Homes and Antiques Magazine - - CONTENTS -

An ex­plo­ration of the rich and var­ied de­signs that de!ned this "am­boy­ant era

From 'whiplash' curves and el­e­gant fe­male forms to geo­met­ric shapes and nos­tal­gic re­vivals, El­lie Ten­nant ex­plores the rich gal­li­maufry of de­signs that emerged in the ex­cit­ing art nou­veau era

When we hear the words art nou­veau (new art), most of us pic­ture the beau­ti­ful dreamy maid­ens and botan­i­cal em­bel­lish­ments on the paint­ings and posters pro­duced by Czech de­signer Alphonse Mucha in Paris, or the colour­ful leaded glass ta­ble lamps made by Louis Com­fort Ti !any’s "rm. If we take a closer look at the world of de­sign in the late 1800s and early 1900s, how­ever, it soon

‘In Bri­tain, artists, ar­chi­tects and de­sign­ers were look­ing to pre­ced­ing move­ments, such as Pre-Raphaelitism and Aes­theti­cism.’

be­comes clear that th­ese iconic ex­am­ples are merely the tip of the ice­berg. The turn of the cen­tury was a pe­riod of un­ri­valled cre­ativ­ity, when a new in­ter­na­tional art and de­sign move­ment emerged – a fu­sion of many threads, voices, styles and ideas, all in #uenc­ing one an­other.

An Or­ganic Evo­lu­tion

‘At the be­gin­ning of the 20th cen­tury there was a cul­tural mo­ment when peo­ple be­gan to search for some kind of new ex­pres­sion,’ says Dr Robyne Calvert, Mack­in­tosh Re­search Fel­low at The Glas­gow School of Art. ‘Although art nou­veau was re­ferred to in French and Bel­gian artis­tic jour­nals from the late 1870s, the term was not pop­u­larised un­til 1895, when Ger­man art dealer Siegfried Bing opened his gallery Mai­son de l’Art Nou­veau in Paris.’

The art nou­veau move­ment gath­ered pace fol­low­ing the ground­break­ing ex­hi­bi­tion Ex­po­si­tion Uni­verselle, Paris, in 1900, which fea­tured paint­ings, sculp­tures, ceram­ics and ar­chi­tec­ture in this mod­ern, ex­cit­ing style. The ex­hi­bi­tion was a crown­ing mo­ment for mas­ter jew­eller René Lalique, who daz­zled the crowds with his in­tri­cate, beau­ti­fully wrought pieces, dis­played on a stand re­splen­dent with curv­ing, bronze "gures. ‘Art nou­veau didn’t just come out of nowhere,’ ex­plains Robyne. ‘In Bri­tain, artists, ar­chi­tects and de­sign­ers were look­ing to pre­ced­ing move­ments, such as Pre-Raphaelitism and Aes­theti­cism. Us­ing or­ganic forms as a ba­sis for de­sign emerged out of the Arts and Cra $s move­ment, tak­ing in­spi­ra­tion from the likes of John Ruskin and Wil­liam Mor­ris.’

A Victorian source­book called The Gram­mar of Or­na­ment: A Vis­ual Ref­er­ence of Form and Colour in Ar­chi­tec­ture and the Dec­o­ra­tive Arts

waves on the de­sign scene at this time, too. ‘ It was a pa!ern guide to or­na­men­ta­tion from all over the world, look­ing at nat­u­ral themes from Mid­dle Eastern coun­tries, Ja­pan, China and Morocco,’ re­veals Robyne. ‘In the run-up to the art nou­veau era, many de­sign­ers re­sponded to that.’

The Uni­ver­sal Ap­peal of Na­ture

While in­ter­pre­ta­tions of art nou­veau did di "er slightly from de­signer to de­signer and coun­try to coun­try, the ba­sic phi­los­o­phy was the same for all: na­ture was the source of in­spi­ra­tion. As a re­sult, the art nou­veau ‘ look’ typ­i­cally fea­tured sin­u­ous lines, #ow­ing or­ganic shapes based on botan­i­cal forms, nat­u­ral colours such as pea­cock-blue, earth-brown or sage-green, dec­o­ra­tive #ora and fauna – such as wa­ter lilies, dragon # ies and birds – and or­nate ‘whiplash’ curves.

