art nouveau to art deco
by Richard Whitehouse
Chrysler Building. New York (1928-1930)
|The Art Nouveau style appeared in the early 1880s and was gone by the eve of the First World War. For a brief, brilliant moment, Art Nouveau was a shimmering presence in urban centres throughout Europe and North America. It was the style of the age--seen on public buildings and advertisements, inside private homes and outside street cafés--adorning the life of the city.|
|Art Nouveau was a response to the radical changes caused by the rapid urban growth and technological advances that followed the Industrial Revolution. This timeline establishes a counterpoint between major moments in the development of Art Nouveau and world events to provide a context for understanding the style's many and varied influences.|
Art nouveau embraced all forms of
art and design: architecture, furniture, glassware, graphic design, jewellery,
painting, pottery, metalwork, and textiles. This was a sharp contrast to
the traditional separation of art into the distinct categories of fine art (painting
and sculpture) and applied arts (ceramics, furniture, and other practical
René Lalique French
nouveau flourished in a number of European countries, many of which developed
their own names for the style. Art nouveau was known in France as style
Guimard, after French designer Hector Guimard; in Italy as the
stile floreale (floral style) or stile
Liberty, after British art nouveau designer Arthur Lasenby Liberty; in
Spain as modernisme; in Austria as Sezessionstil
(secession style); and in Germany as Jugendstil
(youth style). These diverse names reflect the widespread adoption of the
movement, which had centres in major cities all over Europe—Paris and
Nancy in France; Darmstadt and Munich in Germany; Brussels, Belgium; Glasgow,
Scotland; Barcelona, Spain; Vienna, Austria; Prague, Czech Republic; and
Rennie Mackintosh Scottish (1868-1928) Ladies' Luncheon Room from Miss
Cranston's Ingram Street Tearooms, 1900 Glasgow Museums, Art Gallery and Museum,
Henry Clemens van de (1863-1957),
Belgian architect and designer was one of the most successful and important
practitioners of the art nouveau style. Inspired by the English Arts and Crafts
movement led by William Morris, he rebelled against the moribund styles of
Victorian Revival architecture and industrial design. His own house at Ukkel
(1895, near Brussels) was an early art nouveau landmark. His difficulty in
finding suitable furnishings for it led him to design his own furniture, his
intent being to raise the applied arts to the status of the fine arts.
| Van de
Velde's success led to commissions for other houses, mainly in Germany, in which
the architecture and furnishings—all incorporating sweeping art nouveau
curves—were closely integrated. The fullest expressions of his style were
found in a Paris shop, Maison de l'Art Nouveau (1896), and in the Folkwang
Museum (1902) in Hagen, Germany. As a founder of art schools in Germany and
Belgium—his Weimar School of Arts and Crafts (1907) later became the
celebrated Bauhaus—van de Velde was the most influential of art nouveau
Art nouveau in Britain evolved out of the already established arts and crafts movement. Founded in 1861 by English designer William Morris, the arts and crafts movement emphasized the importance of handcrafted work. Morris's devotion to handmade articles was a reaction against shoddy machine-made products that were flooding the English marketplace as the industrial revolution expanded. The arts and crafts movement also promoted a totally designed environment in which everything from wallpaper to silverware is made according to a unified design. British art nouveau designers of the 1890s shared Morris's dedication to handcrafted work and integrated designs. To these principles they added new forms and materials, establishing the aesthetic of the art nouveau style.
One of the earliest examples of art
nouveau in England is a chair designed in 1882 by British architect Arthur
Mackmurdo, which exhibits the curving lines associated with the style.
Likewise, the fabric designs of Arthur Lasenby Liberty, who opened a shop called
Liberty & Co. in 1875, also illustrate an interest in organic forms and
curving, decorative patterns.
