Art Nouveau – A Period of Style & Elegance

The French and the Belgians called it Art Nouveau or the New Art. This period of integrated art may have been short lasting a mere 24 years from 1890 to 1914, however, the influence of that time has continued to this day. The artists who were in vogue then are just as much in demand now: Alphonse Mucha; Gustav Klimt; & Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec to name just a few. They were considered ahead of their time then and their art was regarded as exciting and new.

The Paris World’s Fair held in 1900 really was the defining moment for this particular art form as over 50 million people attended. Upon visiting Siegfried Bing’s pavilion, their interest and enthusiasm spread. As art dealer and entrepreneur he had opened a gallery in Paris in 1895 and called it L’Art Nouveau which gave the movement its name. His pavilion was filled with every example of Art Design: wallpaper; fabrics; furniture; jewelry; glassware; and metalwork. Art Nouveau style could be identified by the flowing and curving lines which were apparent in everyday household items as well as architecture and furniture. Even women’s fashions were created to reflect the new look.

Die Tänzerin 1916-18 by Klimt

Charles Rennie Macintosh as architect and furniture designer made furniture for specific spaces in the homes that he also designed. His architecture was so unique that equally unique furniture was required to fill the spaces. The traditional furniture available at the time would have appeared out of place in his homes.

When Charles and his close friend, Herbie McNair met Margaret Macdonald and her sister, Frances, a very unusual, romantic and artistic liaison developed. All had studied art and would collaborate together on many projects. Together they formed a powerful alliance and were known as the Glasgow Four with far reaching effect. In 1896 they were invited to exhibit at the London Arts and Crafts Society Exhibition. Herbie and Frances married in 1899 and moved to Liverpool. In 1900 Charles and Margaret were married and in the same year Macintosh’s architectural masterpiece, The Glasgow School of Art, was begun.

The great Frank Lloyd Wright is a wonderful example of someone who was influenced by the Art Nouveau and Arts & Crafts movements. He designed not only the buildings but also the furniture, stained glass windows and lamps which were an integral part of the overall design. His commercial success not to mention his commercial designs for everything from a gas station, places of worship and the Johnson Wax building to the Guggenheim Museum sealed his fate as America’s favorite architect and icon of style! It is lucky for us that he was so prolific and left a lasting legacy for all to enjoy and draw inspiration from.

Antoni Gaudi of Spain had a limitless imagination and his buildings are a true testament to his creative energy and individual style. At first his undulating walls and fantastical creations were not well received as they were too unorthodox. Today, however, he is considered a genius and the irregular lines and one-of-a-kind architecture have been embraced. Thousands annually visit Barcelona for the sole purpose of seeing Gaudi’s Familia Sagrada, Casa Mila & Park Guere.

Architectural Tours

Today, theme tours are very popular and many of the great cities of Europe have specialty tours with an emphasis placed on Art Nouveau style and architecture. Regarded by the locals as national treasures which they are only too proud to share and show off, Brussels, Prague and Riga in Latvia all have excellent examples of Art Nouveau design. And, as if you needed an excuse to visit these varied and interesting places, in the case of these cities it is like going to an open air museum. Of course, there are many other locations across Europe which, if you had the time, you would not want to miss; Paris, Vienna, and Turin could easily whet your appetite. This wave of creativity made its way around the world with Europe at the center.

Below is a listing of just some of the artists and architects of the Art Nouveau period with the cities where they lived or had commissions shown opposite. These are the places one must go in order to really appreciate their genius:

  • Charles Rennie Macintosh, Glasgow & Helensburgh Scotland
  • Frank Lloyd Wright, New York, Pennsylvania, Wisconsin, USA
  • Antoni Gaudi, Barcelona, Spain
  • Victor Horta, Brussels, Belgium
  • Hector Guimard, Paris, France
  • Henry van de Velde, Netherlands, Germany
  • Otto Wagner, Vienna, Austria
  • J. M. Olbrich, Vienna, Austria
  • C. Harrison Townsend, London, England
  • Peter Behrens, Darmstadt, Germany
  • Gustav Klimt, Vienna, Austria
  • Alphonse Mucha, Prague, Former Czech Republic
  • Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec, Paris, France

About the Author
By Beryl Leavett-Brown.

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