April 17, 2013

Art Nouveau

In my opinion, second only to today, the Art Nouveau movement is the most fascinating and dynamic confluence of science and nature, and art. At the end of the nineteenth century, attitudes about the natural world lacked consensus. Nature stood for the decent of man with the new proof of human evolution from animals; it was seen as something to be conquered and displayed as a trophy; with the proliferation of images of far away and previously unseen ecosystems, it was glorified, and inspired awe and fascination in a new way; it was something to flatten and put into order, arranged in an orderly pattern by the artist.

The idea of evolution was not new in 1859 when Charles Darwin published The Origin of Species. The work’s proposal of natural selection based on a multitude of evidence from Darwin’s Beagle expedition was what finally convinced the masses to take the idea more seriously. This new understanding of the human connection with nature inspired many artists to work with the theme. The metaphor of metamorphosis was used again and again in many media addressing how humans are intricately linked to the animal and plant kingdoms. Possibly with less philosophy, many artists worked from expedition notes from far flung lands previously unseen to most Europeans.

Art Nouveau is a complex and fascinating period in art history, especially with respects to nature and our place in it. In this short blog I am only scratching the surface of this rich story, but I recommend to anyone interested in environmental art to explore more.
Alphonse Muncha
Czech, 1860-1939
Master the poster, a new medium due to the ease of reproduction with new technology. Beautiful woman coupled with nature, especially floral motifs were one of Muncha's favorite subjects. 

Ernst Haeckel
German 1834-1919
Haeckel made many illustrations like this one of various types of flora and fauna. Haeckel was not only an artist, but also a biologist and naturalist. He described and named thousands of new species. Many of the species and their diversity were new to the people of Europe. Imagine the impact of seeing the diversity of a coral reef for the first time. 

Ernst Haeckel

Eugene Grasset
Swiss, 1845-1917
Grasset is another of the poster art masters. Here she looks to tenderly and carefully at the flower.  It is clear to see the new interest in the study of nature.

Rene Lalique
French, 1860-1945
One of the most famous Art Nouveau jewelry pieces. Nature and metamorphosis were common themes in jewelry of the time, a medium that was also exploring new technologies and techniques.

Tiffany Studios (1878-1933)
A staple in Art Nouveau decorative art or craft style glass lamps and windows. The Studio was imagined and founded by Louis Comfort Tiffany an American (1848-1933). Tiffany started his artistic life as a painter, but it was his interest in glassmaking that inspired him to found the studio art take his art to Europe.

William Morris
English, 1834-1896
This is a section of Morris wallpaper. Most of his designs relied on curvaceous floral patterns.
Antoni Gaudi
Spanish, 1852-1926
This is the interior of the Chapel in Park Guell. Gaudi's architecture often referred to natural shapes, at times curvaceous  lines and others, as seen here, the interior of a cave. His magnum opus, the Sagrada Familia is, although a bit later, also a good example of this.
Antoni Gaudi
Sagrada Familia
Emile Galle
French, 1846-1904
Galle was a glass master, using new techniques and creating beautiful functional art, often with  a  natural motif.

Emile Galle
Galle, proving that he has talent in multiple mediums.