In 1888 British designer Charles
Ashbee established a workshop and school for artisans in London. Ashbee's
furniture and metalwork designs reflect the more rectilinear (straight-lined
or right-angled) version of art nouveau style. In the graphic arts, Aubrey Beardsley
drew illustrations for periodicals such as The
Yellow Book (1894-1895), and for an edition of the play Salomé
(1894) by Irish-born writer Oscar Wilde. Beardsley's vigorous use of line and
distinctive double-curves known as whiplash lines have become equated with British
art nouveau in the popular imagination.
|III. Belgium and France
Art nouveau architecture in Brussels flourished in the work of Belgian designers Victor Horta and Henry van de Velde. As did Mackintosh in Glasgow, these Belgian designers sought to create a new style, free from the historical references of prevailing traditions. They utilized standard wrought iron and cast-iron technology, but employed it to create distinctly new forms. In the Hôtel Tassel in Brussels (1892-1893), Horta not only revealed the structural column that supports the second floor, but transformed its cast-iron form into a plantlike stem that terminates in a burst of intertwined tendrils as it connects with other structural elements.
Majorelle French (1859-1926)
|Similarly, French designer Hector
Guimard designed entrances for the Metro stations in Paris (1898-1901)
using simple metal and glass forms decorated with curvilinear wrought iron.
These are especially memorable examples of art nouveau's delightfully
curving naturalistic forms.
|An interest in organic forms is also
found in the work of French glass designer Émile Gallé. Working from his
hometown of Nancy, Gallé produced a variety of glassware decorated with
leaves, vines, and flowers. He fused layers of different coloured glass and
then cut designs into the glass to reveal the colour he wanted, a technique
that also added greater depth to the design.
|IV. Germany and Austria
Art nouveau took hold in a number of German-speaking cities, the most prominent of which were Munich, Darmstadt, and Weimar in Germany, and Vienna in Austria. Known as Jugendstil (German for “youth style”), art nouveau was promoted in Munich through periodicals such as Die Jugend (The Youth).
|At the head of Munich's Jugendstil
movement was Hermann Obrist, a Swiss designer who created a sensation with
an exhibition of his embroidery in 1896. Not only did this exhibit
challenge the separation between fine and applied arts, but it also
introduced the Munich public to the lively organic forms of art nouveau.
Obrist's designs, although based on natural forms, often evolved into
mysterious shapes that suggest a fantasy world.
The work of German architect August
Endell shares this visionary quality. Endell sought to create intense, dynamic
forms that would evoke a strong response in the viewer. His plaster relief
sculpture for the exterior of Munich's Elvira Photo Studio (1896-1897) does
just that. Part dragon, part flying sea creature, part tidal wave, the
theatrical relief expands the organic forms of art nouveau into the realm
of visionary fantasy.
Stylistic trends in Vienna took a
significantly different direction. Led by Austrian artist Gustav Klimt,
young artists and architects formed a group called the Wiener Sezession, or Vienna Secession, in protest against the
entrenched conservatism of the art establishment in Vienna. As did their
counterparts elsewhere in Europe, Secession designers rejected historical
styles; but in Vienna they expressed this through an increasing
simplification of form. Rather than embracing the writhing organic forms of
Endell or Obrist in Munich, Viennese artists moved towards the restrained
geometric designs exemplified by the work of Charles Rennie Mackintosh.
The art nouveau movement in Spain is best exemplified in the work of Barcelona architect Antoni Gaudí y Cornet, whose designs represent a highly personal response to the art nouveau ideas of his time. Gaudí created one of his most eccentric works in the Templo Expiatorio de la Sagrada Familia (Church of the Holy Family, begun in 1883, construction ongoing) in Barcelona. Dominated by four disproportionately tall spires, the church appears to be a fantastical outgrowth of the earth. Floral designs cover the building façade, and broken tiles glitter on the rippling surface of the towers. In his Casa Milá apartment complex (1905-1907, Barcelona), Gaudí created the illusion of a limestone reef hollowed out by centuries of seawater. Although the entire complex was executed in cut stone, there is not one straight line in the façade.
VI. United States
In the United States, art nouveau evolved naturally from the craft tradition of the early 19th century. American furniture, glass, metalwork, and jewellery had long been adapted from European models. Travel between the United States and Europe fostered a continuous exchange of ideas, and by the 1890s American designers were making significant contributions to art nouveau ceramics, glassware, and architecture. International expositions in the United States not only highlighted American products but also attracted European visitors who were curious about design trends emerging in this new marketplace.
