We are on the threshold of not only the new style, but also the development of a completely new art. The art of applying forms of nothing insignificant, not representing anything, and not resembling anything.
August Endell

Summary of Jugendstil

Partaking in the Art Nouveau trends elsewhere in Europe, Jugendstil in Germany revolutionized and popularized modern design and crafts at the turn of the 20th century. The term Jugendstil, meaning "Young Style," was derived from the magazine Die Jugend, and the style tended toward floral motifs, arabesques, and organically inspired lines and eventually moved toward abstraction and functionalism. Importantly, it emphasized workshops, where groups of designers worked with industrialists for mass production to disseminate products.

Jugendstil would become an important touchstone for Expressionists in Germany and Austria who were creating new visions of the modern subject and urban centers as well as later Bauhaus experiments in combining fine and applied arts.

Key Ideas & Accomplishments

  • The dominant forms of Jugendstil furniture, architecture, and illustrations were organic shapes and lines that were at once simple and dynamic. It shared with the international Art Nouveau movement naturalistic floral motifs, but as the style evolved, the organic shapes contrasted with more abstract and geometric forms to create a more complex dynamism.
  • Many of the Jugendstil artists were well versed in multiple art forms, and they strove to create a Gesamtkunstwerk, or total work of art. The idea of the gesamtkunstwerk evolved over the 19th century, and Jugendstil took its core aim - a desire to synthesize all of the arts - to create carefully designed environments that would be harmonious with human use.
  • While Jugendstil emphasized the individual imagination, it also strove to bring art and design to a wide audience. Setting up workshops across Germany, Jugendstil artists worked with industrial designers to create objects that could easily be mass produced.

Overview of Jugendstil

Jugendstil Image

Swiss-born artist Hermann Obrist launched Jugendstil in the mid-1890s in Munich, and the city soon became the early center of the movement that included August Endell, Bruno Paul, Bernhard Pankok, and Otto Eckmann. Growing up in Switzerland, Obrist first studied botany and history, but after several trips in 1886 through the countryside, he experienced a number of visions of "a strange, unknown city with towers and temple-like buildings...translucent and...perpetually in motion, disappearing and then reappearing." In his autobiography A Happy Life: A Biography of the Artist, Naturalist and Independent Spirit" (c. 1900), he wrote of his experiences in the third person, saying, "Nothing he saw was in any way reminiscent of the many styles he would later encounter on his travels. Making a clearer than ever mental note of what he had just seen, he hurriedly drew sketches which he still feasts on to this day; and a voice inside him called out to him for the first time and said: Leave your studies; go forth and picture this." As a result of his vision, he turned to sculpture and the applied arts in 1887. His early ceramics and furniture won awards at the 1889 Paris Exposition, and in the early 1890s following the sale of a model for a fountain, he moved to Florence, where he opened an embroidery and tapestry workshop with Berthe Ruchet, which he relocated to Munich in 1895.

Do Not Miss

  • Art Nouveau was a movement that swept through the decorative arts and architecture in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. Generating enthusiasts throughout Europe, it was aimed at modernizing design and escaping the eclectic historical styles that had previously been popular. It drew inspiration from both organic and geometric forms, evolving elegant designs that united flowing, natural forms with more angular contours.
  • The Vienna Secession was a group of Austrian painters, sculptors and architects, who in 1897 resigned from the main Association of Austrian Artists with the mission of bringing modern European art to culturally-insulated Austria. Among the Secession's founding members were Gustav Klimt, Koloman Moser, Josef Hoffmann and Joseph Maria Olbrich.
  • The Wiener Werkstätte was an early-twentieth-century production company of artists, founded in Vienna in 1903, by architect Josef Hoffmann. It developed largely in response to the Vienna Secession, inspiring others to found a company that catered to artists working in all variety of media, from jewelry and ceramics to metalworks and furniture making. The Wiener Werkstätte was quite successful, opening branches into Karlsbad, Zurich, Berlin and New York, but eventually had to shut down due to financial constraints.
  • Art Deco was an eclectic style that flourished in the 1920s and '30s and influenced art, architecture and design. It blended a love of modernity - expressed through geometric shapes and streamlined forms - with references to the classical past and to exotic locations.

