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Art Nouveau
(c. 1890 - c. 1910)

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Art Nouveau, traces of which are discernible in the art of the Pre-Raphaelites and even in that of the 18th-century visionary poet William Blake, grew out of tenets consolidated by the Arts and Crafts Movement founded by William Morris in 1861. In the face of increasing mass-production, and the shoddiness of design and workmanship that inevitably ensued, the Arts and Crafts Movement sought to revive good design and honest handcraftsmanship. Taking up and elaborating the tenets of the Arts and Crafts Movement, Art Nouveau also sought to create a completely new style that, by contrast to the eclectic historicism of the Victorian era, made no references to the styles of the past.

The term Art Nouveau is derived from La Maison de l'Art Nouveau, a shop opened by the dealer Siegfried Bing in Paris in 1896.  Somewhat rooted in the British Arts and Crafts Movement of William Morris, Art Nouveau became popular across Europe and in the United States. Art Nouveau remained popular until about the time of World War I, and was ultimately replaced by the Art Deco style. 

Art Nouveau is characterized by long curving lines based on sinuous plant forms, and an element of fantasy. It was primarily a decorative style and as such was used particularly effectively in metalwork, jewellery, and glassware, and in book illustration, where the influence of Japanese prints is often evident. 

Belgium 1962. Art Nouveau. The Horta Museum.

Art Nouveau first appeared in Belgium in the work of the architect Victor Horta; his designs for townhouses featured elegantly twining wrought-iron staircases, balconies, and gates. It was also fashionable in interior décor, notably at Maxim's Restaurant in Paris.  In Germany Art Nouveau was known as "Jugendstil" ("youth style"), and in Austria as Sezessionstil ("secession style"). It permeated applied art and magazine illustration and reached a peak in the paintings of Gustav Klimt (1862-1918) and the furniture and architectural designs of Josef Hoffmann.  

Belgium 1997. Art Nouveau. Souvnir sheet. The Horta Museum.

In France, the style was most evident in the work of the architect Hector Guimard particularly the exotic Parisian Metro subway entrances, 1898-1901. Other than jewelry (see below), he designed also a number of the entrances to the Parisian metro-stations, of which now only the entry to the station Porte Dauphine is the only surviving sample. Guimard, born in Lyon 10th March 1867 - died in New York 20th May 1942) was an architect, who is widely considered today to be the most prominent representative of artists and architects who worked in the Art Nouveau style in France at the end of the nineteenth and beginning of the twentieth centuries. 

France 1999.  Entrance to the Parisian Metro by Hector Guimard. 

Within the international context of Art Nouveau, Guimard appears as an isolated sniper: he leaves no disciple behind him, nor any school, and this explains why history was for a long time tempted to regard him as a secondary player in this movement – an absence of posterity which contrasts with the extraordinary formal and typological profusion of his architectural and decorative work, where the architect gave the best of himself in a relatively short fifteen years of amazing creative activity. 

  • France 1999.  Entrance to the Parisian Metro by Hector Guimard. 

Other French Art Nouveau artists were the glassmaker Émile Gallé, the furniture designer Louis Majorelle, the ceramist Dalpayrat, see the below set of four. The stamp on the far right is jewelry designed by Guimard.  
 
France 1994. Art Nouveau. Stamp #1. Vase by Emile Gallé. France 1994. Art Nouveau. Stamp #2. Side table by the furniture designer Louis Majorelle. France 1994. Art Nouveau. Stamp #3. Teapot by the ceramist Dalpayrat. France 1994. Art Nouveau. Stamp #4. Jewellery by the architect Hector Guimard.

An excellent example of Art Nouveau is seen in the famous Pont Alexandre III in Paris that spans the River Seine and connects the Champs-Elysées quarter and the Invalides and Eiffel Tower quarter. The bridge, with its exuberant Art Nouveau lamps, cherubs, nymphs, and winged horses at either end, was built between 1896 and 1900. It was named after Czar Alexander III of Russia, (father of Czar Nicholas II, who was murdered with his family in 1918 in Jekaterinburg by the Bolsheviks). It was Nicholas II who laid the foundation stone in October 1896. The style of the bridge reflects that of the Grand Palais, to which it leads on the right bank of the Seine. 
 
The construction of the bridge is a marvel of 19th century engineering, consisting of a 6m high single span steel arch. The design was subject to strict controls that prevented the bridge from obscuring the view of the Champs-Elysées or the Invalides. .