Foremost among American art nouveau
innovators were Rookwood Pottery of Cincinnati, Ohio, and Tiffany Studios
of New York City. Rookwood was well established by the 1890s, producing a
wide range of elegant pottery decorated with softly coloured natural forms.
The glassware of Louis Comfort Tiffany probably constitutes the best-known
American examples of art nouveau design. Using his patented Favrile glass
(iridescent glass produced by exposing hot glass to metallic fumes),
Tiffany designed stained glass windows, lamps, and a variety of other glass
objects. The intense colour, fluid organic forms, and innovative techniques
incorporated in his designs positioned Tiffany as a leader in international art
VII. The Impact of Art Nouveau
Art nouveau represents the beginning of modernism in design. It occurred at a time when mass-produced consumer goods began to fill the marketplace, and designers, architects, and artists began to understand that the handcrafted work of centuries past could be lost. While reclaiming this craft tradition, art nouveau designers simultaneously rejected traditional styles in favour of new, organic forms that emphasized humanity's connection to nature.
Chéret French (1836-1932)
|As art nouveau designers erased the barrier between fine arts and applied arts, they applied good design to all aspects of living—from architecture to silverware to painting. In this integrated approach art nouveau had its deepest influence. A variety of ensuing movements continued to explore integrated design, including De Stijl, a Dutch design movement in the 1920s, and the German Bauhaus school in the 1920s and 1930s. Although the stylistic elements of art nouveau evolved into the simpler, streamlined forms of modernism, the fundamental art nouveau concept of a thoroughly integrated environment remains an important part of contemporary design.|
Rockefeller Centre, New York (1932-40)
Deco belongs to a world of luxury and decadence, the golden age of the 1920s and
1930s. The very term conjures up a multitude of romantic images; huge ocean
liners gliding effortlessly across moonlit seas; the sound of clinking cocktail
glasses and the sound of a raucous jazz band emanating from a sumptuously
this Utopian emphasis on luxury; Art Deco emerged in an era of economic slumps
and depressions, social strife, hunger marches and the political battle between
Communism and Fascism. It was against this troubled and traumatic background
that Art Deco forged it’s own identity. Art Deco was essentially an eclectic
style; it’s artists and designers plundering a diversity of historic sources.
Simultaneously, however, it emphasised modernity, employing the latest
industrial materials and techniques. It was this fusion of history and modernity
that gave Art Deco its unique character. Ultimately, this world of exuberance,
vitality and beauty was a world of fantasy, a world as escapist as any of the
Hollywood musicals of the same era. It’s legacy, however, is one of great
beauty, craft and imagination. It
was a style used primarily in the design of buildings, furniture, jewellery, and
Art deco is characterized by sleek, streamlined forms; geometric
patterns; and experiments with industrial materials such as metals, plastics,
and glass. The term art deco is a shortening of the title of a major Paris
design exhibition held in 1925, Exposition Internationale des Arts Décoratifs
et Industriels Modernes (International Exposition of Modern Industrial and
Decorative Arts), where the style first became evident. Art deco quickly gained
hold in the United States, where it reached the height of its achievement in
architecture, especially in New York City's soaring skyscrapers of the late
1920s and early 1930s such as the Chrysler, Daily News, and Empire State
buildings. Because many art deco buildings went up during a period of economic
collapse known as the Great
Depression, the style is sometimes known as depression moderne.
|Art deco was also a product of the fertile artistic exchange between Paris, France, and New York City that occurred after World War I (1914-1918). American artists, writers, and musicians flocked to Paris after the war and brought with them a fresh approach to creative work. The French, who grounded their art in a firm grasp of tradition, absorbed something of the American spirit of improvisation. Later, American architects who had trained at Paris's École des Beaux Arts (School of Fine Arts) brought European influence to the design of New York's many art deco skyscrapers.|
the famous German school of design that had inestimable influence on modern
architecture, the industrial and graphic arts, and theatre design. It was
founded in 1919 by the architect Walter Gropius in Weimar as a merger of an art
academy and an arts and crafts school. The Bauhaus was based on the principles
of the 19th-century English designer William Morris and the Arts and Crafts
movement that art should meet the needs of society and that no distinction
should be made between fine arts and practical crafts. It also depended on the
more forward-looking principles that modern art and architecture must be
responsive to the needs and influences of the modern industrial world and that
good designs must pass the test of both aesthetic standards and sound
engineering. Thus, classes were offered in crafts, typography, and commercial
and industrial design, as well as in sculpture, painting, and architecture. The
Bauhaus style, later also known as the International Style, was marked by the
absence of ornament and ostentatious facades and by harmony between function and
the artistic and technical means employed.
