevalent in Austria and architect Josef Hoffman employed this style with utmost effectiveness in designing the PalaisStoclet between 1905 and 1911. The building stood out because of its irregular or asymmetric entrance. The outer walls looked elegant in marble, with subtle bronze patterns. Overall, the building looked simple and elegant in its architecture, which was the primary motto of every Austrian Sezessionstil artist (Howard 1997;Silverman 1992).

Britain’s Cultural Disintegration

Even before Art Nouveau stamped its authority in Europe and gained prominence in art debates in Britain, the country had already been witness to discussions on cultural and moral disintegration. British writers tried to vent their thoughts and feeling through some well acclaimed works such as ‘The Picture Of Dorian Gray’ by Oscar Wilde, ‘Dracula’ by Bram Stoker, ‘The Time Machine’ by H.G.Wells and ‘The Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde’ by Robert Louis Stevenson. Foreign infiltration into cultural traditions plagued the British for quite some time. Even Lord Salisbury, while arguing about the Irish Home Rule, raised the concern in an anonymous article, that although Ireland was the worst afflicated by the ‘disease’, the British are also not completely free from it.British politicians and eminent personalities believed that infusion of foreign culture into Britain could cripple the country from within. Although Britain was believed to be geographically located in such a way so as to ensure isolation, still there were fears of foreign influence infiltrating the country. Although the year 1914 is officially agreed upon by historians as the year British imperialist expansion formally came to an end, the empire was starting to show discernible signs of weakness from much before that. In 1901, politician C.F.G Masterman declared that it would be impossible for Britain to retain control over its huge empire if the epicentre of the empire, London, did not recover from its inherent weakness and re-emerge as a stronghold soon. Political as well as ideological discord had been afflicting Britain for quite some time, starting from the end of the nineteenth century and into the twentieth century. There were increasing concerns in the political circles regarding Britain’s ability to maintain its empire. Apart from the nationalistic movements in Ireland, movements were also brewing in Asia and Africa. Concerns were raised when almost 3000 British soldiers deployed in the South African War of 1889-1902 had to return home due to ill health (Howard 1997;Silverman 1992).

In such a scenario, with Britain undergoing a whole lot of unresolved issues and hence opposing the Art Nouveau, John Ruskin and William Morris proposed the theory of art being the reflection of a healthy society. Though this was true in its spirit, accepting this would have proven Britain’s weakness. On the contrary, the philosophy put forward by Max Nordau created widespread influence in Britain. In his work, the Entartung, meaning Degeneration, Nordau bashed modern literature as well as art, considering them as nothing but diseases. In Nordau’s opinion, the modern influences were outrageous and almost hysterical. He considered this as a form of degeneration, and also feared that these ideas were contagious and would be passed down the future generations, thus resulting in the disintegration of the traditional (Howard 1997;Silverman 1992).

British Reactions

The discussion here once again traces its origin from the ‘L’Art Nouveau: What is and hat is thought of it’ of 1903. Several eminent personalities belonging to the different fields of art, architecture and design attended the conference, among were the likes of lukeFildes, Henry Tuke, F.H Jackson, C.F.A Voysey, R.N Shaw, Albert Gilbert and HamoThornycroft. Mr F.S Blizard opined strongly in favour of the Art Nouveau, during his opening speech at the conference. He blamed Britain for not accepting the movement. As far as Mr Blizard could see, the movement didn’t have any specific demerits which could be put forward as a sufficient reason for rejecting its. According to him Britain was weak and didn’t have the strength to accept it in the current scenario. In response to critics and conservatives who considered the new art form to be lacking any form of cultural value and also to be completely alien to the British culture and traditions, Mr Blizard argued strongly that after all it was a good art form, unburdened by convention, which makes it completely fresh and original. He went on saying that actual art is the representation or manifestation of man’s thoughts, sentiments, beliefs and dreams; and not something which he has learned or studied. Blizard pointed out that Art Nouveau achieved exactly that; it was a modern art form, liberal in its approach, allowing man to question the orthodox and the conventional. Blizard supported and patronized the idea of an artist to create something from his very own ideas. An architect from the British Architects organization or an artist from the Art Workers Guild was taught to think and work in a certain way, but through Art Nouveau, Blizard felt that it was the time and opportunity for a true artist to create his very own piece of work, free from any imposed guidelines. Blizard believed that the only problem with Art Nouveau was not the artist’s free thinking or freedom of creation, but the misuse of that freedom by somebody to create something vulgar or of ‘bad taste’. He warned that Art Nouveau was truly a great movement, boosting individuality, but at the same time the art had to be used sensibly, keeping restraint (Lancaster 1952;Silverman 1992).

H.W.B Davis also raised some concerns regarding the revolutionary nature of the movement. According to Davis, Art Nouveau gave the artists ability to redefine certain existing conventions, but made it prone to casual, unrestrained use. Architect and historian ReginalBlomfield brought forward a whole new perspective regarding Art Nouveau. He considered Art Nouveau to be indigenously British. Though he restrained from naming them, Reginald stated that Art Nouveau originated from several unconventional experiments carried out by two British architects. It is believed that the two unnamed British architects were Arthur Mackmurdo and William Burges. According to Blomfield, these two young architects gave the ‘swirl’ and the ‘blob’ to Art Nouveau. Although these architectural designs could not be classified under any existing, conventional category of architecture, but these designs were unconventionally attractive and beautiful. Blomfield suggested that while these ‘odd’ designs and motifs, created by two very talented yet unconventional architects, were very attractive, this did not give the right to untrained, unrestrained artists to create irrational, distasteful designs in the name of individuality and creativity, which was provided to them by the Art Nouveau Movement. Blomfield felt that this is exactly what happened when some designers from Germany, France and Autria began practising the Art Nouveau. British concerns regarding the anarchy-causing potential of the Art Nouveau movement were once again strengthened by Blomfield’s argument (Theiding 2006).

Several artists also relied on wit to express their concerns over the Art Nouveau. Painter George Frampton described Art Nouveau as a means for parents to scare their children when they were naughty, such was the hideous nature of the art form. W.D Caroe associated Art Nouveau with an evil nightmare.

The British debates surrounding Art Nouveau involved people from various spheres of life – painters, sculptors, architects, politicians and businessmen. The primary concern of the British was the foreign influence of the art and the cultural degradation it was most likely to cause. But fortunately for the British, the Art Nouveau movement subsided as a major cultural threat after the first decade of the twentieth century. The British also got their very own movement through the Celtic Revival. Gradually the cultural scenario of Britain also changed, with the end of imperialism. In today’s modern age – the age of globalization – cultural boundaries have been erased. Be it Art Nouveau or the Celtic Revival or any other movement for that matter – in today’s perspective, it can be understood that all these movements were signs indicating man’s progression into the modern age. Whether we accept it or not, we have to keep moving forward, whether it is from the imperialist age into the modern age of globalization, or whether it is from today’s modern age into the yet unknown future (Howard 1997;Theiding 2006;Weisberg & Menon 2013).


We can characterize Art Nouveau as more than a secondary objective.  Instead, I made an attempt to portray example of Art Nouveau by myself through the analogy of, an artistic and literary movement This type of description might guide us to the conclusion – We have the right for the establishment of ideological and stylistic analogies amongst works that belong to varying branches of art and are a part of the same movement and of the same age. Then there is  the synthesizing description – on the other hand – that of such works, which,  brings to  our attention to the numerous possibilities of an elaborative  comparative history of  literature and art of  epochs as they are linked with each other and have the same common roots.



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