The Art Nouveau style. Origin of the name

The Art Nouveau is one of the most popular periods in 20th century art and style within the entire Modern Art period.
On April 20, 1902, an exhibition of modern art opened in Paris, giving its name to the Art Nouveau style (translated as "new art"), also known as the Modern style. It was the first international exhibition of the Art Nouveau style designers and artists from all over Europe and beyond. This style, which became widespread in the 1890-1910s, sought to bring the beautiful and elegant into all areas of human activity. In architecture Art Nouveau was especially clearly manifested through the rejection of strict clear lines and angles in favour of inartificial "natural" patterns and outlines, colour combinations, as well as expansive decorativeness and constructiveness in the details of design. However, in different countries Art Nouveau was embodied in its own way.

The characteristic feature of this style was curved and wavy lines, giving the image grace and airy lightness. Clear contours, fleeting shapes and dynamic patterns make the Art Nouveau stylistics well recognizable.

Artists of the Art Nouveau era sought to create a style that was modern but timeless. The modern style was called differently in various countries, in Austria – it was named «secession», in the USA – “Tiffany”, in France – “Art-Nouveau”, in Germany – “Jugendstil”, in Belgium – “The Style of Twenty”, in England –“modern style”, in Italy – “Liberty style”, and in Switzerland  – “Spruce Tree Style”.

The general mood of this epoch was once called Fin de Siècle - "The end of the century", that is, the end of an epoch and, at the same time, Belle Époque. Both were justified in their own way.

The efforts of artists, architects and critics consciously formed a new style. The created art movements embraced a distinct program of general aesthetic transformations, which can be represented as the idea of beauty creation. The slogan of the Art Nouveau style was appeal: "Back to Nature". Characteristic features were: natural wave-like curved smooth lines, combining the desire for constructiveness and the trends of the East (especially Japan). In the interior, for example, fanciful curved lines of decoration visually merged with the elements of building construction. Emerging as a reaction to the design of the 19th century, which was dominated by the Historicism in general and Neoclassicism in particular, the Art Nouveau proclaimed the idea of art and design as a part of everyday life. All creativity was aimed at giving people a sense of unity with nature.

Art Nouveau was born against the background of various new philosophical trends emergence, ideas of growth, development of vital forces, unbridled feelings. Whirlwinds, dances, bacchanalia became popular themes. The Modern style was under the strong influence of the Symbolism, which was reflected in the plots. There were allegories and fantasies: the ladies on the portraits (even the real ones) personified the goddesses, and the action - like a scenery of stuck in time sketch based on myths and legends, romantic and mystical stories and fantasies. Even minor details in paintings sometimes have profound meaning. For example, the pattern of buds is a symbol of new life. Iris symbolizes longing and tenderness, lily – purity and virginity, sunflower – burning, bells – desire, orchid, lily and tulip – tragedy and death, and rose – love and happiness. The traditional image of the Tree of Life, ubiquitously used in ornamentation, is a symbol of life in Paradise.  As this trend spread from one country to another, it changed, integrating local color, transforming into a different style depending on the city in which it was located.

In 1901, the Alliance of Industrial Enterprises, also known as Ecole de Nancy (School of Nancy), was officially founded in France. In accordance with the principles of the Art Nouveau, the artists who were part of this alliance wanted to abolish the hierarchy that existed between the major arts, such as painting and sculpture, and the arts and crafts, which were then considered secondary. The artists of the Nancy school – Émile Galle (1846-1904),  Daum Freres (Auguste and Antonin) and Louis Majorelle (1859-1926), created floral and foliage stylizations expressing a precious and fragile world, which they nevertheless wanted to see industrially executed and distributed on a much larger scale than just societies of art dealers and collectors.

 Art Nouveau is sometimes called the last great style. But it is also the first style of modernity, the first style of mass culture, mass printing, and factory production. It is a style in which the desire to find new meaning of art successfully coexisted with open-mindedness to the broadest tastes of the public, the style in which religious symbolism mixed with psychoanalysis, and artistic image either overmastered technology or, on the contrary, adjusted to it.

The Art Nouveau style aspired to become a single synthetic style, in which all elements of the human environment were realized in a coherent manner. As a consequence, there was the increased interest in applied arts: interior design, ceramics, and book graphics.

Audio story about the Nancy School

On the cover: "Ballad about the Ladies of Bygone Ages” by François Villon.  Émile Gallé manufactory. France, Nancy. The 1880-1890s


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