I’m sure you’ve noticed it too. Art Nouveau is back!
After World War I, Art Nouveau died a quiet death. It witnessed a brief revival during the 1960s with, unfortunately, no lasting effect. This time however, I have a hunch it’s going to be much bigger. I have been on this Journey into Art Nouveau for the last 3 years, and I can see the number of books, the number of exhibitions and guided tours, the number of tweets and Facebook pages about Art Nouveau increase by the month. Excellent!
But why? I can hear you ask. Well, I believe people are getting more interested in Art Nouveau again because they want, no they need beautiful things around them to survive the current life we are living.
In the 19th century, factories had been built in the middle of cities and ordinary people were working and living under the filthy-est of conditions. The working class had little money to spend… and they spent it on cheap mass-produced goods. Art Nouveau developed at the end of that 19th century as a reaction to the ugliness of this (second) Industrial Revolution and it’s mass production.
John Ruskin and William Morris’ Arts & Crafts movement was convinced that the general decline of artistic standards brought on by industrialization was linked to the nation’s social and moral decline. They pleaded to raise the status of craft, and produce genuine modern design. Craftsmen in other countries followed shortly. According to the philosophy of these young craftsmen, art should be a way of life; every man and every woman deserved to be surrounded by beautiful things.
The Art Nouveau movement that emerged embraced architecture, graphic art, interior design, and most of the decorative arts including jewellery, furniture, textiles, household silver and other utensils and lighting, as well as the fine arts. The result was the so-called total-work-of-art or Gesamtkunstwerk, a building and its interior in which every element partook of the same visual vocabulary.
In the mean time, the same industrialisation had caused a new middle class with nearly unlimited funds to emerge. This wealthy bourgeoisie, eager to outrival the refined nobility as well as each other, was happy to pay extra for the best possible materials and craftsmanship. And of course artists and designers didn’t hesitate to emphasize the exclusivity of their work; surrounded by beautiful objects, the middle class was living the life. Flip side of the coin was that Art Nouveau became extremely expensive, and unaffordable for the ordinary man. Socially, Art Nouveau failed to comply with its own philosophy.
Today, I feel that we find ourselves in similar ‘dark’ circumstances: Industrialisation is everywhere, we are surrounded by cheap mass-produced goods, global warming is threatening our planet, there are wars everywhere… and I see people turning ‘inside’. Home cooking instead of eating out. Trips to the museum instead of trips abroad. DIY and Interior Design magazines flourish and knitting is hip! Like we are beginning to realise that we need quality rather than quantity. ‘Made in China’ doesn’t do it anymore and slowly but steadily, crafts are being rehabilitated.
My feelings are being confirmed by other people in the art scene. Just recently, I read a very inspiring article – Collecting Art for Love, Not Money – in the New York Times Style Magazine, by Gully Wells. The article starts with the statement that A purer form of connoisseurship – for pleasure, not profit – is on the rebound. According to Wells, it doesn’t take money but a deep and abiding sense of passion, a hunger for knowledge and an infallible eye for quality, to define a true connoisseur. I totally agree.
Now, that was about our generation collecting original Art Nouveau. But there’s also a contemporary generation of artists creating new Art Nouveau. Here are some of the most spectacular Art Nouveau-inspired works I came across recently.
And how about these graphic artists who design playing cards and posters inspired by Mucha, or the graffiti artists who decorate complete buildings in Mucha-style? Just google Mucha Street Art, and you’ll be amazed to see how these young artists are transforming (often ugly) buildings into eye-candy!
One segment where I have not seen any Art Nouveau reappearing yet is interior design. Now, I know I can only speak for the situation in The Netherlands, but I believe this isn’t any different in other countries: if you want to (re-)decorate your home in Art Nouveau style, you’ll not find it easy to locate the materials you need.
But I may have found a solution for that: You may know that my husband and I bought our own Art Nouveau house a couple of years ago and we are fastidiously restoring it. Three years now, I have been searching the world-wide web for materials to decorate our home in style once the plumbers and plasterers leave the premises. And I am not unhappy. I have been able to located a dozen craftsmen and small factories that produce the correct materials; wallpaper, carpets, fabrics, stained glass, tiles, hardware accessories and lighting. Extremely hard to find, but it’s all there! To help other owners of Art Nouveau properties, I have decided to start a small bureau that can advise where these beautiful and often handmade materials are available. Even though my (Dutch) website is not yet complete, you can have a sneak preview here: maisonartnouveau.nl. I would love to hear what you think!?
Being a devoted admirer, I sincerely hope this trend will continue and more initiatives will develop. Maybe this time – as this goal was not achieved the first time around – every man and every woman can indulge in the beauty of Art Nouveau.