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Art Nouveau

Daum, Nancy circa 1900
Art Nouveau is an art and design style that peaked in popularity at the turn of the 20th century. At the time it was often simply referred to as Modern style, as was the Rococo style in its own time. Other, more localized terms for the cluster of self-consciously radical, somewhat mannered reformist chic that formed a prelude to 20th-century Modernism, included Jugendstil in Germany, named for the snappy avant-garde periodical Jugend ('Youth'), Sezessionstil in Vienna, where forward-looking artists and designers seceded from the mainstream salon exhibitions, to exhibit on their own in more congenial surroundings. In Italy, Stile Liberty was named for the London shop that had been distributing good modern design emanating from the Arts and Crafts movement, a sign both of the Art Nouveau's commercial aspect and the 'imported' character it always retained in Italy.

Art Nouveau started in the 1880s and had its climax in years 1892-1902. The name 'Art Nouveau' derived from the name of a shop in Paris, run by Samuel Bing, who showcased some objects that followed this approach to design.

One of the most important characteristics of the style is a dynamic, undulating and flowing, curved 'whiplash' line of syncopated rhythm. Conventional moldings seem to spring to life and 'grow' into plant-derived forms.

As an art movement it has certain affinities with the Pre-Raphaelites and the Symbolist painters, and certain figures like Aubrey Beardsley. Alfons Mucha, Edward Burne-Jones, Gustav Klimt, and Jan Toorop could be classed in more than one of these styles. Unlike Symbolist painting, however, Art Nouveau had a distinctive visual look of its own; and unlike the backwards-looking Pre-Raphaelites, Art Nouveau was not shy about the use of new materials, machined surfaces, and abstraction in the service of pure design.

Glass making was an area in which the style found tremendous expression— for example, the works of Louis Comfort Tiffany in New York and Emile Gallé in Nancy, France.

Art Nouveau in architecture and interior design eschewed the eclectic historicism of the Victorian era. Though Art Nouveau designers did select and 'modernize' some of the more abstract elements of Rococo style, such as flame and shell textures, in place of the historically-derived and basically tectonic or realistic naturalistic ornament of High Victorian styles, Art Nouveau advocated the use of highly-stylized Nature as the source of inspiration and expanded the 'natural' repertory to embrace seaweed, grasses, insects. Correspondingly organic forms, curved lines, especially floral or vegetal, etc., began to be used. Japanese wood-block prints with their curved lines, patterned surfaces and contrasting voids, and flatness of their picture-plane, also inspired Art Nouveau. Some line and curve patterns became graphic clichés that were later found in works of artists from all parts of the world. An important fact is that Art Nouveau did not negate the machine as other movements such as the Arts and Crafts Movement but used it to its advantage. In terms of material usage, the principal ones employed were glass and wrought iron, leading to a very sculpturesque quality even in architecture.

Art Nouveau at its best is considered a total style, meaning that it encompasses a hierarchy of scales in design— architecture, interior design, furniture and textile design, utensils and art objects, lighting, etc.

A high point in the evolution of Art Nouveau was the Universal Exposition of 1900 in Paris, in which the 'Modern Style' triumphed in every medium. In the following decade, the new style was so rapidly commercialized in trivial mass-production that Art Nouveau was looked down upon after about 1907, and the term was ascribed a pejorative meaning.

The principal centers of the style were :

Among the most remarkable artists of Art Nouveau are: Nowadays Art Nouveau is viewed as a forerunner of the most innovative cultural movements of the 20th century like expressionism, cubism, surrealism, and Art Deco.

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