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Last week, I came across a few Dutch underground newspapers from 1966 at an online marketplace. They caught my eye because they were clearly inspired by Art Nouveau aesthetics. And I recognised them from a small exhibit Letters of Art Nouveau that I saw at the Allard Pierson Museum last year. Of course I bought the HitWeek newspapers for further investigation. To understand why these newspapers in 1966 had an Art Nouveau lay-out, I read several interesting articles about psychedelic pop-culture. And I particularly found chapter eight of Stephen Escritt’s book Art Nouveau (Phaidon, 2000) to be very insightful. This article is the result of my exploration of the 1960s resurgence of Art Nouveau.

Barbara Hulanicki’s fashion boutique Biba

In the 1960s, Art Nouveau experienced a scholarly and connoiseurial revival that was matched by an impact on fashion, language, art, literature, philosophy and popular culture, particularly in London and the San Francisco Bay Area. In London, the Art Nouveau revival was most visible at Barbara Hulanicki‘s fashion boutique BIBA which opened in Kensington in 1964. Biba sold clothes and accessories with Art Nouveau inspired graphics and packaging and  became a hangout for artists, film stars and rock musicians, including Mick Jagger and The Rolling Stones, and David Bowie.

Biba London Retro-Art Nouveau

Fabric Design by Koloman Moser - Mohnköpfe (Poppyheads) 1900

Fabric Design by Koloman Moser – Mohnköpfe (Poppyheads) 1900

A revival of Art Nouveau in graphic design was more direct. The soaring counterculture of the 1960s disrespected the dull safety of post World War II politics and aesthetics.


Gabriel S. Csakany, 1967

As the 1960s progressed, widespread inter-generational tensions developed concerning issues regarding for instance the military intervention in Vietnam, human sexuality, women’s rights, rights of the non-white people, experimentation with psychoactive drugs etc. Members of the counterculture, typically middle class youth popularly known as “Hippies,” protested against what they considered a repressive establishment, and challenged good taste and decency by borrowing from Art Nouveau. By redeploying what were often almost illegible letters, they could distance themselves from the establishment and sleek ‘corporate design’. Their generation identified with the hedonism and decadence of ‘Fin-de-Siècle’ freedom. Beardsley became highly popular again and his posters were reprinted alongside contemporary Beardsley-esque designs.

In the late 1960s, the Victoria & Albert Museum (in London) hosted two small but influential exhibitions, exploring graphic work of Mucha and Beardsley. When the police removed a number of Beardsley works because they were too sexually explicit, a photographer of The Guardian (who was tipped off in advance) published pictures of this state censorship which further fuelled the Beardsley craze. The Museum of Modern Arts (in New York) exhibited the work of Hector Guimard in 1970.

Aubrey Beardsley - The Peacock Skirt 1892

Aubrey Beardsley – The Peacock Skirt 1892

Wes Wilson poster for The Byrds, 1967

Wes Wilson poster for The Byrds, 1967. The font matches the font designed by Alfred Roller, a key player of the Vienna Secession. The peacock is a favorite decorative motif in Art Nouveau, and this one is particularly Beardsley-esque.

1903 Alfred Roller Ver Sacrum Calendar with his new font design

1903 Alfred Roller Ver Sacrum Calendar with his new font design

Summer of Love, 1967

In San Francisco, artists such as Wes Wilson (1937-2020) and Bonnie MacLean (1939-2020) designed psychedelic concert posters that challenged all modern conventions of readability and colour theory. They often stretched their graphics and fonts far beyond recognition.

Wes Wilson

Wes Wilson (Ted Streshinsky Photographic Archive, Getty Images 1978)

Their Psychedelic Art was an art style influenced by the prevalence of hallucinatory drugs, especially LSD. The visual motifs of psychedelic art included Art Nouveau-inspired curvilinear shapes, dream-like imagery, illegible hand-drawn type, and intense optical color vibration inspired by the pop art movement. These visual qualities, which first emerged in underground newspapers, were quickly adopted by poster publishers who tried to mimic and capture the visual experience of mind-altering drugs.

Bonnie Maclean - Bill Graham presents Eric Burdon and the Animals, 1967. Van Sabben Poster Auctions

Bonnie MacLean – Bill Graham presents Eric Burdon and the Animals, 1967. Courtesy Van Sabben Poster Auctions

On 14 January 1967, people flocked to Golden Gate Park in San Francisco to rally against a new law criminalizing LSD. It is estimated that 30,000 people gathered for this “Human Be-In,” intent on achieving higher consciousness, whether it be personal, political, or environmental. Members of the counterculture continued to arrive at the Bay Area, the hub of the movement, forming communes and coming together for cultural gatherings and musical performances during 1967’s Summer of Love.

