Art Nouveau

The Art Nouveau period ran from about 1895 to 1915 and was dominated by the creations of Czech-born Alphonse Mucha, Emile Galle, Louis Tiffany, Rene Lalique, and the art of Aubrey Beardsley. When the most famous actress of the time, Sarah Bernhardt, was looking for artistic promotion for a play, she received the innovative work of Mucha, a commissioned illustrator for books, magazines and calendars. Thrilled by his work, Sarah Bernhardt gave him more projects from designing stage sets, to costumes and jewelry. His style was luxurious and indulgent, showing the curvaceous female form along with flowers and nature, hinting at the elegant sophistication of ancient Greece. The style caught on and was featured at the 1900 Paris Exposition Universelle. The style thereafter expanded to include furniture, ceramics, posters, textiles, metalwork, and glass. The fair inspired dancers, whose exotic works themselves inspired the designs of lamps and other decorations. 

It was Charles Darwin's Origin of the Species (1859) and the Descent of Man (1871) which became linked with the movement, rejoining man to nature as beautiful women combined in art with swans and flowers. Emile Galle, a botanist, used insects and flowers on his cameo glass. Rene Lalique did the same with his jewelry, while Louis Majorelle incorporated the movement into furniture and lamps. The most famous artist of the time was perhaps Toulouse-Lautrec who embodied the movement in his posters. Although the origins were perhaps a Czech artist living amongst Parisian artisans, the movement became worldwide, the most notable American proponent being Louis Tiffany, a pioneer in glass and pottery techniques. In Austria, Art Nouveau was known as the Secession style and became associated with Vienna artist, Gustav Klimt. In Germany, it was Jugendstil ("Youth Style"), and in Italy it was the Flower Style. Influences of Art Nouveau and colored posters of the period have continued down through the decades, including the hallucinogenic music poster art of the "Flower Power" 1960s.  


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