Art Nouveau, meaning “New Art” in French, developed in the late 1800’s, lasting until the First World War. The movement got its name from a shop in Paris called La Maison de l'Art Nouveau, whose customers and workers fostered modern ideas in art. In reaction to classical, studied art practices, Art Nouveau reached the scene as a way to bridge the gap between the Arts and Crafts movement and organic, artistic Symbolism that was rising in popularity during the 1880’s. The images that forever come to mind when thinking of the term Art Nouveau involve pictures by Czech artist, Alphonse Mucha and the iconic winding wrought-iron entrances to the Parisian metro.
What makes Art Nouveau truly a “new” art is the distinct departure from studied art, for some of the most famous pieces that came from this early 20th century movement are not paintings, but glass-work, furniture, and architecture, things that were rarely given much importance in the art world. The incredible genius of Hector Guimard transformed Paris with his curvilinear, plant-inspired metro entrances, numerous street signs, cafes, and buildings. The Hotel Mezzara, now used as an exhibition gallery to promote young emerging artists, stands as a lasting memory of Guimard’s uniquely popular style. As you walk inside, a winding staircase with iron railing snaking up to the top floor greets you. If you look up, the dazzling glass dome ceiling shines brightly, promoting beautifully it’s new style.
The element of glass work used by Guimard was employed by another popular Art Nouveau artist whose name is known the world over.
Charles Lewis Tiffany, founder of Tiffany and Company, was one of the leading glass makers, whose production of stained-glass lamps became synonymous with the Art Nouveau style. Natural designs that featured irregularly shaped borders required the highest level of skill to create and by 1900, Tiffany was perhaps the most acclaimed producer of glass objects in the world. With prices ranging between $10,000 for a simple single color shade to over a million dollars for the most rare even today, his creations are still some of the most prized and collected in the world.
The Art Nouveau movement would not be complete without it’s most memorable painter. Alphonse Mucha arrived in Paris in 1895, producing a lithograph poster for the play Gismonda, starring Sarah Bernhardt. With this image, Mucha became an overnight sensation, dubbing his style of Style Mucha, later to be known as Art Nouveau.
Mucha’s style was based on a strong composition, sensuous plant-like curves, detailed decorative elements and natural colors. As his fame grew throughout Europe and the world, his designs began showing up in all corners of the art world. He published graphics for magazines, created sets for performances, and painted portraits commissioned by wealthy U.S. patrons.
A theme Mucha liked and repeated many times was of great commercial appeal and became somewhat of a staple for the artist. He painted sets of four images around a central theme--such as the four times of day, four flowers, or the four seasons, as seen below.
Images like these are not only iconic of the modern art movement that took place in the early 20th century, but have an aesthetic appeal that transcends time. The continual pleasure of Mucha and others’ pictures has given a certain impressive quality to the Art Nouveau genre, that, even today, can hold its own in the greater art world.
Written and researched by Taylor Maatman
MIR Appraisal Services, Inc.
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