a new style | world's fair | sources | nature | the city
Despite its emphasis on nature, Art Nouveau was predominantly an urban
style, created to decorate the streets and interiors of modern industrial cities, which had expanded rapidly during the last third
of the nineteenth century. The cities represented in the exhibition demonstrate
the international variations of Art Nouveau. Although each city developed
its own version of the style, all shared similar ideas and goals.
paris | brussels | glasgow | vienna | munich | turin | new york | chicago
Paris was the most important artistic center in Europe at this time, and many
key developments in the formation of Art Nouveau took place there. From
the mid-1890s, works by emerging young designers were exhibited at Bing's
gallery L'Art Nouveau. And the city hosted the World's Fair of 1900, which
also helped to bring Art Nouveau to center stage. At this time Hector
Guimard, perhaps the most prominent Parisian Art Nouveau designer, was
commissioned to design entrances for the city's new subway system. With
their organic and tense linear style and use of cast iron for both structural
and decorative purposes, they are among the most famous icons of the Art
Nouveau style. Artist Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec, also associated with
Art Nouveau circles, was particularly active in the graphic arts. His
posters for café-concerts such as the Divan Japonais reveal the
influence of Japanese art in their strong outlines and bold, flat patterns.
was also at the center of the development of Art Nouveau: many of its
earliest and most important creations were either made or exhibited in
the city. At this time Brussels enjoyed a new prosperity from the wealth
it had gained during the Industrial Revolution and Belgium's colonial
expansion in Africa. The city underwent great change, and Art Nouveau
became the style most representative of the transformation. In 1893 Victor
Horta, the leading architect-designer in Brussels, designed Tassel House,
the first fully developed example of architecture in the Art Nouveau style.
Other influential Belgian designers included Henry van de Velde and Gustave
Serrurier-Bovy. Both created furniture that blends an emphasis on structure
with lyrical curvilinear elements abstracted from nature.
Art Nouveau was not generally embraced in England, the style developed
in exciting new directions in the Scottish city of Glasgow. Elements of
vigorous industrialism, modernity, and ethnic pride all played their part
in the particular strain of Art Nouveau that emerged there. The work of
Charles Rennie Mackintosh and other artists and designers of the Glasgow
school is typified by a linear restraint. Inspired by Japanese art, they
introduced into their designs a strict rectilinear geometry, along with
stylized plant and figurative forms. Among Mackintosh's most important
patrons was Miss Cranston, a Glasgow tearoom owner for whom he designed
several interiors. The Ladies' Luncheon Room at Ingram Street typically
integrated architecture, furniture design, and decorative glasswork.
Nouveau in Vienna was known as the Secession style after seminal Viennese
artist Gustav Klimt led the city's progressive artists and designers into
forming the Vienna Secession group in 1897. Members of the group broke
free from the conventions and constraints of existing Viennese art establishments
by breaking down the barriers between art, design, and craft. Influenced
by the geometry of the Glasgow school and the simplicity of Japanese design,
the work of the Viennese designers is characterized by a restrained linearity
and elegance. In 1903 Josef Hoffmann and Koloman Moser, both members of
the Secession group, established the Wiener Werkstätte (Vienna Workshops),
which emphasized the important role of craftsmanship and an integrated
approach to the design of interiors.
Jugendstil was the name given to Art Nouveau in Germany. The term came
from the title of the Munich periodical Die Jugend (The Youth), established in 1896.
In Munich, as elsewhere, Art Nouveau was a complex style that found expression
in a number of different approaches. Otto Eckmann, one of the leading and
most prolific artists of the new generation, designed all manner of objects,
from textiles and furniture to ceramics and metalware, which reflect
the importance attributed to the applied arts at that time. His tapestry
Five Swans became an icon of the Munich Jugendstil: its celebration and
abstraction of natural forms, along with its sinuous lines and manipulations
of space, define its modernity. In 1898 leading Munich designers Richard
Riemerschmid and Hermann Obrist formed the Vereinigte Werkstätten
für Kunst im Handwerk (United Workshops for Art in Handicraft), which
promoted the production of modern design. Riemerschmid's work illustrates
the new priorities of Munich artists, reflecting both their obsession
with nature and insistence on rational, efficient design.
Art Nouveau was known as stile floreale, a name derived from the curving,
floral designs favored by the artists and designers there, or stile Liberty,
after the famous store in London, which sold the work of modern designers.
Turin was a leader in Italy's economic growth at that time and an important
center for the development of Italian Art Nouveau. In 1902, it hosted
the Prima Esposizione Internazionale d'Arte Decorativa Moderna, the most
ambitious display of international decorative art ever attempted. Leading
Turinese furniture designers Vittorio Valabrega and Agostino Lauro both
participated in the exhibition, as did the Milanese designer Carlo Bugatti.
Lauro exhibited furniture from a room that he had designed for a villa
belonging to a textile manufacturer in the Piedmontese town of Sordevolo.
The room is a prime example of the Art Nouveau principle of Gesamtkunstwerk,
combining architecture, furnishings, and decoration into a harmonious
Art Nouveau period, New York became one of the world's great economic
and cultural centers. The patronage of an outstanding generation of industrialists
and financiers led to the creation of public museums, libraries, and grand
private mansions. In this environment of confidence and wealth, American
artists and designers developed their own version of the new art. The
most prominent of these was Louis Comfort Tiffany, one of the greatest
glass artists and manufacturers of his time. He pioneered a wide range
of visually distinctive, highly advanced glass technologies, creating
key masterpieces in the Art Nouveau style. His sources of inspiration
ranged from excavated Roman glass and medieval stained glass, to exotic
Japanese, Chinese, and Islamic forms. Equally important was his scrutiny
of plants and insects, which he transformed into colorful and sensual
celebrations of the natural world. Included in the inaugural exhibition
of Bing's Paris gallery L'Art Nouveau, Tiffany's creations were much admired
by European artists and patrons.
Chicago fire of 1871, architects and structural engineers flocked there.
As they rebuilt the city's streets and structures, they developed a new
form of architecture that was appropriate for the modern age. Among the
principal architects working in Chicago was Louis Sullivan, one of the
few American architects to find a place in the international Art Nouveau
movement. His skyscrapers constructed around steel frames reflect the
technological advancements of the age. Their exteriors were decorated
with intricate ornaments inspired by forms in nature and by Celtic art.
With these designs, Sullivan brought elements of nature into the urban
landscape. His chief designer, George Grant Elmslie, created similar ornaments,
such as the teller wicket for the National Farmers' Bank at Owatonna.
The designs of Frank Lloyd Wright, a disciple of Louis Sullivan, were
also informed by the natural world, but Wright developed a very different
aesthetic. Rigid and rectilinear, his buildings, furniture, and stained
glass were much influenced by the art and architecture of Japan. The dining
room furniture that he created for the Frederick C. Robie House in 1907
reflects his fascination with Japanese design.
At the turn of the twentieth century, Art Nouveau swept through the cities
of Europe and North America, embodying the novelty and complexity of the
modern age. The style was short lived, however, and by the outbreak of
the First World War, it had disappeared. While some aspects of Art Nouveau,
such as its flowery curvilinear designs, went rapidly out of fashion,
others influenced later art and design movements. The application of the
highest aesthetic standards to the everyday things of life was further
developed in the 1920s by German Bauhaus designers, who also emphasized
the importance of design in creating a "total work of art."
In addition, the rectilinear style favored by many Art Nouveau artists
prefigured the geometric simplicity and abstracting tendencies of much
twentieth-century art and design.