Art Movements, April 17, 2022
Casa Mila in Barcelona, Spain
Art Nouveau blossomed as a European aesthetic in the late 1800s and early 1900s. A new generation of daring artists shattered the rule-bound designs of previous ages. They envisioned a dynamic new look for Europe's emerging industrial frontier. The art world took notice of this decorative style, which drew its inspiration from the natural world yet took root in the world's great metropolises.
New art may be defined as a departure from the past, as the name indicates. To understand the development of Art Nouveau, one must look to the late nineteenth century Arts and Crafts Movement in England. Europe's industrialization and the rise of mass production in factories drove the growth of the Victorian era's Arts and Crafts, which was kitschy and lacked craftsmanship of the previous generations.
Because industrialization placed emphasis on profit over aesthetics, function over form, artists strove to combat this by making everyday life beautiful again. They rejected the throwaway nature of capitalism and called for quality over quantity. Art Nouveau was both elaborate and minimalistic. Individual pieces may be extravagantly decorated, but people owned fewer items. With less clutter people could fully appreciate what they had and it would be beautiful.
Paintings by Alphonse Mucha
The opulent ornamentation of Art Nouveau gives it a unique identity. Sensuous lines and subtle light form organic shapes. Whiplash curves, the long, wavy curves that fold back on themselves like a gorgeous ribbon, were especially trendy. One may find a mosaic of feminine figures with flowing dresses and curls surrounded by a pattern of roses. Artists favored curves and asymmetry over technical rules of the past. Artists also indulged in motifs of "exotic" cultures, especially Japan. Wood block prints, especially those of Edo period's Katsushika Hokusai, wove its may into the fabric of Art Nouveau, as seen in paintings by Alphonse Mucha.
With a mix of nature and industry, everyday life became more lovely. To the artists, there was no reason why an industrial city couldn't be as alluring as a natural oasis. The surfaces of buildings were decorated with a variety of materials, including terra cotta, glazed tile, mosaic tile, metal and stained glass. Earth tone color palettes of browns, yellows, blues and greens conjure up images of the natural world. In the midst of a metropolitan, Art Nouveau created Eden.