Similar to William Morris’ Arts and Crafts movement in England, the Art Nouveau movement of the late 1800’s and early 19th century attempted to eradicate the dividing line between art and everyday objects. The leading artists of the time designed lighting and stained glass (Lois Comfort Tiffany), metro stations (Hector Guimard), furniture (Emile Galle) and Alphonse Mucha, heralded as the inventor of the “art nouveau style,” created advertisements for champagne.
That everything could and should be art was the spirit of Art Nouveau, and artists of incredible skill and vision flocked to the movement. While many striking differences between individual artists and countries existed, the movement (or perhaps more aptly put – the movements) were born out of the spirit of reform, rebellion and freedom which swept through the art world at the end of the 19th century. As all artistic changes do, these originated in a strong reaction against the prevailing styles in conventional art.
Invigorated with a sense of energy and spiritual purpose, the artists of the time each made a decisive break with the traditional style of art, in an atmosphere of new freedoms and a release from constraint.
As writer Laurence Buffet-Challie describes:
“There was a sense of breaking free, of rejecting all styles derived from the past, of renouncing tired formulas that had been practised for too long. A new type of furniture appeared, like some mysterious plant springing up from the vegetation. Objects such as lamps and vases assumed the forms of the tulip, cyclamen and iris. Fabrics and wall-papers brought the colour and gaiety of flowers into the interior of the house, newly opened to the light of day. Such was the infatuation with nature that fashionable ladies were seen to appear sporting complete gardens on their heads. . . .”
Yet Art Nouveau was never about mere decoration. In addition to its important social and political purpose, it also was concerned with the spiritual dimension. The philosophy of Art Nouveau was opposed to the notion of Art for Art’s sake. Instead, it placed an enormous emphasis in the possibilities for spiritual renewal through art. Hence, for many people, it was not simply a particular style, but a way of life.
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