Artworks and Artists of Art Nouveau
Cover design for Wren's City Churches (1883)
Mackmurdo's woodcut is an example of the influence of English design, particularly the Arts and Crafts movement, on Art Nouveau. The woodcut as a genre points to the handcrafted, unique quality of the work and the simplicity of Mackmurdo's use of positive and negative space both contribute to this association. Meanwhile, Mackmurdo's abstract-cum-naturalistic forms and the trademark whiplash curves are characteristic of the visual sense of free movement and energy that would eventually define Art Nouveau. The emphasis on the floral and vegetal imagery adorning the cover which refuses any real consonance with the professed subject matter of the book also highlights its purposefully decorative quality, hinting at how Mackmurdo's work is of an experimental nature rather than a definitive, mature example of Art Nouveau. The woodcut proves far more valuable than the actual content, which consists of a rambling, loose description of the architecture of the Baroque London churches designed by Sir Christopher Wren.
Woodcut on handmade paper
La Goulue at the Moulin Rouge (1891)
Toulouse-Lautrec is one of Art Nouveau's most important graphic artists who were responsible for raising the poster from the realm of advertising ephemera to high art during the 1890s (the same decade that saw the establishment of artistic magazines solely dedicated to this medium). Lautrec and his fellow graphic artists understood that they were innovative, though the stylistic label "Art Nouveau" was probably never applied to them until after Lautrec's death in 1901.
La Goulue at the Moulin Rouge takes the flourish and messiness of a French can-can dancer's dress and breaks it down to a few simple, rhythmic lines, thereby suggesting the sense of movement and space. The flattening of forms to mere outlines with the flat infill of color recalls Art Nouveau's debt to Japanese prints as well as the lighting in such nightclubs that naturally would render the surface details of figures and other objects indistinct. Likewise, the repetitive red lettering of the cabaret's name suggests the pulsating energy of the performances for which dancers like La Goulue (stage name of Louise Weber, one of Lautrec's friends) took center stage.
Lithograph - Philadelphia Museum of Art
The Peacock Skirt (1894)
Beardsley's The Peacock Skirt is an illustration made for Oscar Wilde's 1892 play Salome, based on the Biblical narrative centered on Salome's order to behead and serve on a platter the head of John the Baptist. (Salome was a popular subject for many other Art Nouveau artists, including Victor Prouvé.) Beardsley's Salome is comparatively tame in comparison with some of the illustrator's more erotic and nearly pornographic works. It is a fine example of how many artists influenced by Art Nouveau laid great emphasis on line, often abstracting their figures to produce the fashionable sinuous curves so characteristic of the style. One might also take it as an example of how the formal vocabulary of the style could be used with exuberant excess, a quality that would later attract criticism. The influence of Japonese prints on Art Nouveau is also evident in Beardsley's work in its flattened rendition of form. But this illustration might also be taken as an example of the contemporaneous Aesthetic movement, and in that respect it demonstrates how Art Nouveau overlapped and interacted with various other period styles.
The Budapest Museum of Applied Arts (1893-96)
Designed by Ödön Lechner, sometimes known as the "Hungarian Gaudi," with his partner Gyula Pártos, the Budapest Museum of Applied Arts is an example of the way that the Hungarian "national" strand of Art Nouveau (often called the Hungarian Secession because of its closeness to Vienna) consisted more of an amalgamation of various historical styles than a precise search for new ones. This building, on a trapezoidal site, encircles a courtyard that is largely filled by a glass atrium to the rear of the main facade. The forms used inside and out derive from a mixture of Islamic and Persian architecture, as seen in its elaborate multi-lobed arches, as well as Central European-derived baroque, bell-shaped domes and spires with onion-shaped carved finials. As with Gaudi's work, the highly ornamental building, articulated everywhere by tilework, stained glass and stone produces a lively, polychromed effect that keeps the viewer's eye moving and reminds one of the harmonious unity of the applied arts here in creating a "total work of art."
Entrances to Paris Subway Stations (1900)
When Hector Guimard was commissioned to design these famous subway station entrances, Paris was only the second city in the world (after London) to have constructed an underground railway. Guimard's design answered the desire to celebrate and promote this new infrastructure with a bold structure that would be clearly visible on the Paris streetscape. The entrances use the twisted, organic forms typical of Art Nouveau that appear at first to be nearly seamless, yet they are constructed out of several cast iron parts that were easily mass produced, at Osne-le-Val to the east of Paris. In effect, Guimard had concealed an aspect of the object's modernity beneath its sinuous continuity, a strategy that is symptomatic of Art Nouveau's ambivalent attitude to the modern age. Guimard's design was thus instrumental in bringing Art Nouveau's otherwise complex, labor-intensive designs to a mass audience for whom the style seemed like a symbol of unattainable luxury.