Important Art and Artists of Jugendstil

Leather Screen (1887)

Artist: Hans Christiansen and Georg Hulbe

This folding screen depicts richly colored poppies and their green curvilinear foliage along a river that, beginning at the lower right, twists sinuously in a tightening whiplash in the upper left and middle panels. The flared petals of the orange blossoms on unrealistically thin and extended tendrils seem to float serenely in the golden space. The asymmetrical composition creates a sense of dynamic movement. Influenced by Japonisme, the screen echoes the gold leaf background of the late 16th-century byōbu of the Kanō School, but it innovatively uses the materials of German crafts. The screen uses leather for the panels, and small gold rivets surround each of the three panels.

Christansen had diverse training, working as a decorative painter and in an interior design shop, studying in Italy and at the Academie Julian in Paris. Influenced by the Nabis, he felt art was a synthesis of nature expressed in personal symbols. At the same time, the artist was increasingly interested in artisan crafts, particularly textiles and graphic design, all of which employed his hallmark bright color.

Andromeda (1898)

Artist: Hans Christiansen

With intense almost garish color, influenced by Alphonse Mucha and Henri Toulouse-Lautrec, this work depicts a nude Andromeda, entwined by the crimson and green coils of a gigantic sea serpent, against a flame-like background where gold whisps extend in sinuous curves. Depicted in profile, the nude leans almost casually with her left elbow on the creature's back, as her right arm elegantly extends to stroke the back of its neck. Its massive form rising out of the waves in the lower foreground, the serpent makes an s-curve through the pictorial plane, and its head, with green glowing eyes, faces away from the viewer. Reconfiguring the classical Greek myth of the princess rescued by the hero Perseus when she was left to be sacrificed to a sea monster that was terrorizing her city, the image's overall effect is erotic, suggesting feminine power to seduce and command. Out of the background flames, the title of Die Jugend forms at the top, showing the artist's innovative approach to typography.

Christiansen's use of color and his hand-letter fonts were distinctive additions to Jugendstil, and his images, frequently depicting beautiful women, often appeared in Die Jugend. An early member of the Darmstadt Art Colony, he was known for his versatility, as he worked in a wide variety of applied arts, saying, "I take my work as an artist as general as possible."

Der Kuss (The Kiss) (1898)

Artist: Peter Behrens

This color print, showing a couple in profile kissing, accentuates the whiplash curves of their intertwining and voluptuous tresses, and as art historian Peter Raissis wrote, it "not only conveys the intensity of the lovers' abandonment in each other but also seems to suggest the ancient understanding of the kiss as an intermixing and exchanging of souls."

Behrens' image reflects the influence of Symbolism, as seen in Edvard Munch's painting The Kiss (1897), but rather than reflecting that work's emotional ambivalence, described by art historian Reinhold Heller as conveying a "loss of individuality, a loss of one's own existence and identity," this image creates feeling of oneness. The figures become androgynous, and the curving lines of their eyebrows, chins, and lips flow into one another. The image moves away from representation by depicting the lovers as disembodied heads and emphasizes the pure flat pattern. Behrens' work also reflected the continuing tradition of the woodcut, a distinctive element of German art dating back to the Renaissance, which raised graphic art to the level of fine art. Appearing in a 1898 issue of Pan, the image pioneered a central motif of Jugendstil that became influential outside of Germany, as seen in the Austrian Gustav Klimt's painting The Kiss (1907-08).

Useful Resources on Jugendstil

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Content compiled and written by Rebecca Seiferle

Edited and published by The Art Story Contributors

"Jugendstil Movement Overview and Analysis". [Internet]. . TheArtStory.org
Content compiled and written by Rebecca Seiferle
Edited and published by The Art Story Contributors
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First published on 17 Nov 2018. Updated and modified regularly
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