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At the end of the 19th and the beginning of the 20th century, Art Nouveau – which is French for ‘New Art’ – was possibly the most distinctive art movement to date, and it still resonates throughout the world. This school of art was more wide-ranging than anything seen to that date, as it consumed much of Europe – because of this, few art historians can argue against its significance. The style transcended painters, sculptors, poster artists, decorative artists and graphic artists. Various craftsmen, fashion designers and architects fueled their passion and fire for creativity by conforming to the standards set out in Art Nouveau. The floral, curvilinear and decorative characteristics inherent in Art Nouveau has set itself as the most widespread art movement in the world, and changed the landscape of countries such as Poland, Italy, Spain and Russia.
Art Nouveau style was like nothing any artists had seen before. It was a new art form that overwhelmed the people of Europe, and became a cultural lifestyle for most Europeans living in that time period. Art Nouveau stood alone and didn’t represent anything from the past, it was unique in multiple ways. Artists applied the philosophy of style: “art should be a way of life.” Art Nouveau’s organic forms and references to the natural world which included flowers, plants and vines that harmonized with the natural environment.
Where did Art Nouveau originate from? Thanks to a “true renaissance man,” William Morris, Art Nouveau flourished throughout Europe. Without him, art nouveau would never have been the same. He “inspired artists for a century.” The forms and flowing lines of his work was to give art nouveau descriptive nicknames such as “noodle”, “whiplash,” “tapeworm” and “cigarette-smoke style.”
The first revelation of art nouveau was on the cover of 1883’s Arthur Mackmurdo’s nook for Wrens City Churches, but it then grew to be recognized in the late 19th and early 20thcenturies. Roughly mid-century in the 1900s, the style of art was rejected by mainstream academics because more popular artists, the common Michelangelo and Picasso were more widely accepted as conventional historical artists.
But during its reign, art nouveau grew in popularity throughout Europe, in countries such as Belgium, Switzerland, Italy, Czech Islands, Prague, Hungary, France, the United Kingdom, Spain, Austria and Germany. Perhaps the most widely accepted location for the art was in Paris, France, was touted as the supreme art forms after it was used to design the interior of the Grand Palais. The style was also famed as used to craft The Villa Schultzenberger in Strasbourg, Germany.
Art nouveau, however, didn’t stop in Western Europe. The work continued East to Russia and was centre in the Mloda Polska movement in Poland. During this time, Poland didn’t exist on the map. The arts was considered the primary option to create a national identity and put Poland on the map. Polish artists took it upon themselves to join the art nouveau movement that had absorbed the attention of an entire continent. The art brought Poland into contemporary times by laying the style throughout the country with each and every piece of art that was designed in the art nouveau style.
The Mloda Polska, meaning Yound Poland, took hold between 1895 and 1914 and absorbed the country, perhaps to an even greater degree than any other nation on Earth. The Art Nouveau movement sent a jolt into the cultural scene and set a new standard for all art forms that were important to the country – such as painting, poetry and music.
The City of Krakow became the heart of Mloda Polska, and bolstered numerous works of art influenced by Art Nouveau. In Poland, the style of art was closely tied to artist Alfons Mucha. In 1897, a Secession Group in close by Vienna was founded; this city has close ties to Krakow.
But despite its extreme success in many parts of Poland, Art Nouveau was never able to become established in Warsaw because Communists destroyed much of the work that was created in the city.
The silver and gold jewelry, pitchers, plates, ceramics, glass sculpture and clothing that were created with the style of art also made their way to countries such as Italy. In Turin, Art Nouveau in more known for its curving floral shapes and was named stile floreale. During the period where Art Nouveau was making its way into Italy, Turin was at the height of the nation’s economic growth and was at the centre of the Italian Art Nouveau movement.
At the turn of the century, the city hosted the Prima Esposizione Internazionale d’Arte Decorativa Moderna, which was essentially a massive display of international decorative art. Furniture designers Agostino Lauro and Vittorio Valabrega were the leaders in Art Nouveau furniture design and they were both featured at the exhibit. Perhaps the most captivating work presented by Lauro was a design that he originally created for a villa that belonged to a textile manufacturer. The room combined furniture, architecture and decoration, utilizing the Art Nouveau style of Gesamtkunstwerk.
The Italian paintings that used Art Nouveau appeared mostly like watercolor. Each colour seamlessly flowed into the other, with the observer only being able to slightly notice the transition. Painting followed the curvy and floral appeal that was inherent in virtually every Art Nouveau piece. The work often depicted people, as did much of the paintings during this period of time. Not a lot of detail was given in each piece, as most of it was capturing emotion with the positioning of bodies and the colours used in each piece.
The style of art took hold throughout Italy quite late in the movement and it was well into the 20th century. The art held strong in the nation into the 1930s. Even at its late outset, Italian artists – such as the most famous Balla, Boccioni, Pellizza da Volpedo, Previati and Segantini – contributed to the overall impact the art had on the world. The Italians largely contributed nature, particularly animals and vegetables. This combination was considered at the time to bring together polar aspects of nature and this led to massive inspiration for the artists. Even the most small animals, such as insects were featured in the art. All the animals and plants were depicted as curving lines and unusual shapes. The work was always put into the light that mankind dominated nature, or at least this was always implied.
