I was helping my sister try to find a particular painting late last night (still haven’t found it; I told her to let me know if she does), and I was looking at the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s website on Art Nouveau (this was for me, what she was looking for doesn’t sound like it is Art Nouveau). In reading through their page quick, I had a moment of “Oh crap, did I give bad information on Monday?” The Met’s page discusses how Art Nouveau was first discussed in the 1880s, and I said that it really grew up around Mucha. Was I wrong? So, I decided to look a bit better this morning, when I’m not so tired, and so here’s a brief little article before we get to part two of Mucha next Monday.
Like I mentioned, Art Nouveau just means “new art”. I think this is where a little bit of the confusion comes in, at least for me. The Met’s page on Art Nouveau says that the term first appeared in the 1880s in the “Belgian journal L’Art Moderne to describe the work of Les Vingt, twenty painters and sculptors seeking reform through art” (1). At this time a lot of the European art community was coming together under the idea that all art should be unified; there shouldn’t be a division between fine arts and decorative arts anymore. A lot of the artists were influenced by William Morris and the Arts and Crafts movement.
In the late 19th century, in Germany the magazine, Jugend, was being published; this gave name to the Jugendstil movement. In December 1895, Siegfried Bing opened his gallery, Maison de l’Art Nouveau, in Paris, increasing the use of the name Art Nouveau. Bing only showed modern art at his gallery. In 1900 Paris hosted the Exposition Universell (this will be discussed in next Monday’s Mucha article). Bing exhibited at the show, presenting “coordinated – in design and color – installations of modern furniture, tapestries and objets d’art” (2). The popularity of the Exposition and Bing’s display were so popular, that it further tied Bing’s gallery name to the art he was showing.
The Paris Exposition was the second where the new art style was being seen. In 1888 at the Barcelona Universal Exposition, Modernisme grew in popularity. These were mainly just in buildings though. The Paris Exposition, as mentioned, brought the new style in to every facet of art and décor. Then, in 1902 in Turin, all the countries that now had an Art Nouveau-type movement were showing their pieces. These countries all had their own names for it too. In Germany it was Jugendstil; Russia was Modern; Catalonia (Spain) was Modernisme; Austria-Hungary was Secession; Italy was Stile Liberty; and France, of course, was Art Nouveau. The new art form was most popular in Europe, but had worldwide influence.
All of these names for the new type of art showed just that; the names mostly either meant “new art”, “modern”, “contemporary”. Some of the names were taken from artists in the style, like The Mucha Style; others were from where the art was done, “Metro Style”; others were from the company, “Stile Liberty” from the company Liberty & Co., and in the U.S. Tiffany Style; others still were location based, “Glasgow Style”.
What all these styles had in common was the tying together fine arts and decorative arts. Posters were being taken seriously as art; there was glass work, sculpture, jewelry, ceramics. All this was being considered art now. The other thing that the art had in common was the natural style of the art. The architectural works looked like they were literally growing from their base. A lot of artists took their cues from botanical and sea-life. Some of the styles even became known this way, meaning “floral style”, “lily style”, or “wave style”. The art was all about “freedom and release … from the weight of artistic tradition and critical expectations” (3).
In addition to William Morris’s influence, “Arthur Mackmurdo’s book-cover for Wren’s City Churches (1883), with its rhythmic floral patterns” (4) influenced the early proponents of Art Nouveau. There was also a new popularity of Japanese works (Japan had recently opened to the West). The Japanese wood block prints were popular at the time, and had the natural rhythms to them that Art Nouveau too would have. Bing was one of the early proponents of Japanese style art, along with Arthur Lasenby Liberty.
After World War I, people didn’t want Art Nouveau anymore, and it was also just too expensive to make. The more streamlined Art Deco took over. Art Nouveau didn’t go away though. Artists in Denmark and Poland modified Art Nouveau and used it to create their own, new styles. And down the line, in the 1960s Art Nouveau had a resurgence in popularity, which really hasn’t stopped (which I’ll talk about next week).
So, back to Mucha and where he fits in with all of this. As seen above Mucha didn’t really create Art Nouveau. There were artists, magazines, and galleries in this style before he really hit it big. But. Mucha’s Gismonda poster, the one created for the Sarah Bernhardt show, really popularized Art Nouveau for everyone. It wasn’t just an artist’s movement anymore, it was something that was everywhere. Art Nouveau’s popularity grew throughout Paris and France directly because of the Gismonda poster. Again though, Mucha didn’t like being associated with the term. He believed “art was eternal and therefore could never be merely ‘nouveau’” (5). He followed what he wanted to do, his own sense of the purpose of art, not any school of art.
2, 4 – Art Nouveau