II. Decorative Arts
The first designers to contribute to the creation of art deco were French fashion designer Paul Poiret and French jewelry and glass designer René Lalique. Echoing the experimental glass of American designer Louis Comfort Tiffany, Lalique's glass designs of the 1910s featured continuous, flowing lines and subtle, unusual colours. The colorful and original designs created by artists Henri Matisse and Pablo Picasso for the Ballets Russes dance company in Paris were an additional influence on the emerging art deco style. Art deco designers also admired and borrowed from ancient art that was being unearthed by archaeologists at the time, especially the treasures of the ancient Egyptian king Tutankhamun (exhibited in Paris in 1922) and Maya and other Mesoamerican art.
Aristocrats (1920s) Professor Otto Poertzel. This is one of the best examples of
Art Deco sculpture and conjures up the archetypal woman of the period, tall,
slender and extremely chic.
At the 1925 exposition several French masters unveiled work that created an
international stir. Elegant inlaid wood furniture by Jacques Émile Ruhlmann,
functional lacquerwork by Jean Dunand, silver jewellery by Jean Puiforcat, and
glass vases by Lalique were hailed for their modernity and original lines.
Ruhlmann designed a series of rooms for the exposition that had a far-reaching
effect on American and European taste. Lalique later created a similarly
streamlined decorative scheme for the luxurious French ocean liner Normandie.
Both designs displayed clean abstract lines in metal, porcelain, enamel, and
exotic woods, evoking what was viewed at the time as the speed and grace of
machinery in motion.
In architecture, the crowning achievements of art deco occurred not in Europe but in the United States. A trio of New York City skyscraper specialists set the stage for an explosion of creative activity during the 1920s and early 1930s. Architects Raymond M. Hood, Ralph Walker, and Ely Jacques Kahn produced many of the city's landmark tall buildings and inspired other designers with their innovations in form, materials, and decoration. A major influence on their work was a never-executed design by Finnish-born American architect Eliel Saarinen that he entered in the 1922 Chicago Tribune Building competition. Although his proposal did not win, it helped popularise the use of setbacks, the stepped building profile that became associated with so many art deco skyscrapers. New York's 1916 building and zoning ordinances also encouraged the use of setbacks in tall buildings to enable sunlight to penetrate to the canyonlike streets of the city.
The Impact of Art Deco
As the 1930s progressed, American art deco became increasingly identified with the imagery of technology and speed: It emphasized the use of modern glossy materials, smooth seamless surfaces, and aerodynamic horizontal lines. This sleeker version of art deco, known as streamlined moderne, supplanted the detailed geometric patterns of early art deco.
tea & Coffee service (1934-39)
American designer Donald Deskey created interior furnishings and fixtures using
new materials such as Bakelite (a type of plastic), chrome-plated metal,
linoleum, and glass bricks. American designer Raymond Loewy brought art deco
into people's homes with his streamlined design for the Coldspot refrigerator.
Hollywood added to the style's popularity by featuring glamorous moderne
interiors in motion pictures of the 1930s.
The art deco style remained influential well into the 1940s. Like many design
styles that are now considered classic, art deco reflected a key moment in
modern cultural history—the age of jazz, streamlined cars, elegant costumes,
and those classic early skyscrapers.
the greatest evidence of the enduring fascination with Art Deco resides in the
influence the movement has had upon contemporary artists, designers and
architects. A classic example of Art Deco revivalism can be seen in the M16
headquarters Building in London. With it’s slick, decorative and highly
detailed façade it rises from the river Thames like the fantasy stage set to a
1930s Hollywood spectacular. This paean to the decadence and romance of the Deco
period provides evidence of the endurance and popularity of the style that was
.Photographs courtesy of Richard Whitehouse
web design by Marbeth Schon
Copyright © Modern Silver magazine 2001
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