Luigi Colani, Industrial Designer inspired by Art Nouveau

German Luigi Colani (1928-2019) embarked on his extraordinary career as a designer focusing at first on automobile design. After studying aerodynamics at the Sorbonne and working for aircraft-maker Douglas, where he was able to study the use of new materials, he moved to SIMCA in France in 1953 where he developed the very first fully plastic carbody. Ever since the use of plastic has played a crucial role in his cosmos. In 1955, Colani returned to his native Berlin, with a head full of great visions and a portfolio of international experience. Luigi Colani declared “The Bauhaus is dead”, calling instead for a “renaissance of Art Nouveau”. The plastic furniture Colani produced in the 1960s made him world-famous. And today, his work is appreciated again as in 2020-2021 there was a large exhibition about his life and work at the Bröhan Museum in Berlin. And tomorrow (13 Feb – 19 Jun 2022) a new exhibit opens at the Paula Modersohn-Becker Museum in Bremen.

A Revival of Academic Interest in Art Nouveau

The 1960s also saw a collecting boom, with a number of dealers specialising in Art Nouveau and Art Deco by the end of the decade. Big auction houses started to organise sales dedicated to Art Nouveau, and prices have continued to rise ever since.

Art historian Stephan Tschudi-Madsen published his famous book Art Nouveau in 1967, which was translated in 11 languages. His earlier book Sources of Art Nouveau from as early as 1956 is often considered the start of the revival of Art Nouveau.

In 1973 Ernst Braches (1930-) obtained his doctorate for a thesis Het Boek als Nieuwe Kunst (The Book as New Art) on Art Nouveau book bindings in the Netherlands. Bindings from the period 1892 to 1903 were taken as the starting point. But Braches began with an explanation of the theoretical background of the new art (Art Nouveau) in general and then went on to examine the impact of that movement on book binding designs.

Restoration of Built Art Nouveau Heritage

I am particularly pleased about the fact that this trend continued as part of the heritage movement in cities like Barcelona and Glasgow. Both places sought to relaunch their identities as ‘designer’ cities, underpinned by the Fin-de-Siècle traditions of Gaudi and Mackintosh.

Stephen Escritt was very thorough in his book when he summed up the developments that followed after the 1960s: In the years after the dictatorship of fascist General Franco, who ruled Spain from 1939 to 1975 and suppressed Catalan culture, a cultural regeneration of Barcelona commenced. The project to restore Palau Güell began in 1982 and also Casa Milà was restored. Gaudi’s buildings provided a series of star attractions and put the city firmly on Europe’s tourist map.

In Glasgow the Willow Tea Rooms were reconstructed in the early 1980s, and in 1982 the survival of the Hill House and its interiors was assured when the property became the responsibility of the National Trust of Scotland. In Brussels, Horta’s Tassel House was renovated between 1982 and 1985. Meanwhile in Vienna, the Secession Building was saved from near dereliction in the 1980s.

Maison Tassel, Brussel

Restored staircase of Victor Horta’s Tassel House in Brussels

There were also instances of new fin-de-siècle architecture being erected. Glasgow University made amends for its demolition op 78 Southpark Avenue, the Victorian House that Mackintosh had decorated, by recreating the interiors in a concrete extension to the Hunterian Gallery. More extreme was the 1990s realisation of a project to recreate Mackintosh’s House for an Art Lover. Mackintosh did not win the competition for which he designed this house, so it was never built. But in 1988 Graham Roxburgh announced his intention to realise the designs with the help of architect Andy MacMillan.

House for an Art Lover -Dining room

Dining room at House for an Art Lover – built in the 1990s

With the collapse of communism in Eastern Europe after 1990, newly independent countries began to piece together their pre-communist cultural heritage, and fin-de-siècle architecture and design was an obvious place to look. I remember visiting Osijek in Croatia back in 2012, where some of the Art Nouveau buildings had already been restored. But where most buildings still awaited their só needed TLC… It does however look like more and more projects are getting off the ground in Eastern Europe, as is evident when reading the Interreg – Danobe Transnational Programme reports regarding its Project Restoring Regional Art Nouveau Heritage.


Whether it all started with Tschudi-Madsen’s first book in 1956 we’ll probably never know. But what we do know is that the enthusiasm for Art Nouveau grew remarkably since he published his second book in 1967. As a matter of fact, the interest in Art Nouveau continues to grow increasingly up to this day. Scholarship, restoration, heritage and to some extent commercial pastiche have all contributed to the lasting influence of Art Nouveau. And I cannot help but think that Laver’s Law has something to do with this too. Can’t wait for what is yet to come!!!

Continue Reading:
Andere Tijden – HitWeek, Vakblad voor Twieners
Art Nouveau on Acid: Revisiting Sixties Psychedelic Concert Posters
Art Nouveau Revival 1900. 1933. 1966. 1974
Bahr Gallery | 1960’s psychedelic rock poster art
Biba and Beyond: iconic vintage fashion exhibition in Brighton
Classic Posters Dealer
HitWeek – Digital Archive
How the Vietnam War Shaped Classic Rock–How Classic Rock Shaped the War
NYT: Luigi Colani, 91, Designer of Fanciful and Futuristic Objects, Dies
Psychedelic Art 60’s
Meet the Trendsetting Mystics that gave The Beatles their Psychedelic Style
Psychedelic Concert Posters 1965-1971
Summer of Love – Psychedelic Posters from SCMA
V&A: Aubrey Beardsley – decadence & desire
Ver Sacrum Font Alfred Roller 1903