Ernst-Ludwig-Haus, Darmstadt (1900-01)
This is the centerpiece of the new Darmstadt Artists Colony (Kunstlerkolonie), formed in 1899 under the patronage of Grand Duke Ernst Ludwig of Hesse, an admirer of the Arts & Crafts movement. It was designed by J.M. Olbrich, one of the Colony's founding artists, whom the Duke poached from the Vienna Secession. (Olbrich had designed the Secession's exhibition building three years before.)
Like the Secession building, the Ernst-Ludwig-Haus is highly rectilinear, with a gleaming white exterior capped by a gently sloping roof, set on the brow of a hill. This is offset by the arched, centrally-located main entrance, delineated by its gold-plated, cloudlike geometric pattern surrounding the doorway, which is fronted by Ludwig Habisch's twin male and female sculptures personifying Strength and Beauty. The sloping skylights stretching the length of the rear of the structure disclose its function as one of the rare Art Nouveau buildings designed solely as studio space, and it served as the centerpiece of the opening exhibition of the Darmstadt group in 1901. Although the Colony only lasted until the outbreak of war in 1914, today the structure serves as a museum of their artistic endeavors.
Model #342, “Wisteria” Lamp (c. 1901-05)
Table lamps are some of the most famous Art Nouveau items produced by Louis Comfort Tiffany's firm. The model #342, commonly called "Wisteria," is one of the most prized. The bronze base resembles the roots and lower trunk of a tree, with the leaded glass shade that appears like the branches of a wisteria at its crown cast in bronze. These suspend the flowering petals that appear to drip like drops of water, created from nearly 2,000 individually-selected pieces of glass whose screen produces a warm, yet soft glow, suggesting the filtering of sunlight. The irregularity of the armature at the crown along with the border of the bottom of the shade add to the naturalism of the design, but they also recall the influence of Impressionism and Japonism on Art Nouveau, as wisteria are native to both the eastern United States, where Tiffany was based, and to China, Japan, and Korea.
Recently-discovered evidence proves that Model #342 was designed by Clara Driscoll, head of Tiffany Studios Women's Glass Cutting Department and creator of over thirty of the company's famed lamps, including the Daffodil, Dragonfly, and Peony models. It thus also represents an important moment for women designers at the turn of the century, who were put in charge of a significant sector of the firm's production. Driscoll herself commanded $10,000 a year as one of the highest-paid women of her time, until she was required to leave Tiffany Studios when she married in 1909.
Leaded glass and patinated bronze
Hope II (1907-08)
Klimt's work, like Aubrey Beardsley's, involves the distortion and exaggeration of forms and, often, highly sexually-charged subject matter. Unlike Beardsley, however, Klimt is famous, particularly in his post-1900 paintings, for his frequent use of gold leaf, often in concert with a kaleidoscope of other bright hues. This combination helped create Klimt's signature mature style, often summarized as a set of dreamy, visually luscious (and materially luxurious) paintings of women, sometimes real portraits but often imagined or allegorical personifications, including his Hope II. The nearly-surreal imagery of exaggerated and flattened bodily forms, highlighted by the emphasis on pattern and the lack of depth and detached from a recognizable environment, underscores the way that Klimt focused on creating a literal "new art" that was free from prescribed rules or principles. As a founding member of the Vienna Secession, he rejected the tenets of academic painting under which he had been trained. The shocking reactions that Klimt's work has provoked - during his lifetime up to the present day - helps contribute to his renown as the most innovative Art Nouveau painter and a master of modernism.
Oil and gold leaf on canvas - The Museum of Modern Art, New York
Park Guell (1900-1914)
Antoni Gaudi, the foremost architect of Catalan Modernisme, may be best-known for his work on the still-unfinished Expiatory Church of the Sagrada Familia in Barcelona, but his signature designs can be seen in dozens of buildings throughout the city. One of the last projects that Gaudi, a devout Catholic, undertook before devoting himself entirely to the Sagrada Familia in 1914 was a speculative hillside suburban community for his chief patron, the textile magnate Eusebi Guell. The development displays Gaudi's innovative design capabilities, even though the only homes completed were his own house plus one other residence and the project is generally considered a financial failure.
The park's design is thoroughly integrated into the landscape, with rough-hewn inclined columns seemingly excavated out of the hillsides and covered by vines. The centerpiece consists of a columned market space supporting an open plaza bounded by a serpentine bench covered with a conglomerate of discarded ceramic tiles, called trencadís, a hallmark of Catalan craftsmanship. The market is connected to the Parc's entrance by a grand staircase with a tiled fountain sporting the face of a dragon and the striped Catalan flag. There, the gatehouse and concierge's residence consist of rocky lodges crowned by irregular, conical spires, appearing to be crafted out of gingerbread. The undulating forms, inspired by inverted catenary arches, and brilliantly-colored tilework point to the collaborative nature of Catalan Art Nouveau, involving teams of craftsmen specializing in different media and the reliance on the honest treatment of ecologically-sensitive materials.