At the end of my summer job in Paris last hear, my team game me a lovely coffee table book, Art Nouveau: Posters, Illustration & Fine Art from the Glamorous Fin de Siècle, by Rosalind Ormiston & Michael Robinson. I’ve long been a fan of Art Nouveau, as they knew from my purchase of a rather large vase in the curvy style that I found at a Paris flea market and then had to somehow get home to the US in one piece. I must admit that my first thought upon receiving the gift was, “Oh dear, and now I also need to transport a rather large and heavy book!” Most ungracious. Well, my ungracious self just finished the book. Here are my biggest takeaways:
1. Art Nouveau was the name of the movement in France and Belgium, but similar styles appeared at much the same time throughout Europe and the United States under different names, such as Arts and Crafts, Berliner and Wiener Secession, and Jugendstil, In Spain, you can see the style in the fantastical architecture of Antoni Gaudi.
2. All of these styles shared certain hallmarks that can be traced back to Japanese prints: curving lines, forms inspired by plants, flattened perspective, sharply defined outlines, and fairly large swaths of colors. (Monet was a major collector of these. I remember seeing them displayed at his home, Giverny.) The curving lines are often described as “whiplash” and women’s hair is frequently shown in “macaroni” tendrils. Peacocks are a recurring theme.
3. Art Nouveau was perfect for the new medium of posters printed with a system of color separations. Many artists, like Toulouse-Lautrec, Alphonse Mucha, and Steinlen, were kept busy creating art for advertising posters.
4. Although Art Nouveau was really only popular from about 1885 to 1905 and totally gone by the end of the Great War, it’s influence permeated the art world at the end of the 19th century. You can see elements of Art Nouveau in works by Gauguin, the Nabis, Edvard Munch, and Gustave Klimt, among many others. I’ve always loved Pointillism, and this style, too, was influenced by Art Nouveau. The book introduced me to a new (to me) pointillist, Theo van Rysselberghe of Ghent, whose work (above) is just so beautiful.
I’m more appreciative than ever of my thoughtful team for giving me this beautiful book. It was well worth bringing both it and my Art Nouveau vase back from France. When we’re all able to travel again, who knows what other Art Nouveau treasures I might find on my next trip to the flea markets of Paris.