De­sign­ers at this time were brave and o$en broke new ground. For ex­am­ple, ce­ram­i­cist- cum-phar­ma­cist Ernest Bus­sière ex­per­i­mented with chemicals to cre­ate new tex­tures and glazes on his vases. Shapes in graphics, ceram­ics, sculp­tures, build­ings, met­al­ware and fur­ni­ture de­signs tended to be or­ganic, while si­mul­ta­ne­ously very

stylised. ‘ What’s in­ter­est­ing about art nou­veau is that other coun­tries gave it di !er­ent names, but they were all strands of the same move­ment,’ ex­plains Robyne. ‘ The Ger­mans called it Ju­gend­stil (Youth Style), while the Aus­tri­ans called it Sezes­sion­stil, be­cause it was pop­u­larised by the artists of the Vi­enna Se­ces­sion art move­ment (formed in 1897 and led by Gus­tav Klimt). In Italy, it was re­ferred to as

Stile Lib­erty.’ While some sug­gest this is be­cause it was in­spired by English depart­ment store Lib­erty of Lon­don, oth­ers, in­clud­ing Robyne, think the Ital­ian term prob­a­bly has more to do with free­dom.

What­ever the source of this phrase, there’s no doubt that Arthur Lasenby Lib­erty’s store was a key cham­pion of art nou­veau de­sign, em­ploy­ing the likes of Archibald Knox and Jessie M King to de­sign a pi­o­neer­ing range of met­al­ware pieces, in­clud­ing nos­tal­gic Cym­ric (Celtic Re­vival) de­signs. ‘At this time, many coun­tries were com­ing into their own, search­ing for their ro­man­ti­cised pasts to draw upon,’ says Robyne. Lib­erty had con­tacts in many ma­jor cities, so the Bri­tish ‘take’ on art nou­veau – heav­ily in "uenced by, and over­lap­ping with, the Arts and Cra #s move­ment – spread world­wide. Lib­erty’s prod­ucts were wri$en about in in "uen­tial pub­li­ca­tions such as The Stu­dio mag­a­zine and Der Moderne Stil and were bought by mu­seum cu­ra­tors from Swe­den to Vi­enna. ‘ Fab­rics at Lib­erty fea­tured the "ow­ing

botan­i­cal forms com­mon to art nou­veau, but they seem a li!le more solid than in con­ti­nen­tal de­signs and have strong Arts and Cra "s and Ja­panese in #uences,’ says Anna Bu­ruma, Lib­erty Lon­don’s in-house Ar­chiv­ist. Sco ish Lead­ers ‘Glas­gow was par­tic­u­larly im­por­tant for the de­vel­op­ment of de­sign dur­ing the art nou­veau era,’ says Robyne. ‘In 1900, Charles Ren­nie Mack­in­tosh, his wife Mar­garet Mac­don­ald Mack­in­tosh and oth­ers from The Glas­gow School of Art showed at the eighth Se­ces­sion ex­hi­bi­tion in Vi­enna. Mack­in­tosh in #uenced the Se­ces­sion­ists.’ A cou­ple of years later, in 1902, Mack­in­tosh showed in a ‘Sco!ish Sec­tion’ at the In­ter­na­tional Ex­hi­bi­tion of Mod­ern Dec­o­ra­tive Art in Turin, reach­ing an even larger au­di­ence. ‘ In­ter­na­tional ex­hi­bi­tions were in­cred­i­bly im­por­tant at this time,’ ex­plains Robyne. ‘ They were the places where you could go and see what was new – in in­dus­try and in de­sign and ar­chi­tec­ture. A "er ex­hi­bi­tions, new de­signs were wri!en about in in­ter­na­tional art mag­a­zines and pe­ri­od­i­cals, so the reach was huge.’

