Since 1936, for over 80 years, Hickmet Fine Arts has been fortunate enough to work with some of the most renowned works of art from the Art Nouveau era. Over three generations we have witnessed how the style has fundamentally changed the course of art history, with it’s impact still felt today. Here we explore the origins of the movement and how it came to be one of the most defining styles of the 20th century.
From the 1880’s until the eve of WWI Art Nouveau took Europe by storm. It was during these last decades of the 19th century many artists and designers were filled with a passionate urge to revolutionise the tired historicism associated with traditional art and design. It was from their rebellious efforts that Art Nouveau came to flourish during a period of rapid social and technological change across Europe as industrialisation, mass production and urbanisation rapidly altered society. Today, we recognise Art Nouveau by its characteristic flowing lines, floral ornaments, geometric forms and use of symbolic figures. So how exactly did the style form and who were its key influencers?
As the movement rapidly gained enthusiasts throughout Europe and beyond, Art Nouveau first appeared in a wide variety of forms, yet the roots of the style can be traced back to the Arts and Crafts Movement in England during the second half of the 19th century. Arts and Crafts was often seen as a response to growing industrialisation and a decline in traditional crafts at that time. The English designer and socialist William Morris (1834-1896) came to be the movements defining figure, rejecting the dehumanising aspects of the industrial world, looking instead to nature. Morris’s ideals of craftsmanship, and his use of stylised organic forms, resonated with many Art Nouveau artists who sought to integrate art with the everyday by producing beautiful objects to elevate people's lives.
From the outset, artists working in the Art Nouveau style advocated the unity of all the arts and argued against discrimination between ‘fine art’ and the so-called lesser, ‘decorative arts’. Art Nouveau was aimed at modernising design, seeking to escape the academic styles that had previously been popular. It was a universal style intended to unify the arts to create a ‘gesamtkunstwerk’, a total work of art where every element worked harmony - an idea typified by the designs of the Paris metro in the early 1900’s (see above). Artists drew inspiration from both organic and geometric forms, evolving elegant designs that united flowing and natural shapes with an emphasis on form over colour.
As the values of the Art Nouveau style took hold of the world, previous boundaries between fine art and decorative art became blurred and suddenly functional design began to take the status of fine art. One of the styles most famous producers was the glass maker Johann Loetz, who became renowned for his innovative surface technique known as 'marmorisierte' - a style of marbled glass which gives the appearance of shimmering water. His works, such as this 'Papillon Vase' seen above, are an example of how the artists of the Art Nouveau brought the sublime of nature into the realm of man. As with the Arts and Crafts movement, the Art Nouveau style believed that aesthetic values should be combined with high standards of craftsmanship, and that works of art should be both beautiful and functional, a wonderful example of which can be seen right in Auguste Moreau’s ‘Putto Vases’.
Through its own success, the Art Nouveau movement abolished the beliefs of the academic system, which had underpinned the widespread idea that media such as painting and sculpture were superior to any craftwork. Through the revolutionary designs they brought to the masses, the artists of the Art Nouveau movement defined the cultural values of the early 20th century. In the process, Art Nouveau redefined the relationship between the fine and decorative arts crafts paving the way for the contemporary world of design we inhabit today.