Art Nouveau and Art Deco are often confused. Most probably due to the fact that both movements occurred at the beginning of the 20th Century and both start with the word ‘art’. This, however, is where the similarities end.
Art Nouveau was named after the famous Parisian art gallery “La Maison de l‘Art Nouveau”, owned by avant-garde art collector Siegfried Bing (1838-1905). The style originated in Europe around 1890 and remained popular in Europe and America until the outbreak of the First World War, circa 1910. Art Nouveau artists favoured whiplash curves and patterns emphasising nature’s force and used mediums such as glass and bronze for their pieces. The Art Deco style was very different; items were detailed with sharp, streamlined geometric shapes and pieces often incorporated luxury materials such as lacquer, ivory and gold. This luxurious element, along with Art Deco’s impressive recent rise in fashion, helps even small trinkets from the period fetch a high price in today’s market.
Collecting art has long been fashionable, but knowing what is on the up, soon to be more fashionable and therefore a good investment, is an art form in itself. There are obvious indicators, such as pieces with an interesting provenance, compelling backstory or items from a single owner collection. Most notably, in the past year we have seen Jackie Collins’ collection of exquisite Art Deco finery for auction at Bonhams. With prices for her Erté sculptures consistently reaching five times their considered estimates, it doesn’t take a lot to see Art Deco is still fashionable, highly desirable and yes, highly expensive.
However for the savvy collector, Art Nouveau could be just the ticket. It is growing in popularity and providing good investment opportunities, with large sculptural items seeing gains of up to 50pc in three years.
Mike Fredericks, of James. D. Julia, notes interest in Art Nouveau is rising, highlighting the sale of a Tiffany Studio Dragonfly lamp which blew it’s estimate of £120-£180K, selling for over £500K in November 2016.
It has not escaped my attention the irony in trying to explain a good investment opportunity with an example of a highly priced Tiffany lamp, but it is well known pieces such as these that are leading the way, so there are still many Art Nouveau pieces on the market awaiting their upturn.
Numerous French cameo glass ornaments continue to exceed estimates at auction, and I have personally witnessed a twofold increase in sales of Art Nouveau sculptures over the last three years.
Although Tiffany lamps have become synonymous with Art Nouveau, they are not everyone’s cup of tea, nor are they the only style of glassware from the period.
Emilé Galle (1846-1904) is considered a driving force behind the Art Nouveau movement and one of the most outstanding glass artists of his time.
The blues and purples are highlighted against a backdrop of soft yellow, which is accentuated even further as light is emitted from both the shade and the vase.
Although lamps did not feature in Gallé’s repertoire until much later in his career, the Alpina Clematis Lamp (right), is a true masterpiece.Drawing inspiration from his travels around Europe and techniques used in Oriental designs, Gallé’s glass vessels are each unique in their own way, often containing blazes of colour that bring his undulating landscapes and naturalistic designs to life.
Very is little known about the master glassmaker who gave his name to the glassworks, aside from the fact that he was born in Austria and founded the Loetz glassworks in 1840 in Klostermühle, Bohemia, an area in what is now the Czech Republic.
Loetz were pioneers of the surface technique known as Marmorisierte. This style of marbled glass gave the appearance of various semi-precious stones in the surfaces of bowls and vases.
For those who are lovers of Art Nouveau but not necessarily floral motifs, these are an excellent choice.
Art Nouveau Bronze Sculpture
An all-together different medium favoured amongst artists of the Art Nouveau period was bronze. Bronze was used in numerous figurines during the movement, and one of the most intriguing aspects of these collectables is the symbolism they encapsulate.
Art Nouveau flourished in a time of immense social and academic change. The Origin of Species by Sir Charles Darwin (1859) was in its infancy and still seen as a radical way of thinking; Marconi transmits first radio signals across the Atlantic in 1901; women still did not have a right to vote.
Mathurin Moreau (1822 – 1912) came from a distinguished family of artists in France. Here we see L’Aurore, meaning ‘The Dawn’ in French; a nubile winged nymph by the side of a column.
This statue demonstrates why Art Nouveau is considered to bridge the gap between neoclassicism and modern art, depicting a nymph from Roman/Greek mythology with a lacklustre attitude towards covering her modesty!
This statue named “Nature Unveiling Her Secrets” by E Barrias encapsulates the burgeoning carefree attitude of women at the time; a symbolic portrayal of women being freed from the stifling confines of Victorian fashion and society.
With multi-hued tones of the bronze, so characteristic of the opulent taste found within the Art Nouveau movement, nature is personified as a young woman revealing her bare breasts from under a draped shawl, under which she bears her intriguing modesty, emerging as if from a cocoon.
Whether your appreciation lies in the elegantly beautiful glassware or the bronze figurines that will add both beauty and a delicate touch of symbolism to any art collection, one thing is certain; now is the time to invest in some Art Nouveau.