Un­like the #ow­ing, or­nate de­signs of most art nou­veau artists and ar­chi­tects, Mack­in­tosh’s work fea­tured bold, geo­met­ric shapes and ba­sic forms along­side the more or­ganic mo­tifs. His innovative fur­ni­ture, stained glass, ar­chi­tec­ture and in­te­rior decoration de­signs el­e­vated Mack­in­tosh to a unique po­si­tion. ‘In many ways, he was ahead of his time. Some of his work is a bit like the much later art deco style,’ says Robyne. ‘ For ex­am­ple, his bold,

‘At its best, art nou­veau is pure per­fec­tion of pro­por­tion and form.’

geo­met­ric, black- and-yel­low in­te­rior scheme at 78 Dern­gate in Northamp­ton.’

When the First World War broke out, art nou­veau faded fast. This highly dec­o­ra­tive, cel­e­bra­tory style was sud­denly com­pletely out of step with the in­ter­na­tional mood. ‘ There is a vi­tal­ity to art nou­veau,’ says Robyne. ‘ War was huge and hor­ri­ble and had a tremen­dous im­pact on any kind of cre­ative or artis­tic move­ment – es­pe­cially one that was a cel­e­bra­tion of life. Peo­ple weren’t feel­ing overly pos­i­tive, so it’s di $cult for any­thing to

!our­ish at a mo­ment like that. Also, dur­ing the First World War, re­sources were scarce. No­body was go­ing to go around gild­ing ev­ery­thing.’

Nou­veau An­tiques

To­day, the mar­ket for art nou­veau an­tiques is alive and well. Dealer Gavin Morgan, of Morgan Strick­land Dec­o­ra­tive Arts, says part of the ap­peal is the vast ar­ray of styles within the art nou­veau bracket: ‘ There’s some­thing for every­one, from the re­strained ge­om­e­try of the Aus­trian Se­ces­sion and Mack­in­tosh to the full-blown, over-the-top French pieces,’ he ex­plains.

Art nou­veau pieces com­mand a huge range of prices, too. ‘ Met­al­ware "gures in pewter or sil­ver-plate by Ger­man "rm WMF are highly col­lectable be­cause they were made in rea­son­ably large num­bers, so they’re not pro­hib­i­tively ex­pen­sive,’ ex­plains Gavin. At the other end of the scale, items by Hec­tor Guimard (who de­signed the sin­u­ous, stylised iron­work Paris Métro sta­tion en­trances) or Ti #any lamps can fetch huge sums. ‘ With Ti #any lamps, the sky is pre$y much the limit,’ says Gavin. ‘ For the most av­er­age of lamps, you’re look­ing at in ex­cess of £10,000 and rare ex­am­ples can go for hun­dreds of thou­sands.’ The most valu­able Ti #any lamp ever sold reached $2.8m at a Christie’s auc­tion in 1998.

So, in essence, what is it that makes art nou­veau such an en­dur­ingly ap­peal­ing style? ‘At its best, art nou­veau is pure per­fec­tion of pro­por­tion and form,’ be­lieves Gavin. ‘ You re­ally don’t get much be$er than that.’

(pub­lished in 1856 by Owen Jones) was still mak­ing

FROM TOP LEFT Ta­ble with art nou­veau bor­der at Nuffield Place, Oxon; this art nou­veau mar­quetry ma­hogany and leaded glass show­case sold at Christie’s Am­s­ter­dam in 2005 for 660; art nou­veau fire­place, £980, for sale at L’Ate­lier Natalia Will­mott; de­tail of a cab­i­net by Ren­nie Mack­in­tosh at The Glas­gow School of Art.

FROM TOP A brass ‘harp’ gas pen­dant of art nou­veau de­sign in a pas­sage at The Ar­gory, County Ar­magh; art nou­veau fig­u­ral bronze lamp with Loetz glass shade by Claude Bon­ne­fond; light fit­ting at The Hill House (He­lens­burgh), con­sid­ered to be Ren­nie Mack­in­tosh’s do­mes­tic mas­ter­piece; a ‘Sur­prise’ wall bracket above Cap­tain Shel­ton’s bed at The Ar­gory.

De­tail on a chair de­signed by Charles Ren­nie Mack­in­tosh. BE­LOW Art nou­veau rose panel at Mack­in­tosh’s Hill House.

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