Art Nouveau: Europe

Art Nouveau: Europe – Applicable Arts and Crafts

As the Arts and Craft movement was struggling to catch on in America, Art Nouveau was developing in Europe, most notably in France and Belgium. While Art Nouveau shares the same values of naturalistic forms and functional design as the Arts and Crafts movement, Art Nouveau embraces the machine to make design affordable. It’s forms are typically associated with swirling linear styles in posters, furniture, and applied decoration in nineteenth century Europe, but can also be seen in a variety of architecture (Raizman, 80).

At the time of Morris death in 1896, Henry van de Velde was applying his ideas of craftsmanship and function to help create Art Nouveau. On one hand van de Velde agreed that every element of a design should be functional, on the other hand he often argued that well supervised mass production could make design more accessible (Gorman, 47). This approach helped Art Nouveau bridge the gap between the old man-made century and the new century of technology.

In Hector Guimard’s entranceways to the then, new metro system in Paris, plant forms like tendrils and flowers in cast iron were used to create a dramatic feeling. His concept draws upon Arts and Crafts reference to nature but makes it modern through the use of cast iron. Depending on the angle of view, the ornamentation takes on a new meaning. This is a key element of Art Nouveau, every line has a meaning instead of being strict ornamentation (Taschen, 22).

This can also be seen in van de Velde’s kidney bean inspired desk. The form of the desk fits an owner’s outstretched arms and spread out work while using a candlestick holder for light. The shelves are continuous off set lines which help create the overall effect of the kidney bean, thus again the ornamentation is helping to create the desk (Taschen, 23).

In Scotland Charles Mackintosh designed interiors that took advantage of prefabrication.

While he believed in industries, he also believed it was the responsibility of the designer to use the products in inventive ways (Raizman, 91). In the Library of the Glasgow School of Art Mackintosh used constructed vertical and horizontal beams to create the rhythms of Celtic art, floral, and vegetable forms (Raizman, 91).This can also be seen in van de Velde’s kidney bean inspired desk. The form of the desk fits an owner’s outstretched arms and spread out work while using a candlestick holder for light. The shelves are continuous off set lines which help create the overall effect of the kidney bean, thus again the ornamentation is helping to create the desk (Taschen, 23).

Since Art Nouveau was predominately targeted at the middle class, inexpensive poster designs were created to advertise entertainment. Instead of the traditional form of a poster, which had a picture in the middle with text at the bottom or top, Art Nouveau posters were massive in scale and integrated the text with the picture. In Manuel Orazio’s poster for Loie Fuller he incorporates a naked women covered in sheer fabric and flowers (Raizman, 88). This portrays a theme of metamorphosis and also relates back to Art Nouveau reference to naturalistic forms.

Art Nouveau began with a specific idea and evolved into many applications. Art Nouveau designs will continue to be used in the nineteenth century, from Antoni Gaudi to Victor Horta. While expressive transformation of nature can be seen through out, the movement was overall heterogeneous (Raizman,, 91). Through the different applications do you thing Art Nouveau successfully carried out its goal of simplifying forms (often through nature) but using mass production? Did the influence of technology create ornamentation again? In what ways today do we depend upon technology to “decorate” our buildings? Is it successful or do we need to once again draw upon history with man made craftsmanship?

(Verlag, Benedikt T. Art Nouveau. Hohenzollernright: Tashen, 2007. Print.)