The Italians put on Art Nouveau an eclectic and varied appeal. The style is comparable to a Neoclassical feel that seeks expression in an Italian context. The Italian architecture that utilizes the Art Nouveau style were more known for their internal appeal, rather than establishing the style on the outside of buildings. The Italians were more known for painted ceilings and murals, which could have gained experience through artists such as Michelangelo.
Spain came on board with the Art Nouveau movement late in the 19th century. The country experienced significant development, which lent itself well to the new style of art. The many new buildings that were sprouting throughout the country carried with them an Art Nouveau feel. In 1880, painter Ramon Casas brought the Art Nouveau movement to Spain. Some would argue, however, that Antoni Gaudi led the new style into Spain but blended it with Gothic architecture.
Gaudi’s swirling designs and material that appeared like clay throughout his buildings, made his work look more like a Smurf village. His work is still a main attraction for visitors to the country, particularly in Barcelona, where he completed much of his work. His buildings were taller than most at the time, and often featured observation towers that resemble oddly-configured heads with helmets from a gladiator-esk era. Many of his buildings spiraled around, with many stairs that accommodated the flowing light from above. His gothic style was intertwined with the floral appeal of Art Nouveau, as he created balcony railings that are dark and mysterious. Gaudi’s work appears throughout Barcelona and other areas of Spain and it is difficult to visit anywhere without being confronted with the beauty of his designs. Whether it is apartment buildings, offices, churches or libraries, Gaudi brings together a consistent feel throughout the Barcelona. In the details of Gaudi’s designs one can take notice of not entirely practical creations, but art that is endlessly beautiful. Take for example a mirror arrangement in one building in Barcelona that spirals mirror and a frame in a fashion that would make it difficult for anyone to observe themselves in the mirror.
In one of his most famous pieces, which is the Church of the Holy Family, created in 1883 and construction is ongoing, he features four spires that are disproportionate. Many have compared the look of the church to an outgrowth of the Earth. In the Casa Mila apartments, which were built between 1905 and 1907, he designed the illusion of a limestone reef that was hollowed by seawater over the course of centuries of erosion. The complex was built with cut stone, yet not a single straight line is noticed throughout the building.
The Russians called Art Nouveau “stil modern,” or modern style English. St. Petersburgwas the country that was most affected by the style, and the city’s architecture stills brings tourists out to this day. Art Nouveau was considered the most significant art movement that shaped St. Petersburg and Moscow. Other major cities throughout the country, such as Nizhnij and Novgorod were also largely affected by the movement. At the time, Riga, which is now in Latvia, also depicts much of the Art Nouveau work that was showcased throughout the country.
In St. Petersburg alone, several thousand Art Nouveau buildings are erect. But, unlike, Spain, which was just experiencing a massive build, many of the building in Russia were already erect and then altered to accommodate the new style.
Russia included many artists that featured the Art Nouveau style. Architect Paul Susor designed 80 buildings in St. Petersburg, all in the new style. His designs are much more basic than Spain’s Gaudi. Much of it is apartment building that are constructed with a flat and simple design facing the street. But he was also known for architecture that resembles a palace. Take, for example, his Anichkov Palace, which was one of two structures he named with the same title. One of the buildings marks the edge of Alexandrian Square, which was built in 1817 by famous architect Carlo Rossi.
In Moscow, famous communist writer, Maxime Gorki, resided in one of the most marvelled Art Nouveau houses, which would later become a Gorki Museum. Every inch of the former home is created in the style, whether it’s the stained-glass windows or the railings.
Unlike in many of the countries that were most inspired by Art Nouveau, which featured massive and elaborate buildings, the Russians often used the style to design suburban homes. Many of these homes are still standing. These homes were often made of wood and windows that featured points near the top. The roof and siding sloped and created a look that resembled waves.
The Russian empire arrived at the economical level similar to the rest of its European counterparts during the second half of the 19th century. This allowed the nation to afford a new style of architecture and to embrace Art Nouveau. At this time, the country was experiencing a considerable amount of growth. In the late 19th and early 20th centuries, a 9,000 kilometre railway called the Transsiberian Railway that linked many of the important areas of the country was built.
In closing, Art Nouveau helped create what the rest of the world still identifies to be inherently European. Much of the architecture still exists today, as many countries have kept their traditional design and have avoided more contemporary designs that those who live in North America have come to know. While one of the first statements made by Art Nouveau came in Paris in 1896 when the Maison de l’Art Nouveau opened, it was what happened after that, during the spread of Art Nouveau that made it into what would be one of the most famous art movements in history.
The art was used to express and define the emotions of a culture. While this essay delves into five countries where Art Nouveau made its claim, countless other nations have remnants of the style throughout the land. In France, where the movement began, the movement was put into applied arts, particularly in glassware. The style was expressed through the Societe des Vingts in Belgium. The United Kingdom also had its say in the spread of Art Nouveau, with the expression of architect Rennie Mackintosh, as well as the deisgns of the Macdonald sisters. The styles ideals were perhaps most strongly felt in illustrations such as periodicals and presses.
Throughout Europe the style was most widely characterized by the spiraling plants and various other designs that resembled the rugged surrealism of Earth. The movement is represented though new architectural designs that were, until then, often difficult to accomplish.
Whether it was in Poland, where the art helped put the country on the map, in Italy, where some of history’s most famous artists were born, in Spain, where the style dominates the country and especially Barcelona, or Russia, where the movement captivated the country and led to the creation of some of the most amazing buildings in St. Petersburg, it will be this style of art that has left its mark on Europe.