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Art Nouveau is an international philosophy and style of art, architecture and applied art - especially the decorative arts - that were most popular during the late 1800s - beginning 20th-century, when many European artists, graphic designers, and architects rebelled against formal, classical approaches to design of the 19th century. They believed that the greatest beauty could be found in nature.
The style was influenced strongly by Czech artist Alphonse Mucha, when Mucha produced a lithographed poster, which appeared on 1 January 1895 in the streets of Paris as an advertisement for the play Gismonda by Victorien Sardou, featuring Sarah Bernhardt. It popularized the new artistic style and its creator to the citizens of Paris. Initially named Style Mucha, (Mucha Style), the style was popularized by the famous Maison de l'Art Nouveau, a Paris art gallery for interior decoration opened and operated by Samuel Bing in 1896. The fame of Bing's gallery was increased at the 1900 Exposition Universelle, where he presented coordinated - in design and color - installations of modern furniture, tapestries and "objets d'art". These decorative displays became so strongly associated with the style that the name of his gallery subsequently provided a commonly used term for the entire style.
Art Nouveau art and architecture flourished in major European cities between 1890 and 1914. As it moved through Europe, Art Nouveau went through several phases and took on a variety of names: Style Moderne and Style Nouille in France, Jugendstil in Germany, Sezession in Austria, Stile Liberty and Italy Floreale in Italy, Arte Noven in Spain, etc. Art Nouveau was a concerted attempt to create an international style based on decoration.
It was developed by a brilliant and energetic generation of artists and designers, who sought to fashion an art form appropriate to the modern age. During this extraordinary time old customs, habits, and artistic styles sat alongside new, combining a wide range of contradictory images and ideas. Many artists, designers, and architects were excited by new technologies and lifestyles, while others retreated into the past, embracing spiritual and fantasy world.
Art Nouveau jewelry is characterized by soft, curved shapes and sinuous, free-flowing lines, and usually featured natural designs, such as poppies, orchids, irises, water lilies, birds, dragonflies, lizards, butterflies, snakes. Organic motifs were not rendered realistically, but rather in a more stylized manner characteristic of the Asian arts. The world had become more familiar with Asian design from the international exhibitions of the latter nineteenth century. The representation of a female head with long flowing hair is prevalent in Art Nouveau jewelry as well as dancers, nymphs, mermaids. It was also an important motif of the concurrent Symbolist movement in literature and painting, which used images to present ideas.
The aesthetics of design were considered more important than the intrinsic value of the materials. Accordingly, semi-precious stones like pearls, amethyst, citrine, peridot, agate, garnet, especially mythical near-colorless translucent stones like moonstone and opal, were widely used in Art Nouveau jewelry preferring cabochons rather than faceted stones. Besides, non-traditional jewelry materials that were popular during this period; they included horn, bone, copper, shell, ivory, and carved glass.
Emphasis on the designer as artist motivated the use of beautiful enameling techniques in jewelry, such as cloisonne (in which gold wire forms partitions into which the enamel is poured); champleve (in which the enamel fills recesses cut out from the background metal; basse-taille (in which an engraved design in the metal is covered with, but still visible through, a transparent enamel); and plique-a-jour (in which the backing metal is removed from the translucent enamel after firing, resulting in a stained glass effect).
Among Art Nouveau leading jewelers in France were Rene Lalique, Maison Vever, George Fouquet and Lucien Gaillard; in Belgium Philippe Wolfers and in Vienna Josef Hoffman. In England the leaders were Charles R.Ashbee, Henry Wilson, Archibald Knox, Oliver Baker, Jessie King, Kate Fischer and John Paul Cooper; in the USA - Louis Comfort Tiffany, Georges Fouquet, Lucien Gaillard, Eugene Feuillarte, Henri and Paul Vever; in Germany - Van der Velde and Hermann Muthesius and in Scotland Charles Rennie Mackintosh.
Links to some Art Nouveau artsts' websites:
Gustav Klimt (1862-1918)
Aubrey Beardsley (1872-1898)
Alphonse Mucha (1860-1939)
Antoni Gaudi (1852-1926)
Egon Schiele (1890-1918)
Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec (1864-1901)
Rene Lalique (1860-1945)
Emile Galle (1846-1904)
Louis Comfort Tiffany (1848-1933)