The Art Nouveau movement began in 1890 and continued until 1905, it was favoured throughout Europe and beyond during this period. An escape from the eclectic styles from the Victorian age that in comparison appeared cluttered and fussy.
A predecessor to Modernism, the movement abolished what was previously considered the traditional hierarchy of the arts movements, championing decorative craft arts as opposed to just paintings and sculptures. Which, up to that point had been considered superior, furniture designing and silversmithing had until then been viewed as a lesser discipline in the art world.
A diverse movement, there are two elements or popular looks associated with the Art Nouveau movement, there is the organic, curved sinuous lines and forms, or the straight linear lines and geometric lines favoured by those such as Charles Rennie Mackintosh. Present in Art Nouveau pieces is the use of forms that represented nature and resembled namely flowers and plants, as well as the female form; the female form is often depicted with free, long flowing hair, in the pre-Raphaelite form. The whiplash line is also a popular feature of Art Nouveau pieces.
A 20th C modern type of design, the Art Nouveau movement drew inspiration from the natural surroundings rather than reviving past design trends.
First appearing in Paris and then London, it received mixed reviews; some embraced the new movement whilst others outwardly disapproved of it.
Art Nouveau architectural design can be found in buildings built by Gaudi, Victor Horta, Peter Behrens and Franz Von Stuck across Europe; think Hector Guimard’s Parisian wrought-iron entrances to the metro in the city, this typifies the Art Nouveau style.
Industrialism by the time of the Art Nouveau movement was widespread. Largely influenced by the Arts and Crafts movement, which was lead by William Morris, the Art Nouveau movement similarly focused on good workmanship, quality crafts and modernising designs, whilst prioritising quality craftsmanship. There again was a move away from mass production associated with industrialism during this time.
Another influence of the Art Nouveau movement was thought to be Japanese art, which many European artists drew inspiration from, including names such as Gustav Klimt, who emulated the curves featured in Japanese art into his works, these would evolve as a key element in Art Nouveau pieces, namely the whiplash line.
Klimt’s paintings ‘The Kiss’ and ‘Hope II’ are famous Art Nouveau paintings, alongside Klimt the Vienna Secessionists, a group of sculptors, artists, architects and designers, advocated Art Nouveau and popularised the style throughout the continent. Folk art was an important element of Art Nouveau design, as were elements of the Rococo style, which were incorporated into Art Nouveau pieces.
Influential names worthy of note from the Art Nouveau movement include, but are not limited to: Charles Rennie Mackintosh, in the field of furniture and jewellery design, Louis Comfort Tiffany, who was famed for his light designs as was Rene Lalique for splendid glass and jewellery designs. The ‘new art’ movement although very influential had a surprisingly short life span but many beautiful pieces were created during this period.
Art Nouveau Furniture, Jewellery and Silver
Art Nouveau jewellery featured organic designs. Gemstones were popular, particularly opal, garnet and agate. Long necklaces, pearls and imitation pearls were all favoured pieces of Art Nouveau jewellery. Art Nouveau jewellery often featured insects, creatures, floral designs, mythical imagery, mermaids and fairies and curved lines. There was a whimsical element to the designs.
Art Nouveau jewellery was beautifully set. It was romantic and soft, the dragonfly pendant being an iconic piece from this period. Jewellery from this time often featured enamel in the elements of the design. Flowers such as irises, orchids, and lilies featured in many jewellery designs.
There is a diverse range of furniture to choose from that was made during this time, in Belgium and France furniture tended to feature dynamic floral designs, whereas the linear, geometric lines that also characterised the movement was favoured by Austrian furniture makers. A more formal style of Art Nouveau design took place in Germany, although continental Art Nouveau furniture tended to be more elaborate than its British counterparts.
Items of furniture from this time are considered a work of art in their own right.
Mackintosh’s chairs with high backs and lacquered in black gloss were very popular as was curved upholstered furniture. Stained glass was a feature in Art Nouveau designs, as were peacock feathers and flowers typical of the style and are incoporated in many designs.
Emile Galle used floral decoration and inscriptions in his wooden furniture; his apprentice Louis Majorelle also produced highly coveted pieces. Henry Van de Velde was an influential furniture designer during this time, merging beautiful lines with functionality in his pieces. He was famed for his kidney shaped desk.
The price of Art Nouveau furniture is dependant on restoration, age, condition and where it was made and also how rare the piece is. A piece of Art Nouveau furniture is a good investment, as the period produced many popular designs. For example, an original Tiffany lamp is very valuable and worthy of purchase.
Silverware made by Liberty and Co is highly coveted. Silver Art Nouveau pieces include letter opens, simplistic lampshades and candleholders; it is possible to pick up some very nice silver pieces. If it is not produced by a famed designer it is also possible to purchase Art Nouveau silverware for a very reasonable price.
Art Nouveau silverware often featured imagery associated with fantasy and nature: women, fairies, animals, floral and scroll work. Repousse was used extensively in silverware during this period, a technique that raises metal