The bridge was built by the engineers Résal and Alby and inaugurated in 1900 for the Universal Exhibition. Classified as historical monument, four gold-covered bronze statues hover over the bridge, on the top of 17 meter columns, representing "Renommées" standing close to the winged horse Pegasus. 

  • France 1949. Air Post. Pont Alexandre III, Paris. 

France 1949. Air Post. Art Nouveau. Pont Alexandre III, Paris.  

Germany 1977. Art Nouveau. Souvenir Sheet with  1)  A flower ornament,  2)  a woman's head with helmet,  3) an ornamented chair.

In Germany the style became prevalent for a long period that began in 1902. This souvenir sheet was issued in 1977 by the German Federal Republic, in commemoration of the 75th anniversary of Art Nouveau in Germany. 

The stamps show:

  • a flower ornament

  • a woman's head with helmet

  • an ornamented chair 

My home country, Denmark, has produced two world famous artists from this period:  the architect and designer Thorvald Bindesbøll, and the world famous silver smith Georg Jensen.  

Thorvald Bindesboell (1846-1908) was the son of the Danish architect Gottlieb Bindesboell, whose most famous building was the building dedicated to the Danish sculptor, Bertel Thorvaldsen, Thorvaldsen's Museum in Copenhagen.  

Denmark. Art Nouveau. Carlsberg Logo by Thorvald Bindesbøll.

His son, Thorvald's, greatest achievements lay in ceramic decorations, of which two are represented on stamps.  

His most famous design, however, was to be known world wide as the Carlsberg-logo, applied to bottles, tins, parasols, ashtrays etc. on restaurants, cafés and bars all over the world. 

Denmark 1996. Art Nouveau. Vase by Thorvald Bindesbøll. Denmark 1996. Art Nouveau. Design by Thorvald Bindesbøll.  Art Nouveau. Contemporary Danish beer bottles with labels and logo by Thorvald Bindesbøll.

The Danish silver smith Georg Jensen (1866-1935) qualified in 1884 as a silver smith, but was educated as a sculptor at the Danish Academy of Fine Arts 1887-1892.  In 1904 he started his business, that should later be acknowledged world wide as one of the finest of its kind, by producing jewellery, cutlery and corpus-ware of his own design.  He was awarded The Gold Medal at the world exhibition in Brussels in 1910, and since this moment his fame continued, and sales rooms have been established in all major cities of the world from London, over New York, Los Angeles, and Tokyo.  The main office, though, is still in Copenhagen.

Denmark 1966. Art Nouveau. Commemorative stamp for the silversmith Georg Jensen's birth centenary. Denmark 1997. Art Nouveau. Silver bowl designed by Georg Jensen.

 

In Spain, Art Nouveau had perhaps its most original practitioner in Antoni Gaudí; his highly idiosyncratic Güell Park and Casa Milá Apartment House in Barcelona have no straight lines and give the impression of being natural organisms that have sprung from the earth.  

Read more about Gaudi here, and his famous Parque Güell in Barcelona, that has been declared World Heritage by UNESCO.  

  • Spain 1975.  Antoni Gaudi

Spain 1975. Antoni Gaudi. Art Nouveau. Gaudi's portrait.

Among the earliest examples of Art Nouveau are the fabric designs sold by Arthur Liberty in his famous London shop (founded 1875) and the illustrations of Aubrey Beardsley - particularly those for the periodical The Yellow Book (1894) and for Salomé (1894) by the English writer Oscar Wilde - carried English Art Nouveau to its height. 

By 1910 Art Nouveau was in decline and did not outlive World War I, being succeeded by the sleekly elegant Art Deco style.  It had never been a widespread style, since the best works were costly and unsuited to mass manufacture, but the style was rediscovered in the middle of the 20th century, with exhibitions held in Zurich in 1952, London in 1952-1953, and New York in 1960. Art Nouveau was a pivotal development in the history of art, particularly in architecture. By rejecting conventional style and redefining the relationship of art to industry, its practitioners helped prepare the way for the advent of modern art and architecture. 

Sources and links: 

Below is a listing of leading artists (not necessarily represented on stamps) from the Art Nouveau period.  Those marked with an asterisk are represented on this page.  

  • Aubrey Beardsley (British illustrator) 

  • Felix Bracquemond (French engraver)

  • Thorv. Bindesboell (Danish architect and designer) *

  • Fernand Dalpayrat (French Glass Maker) * 

  • Georges De Feure (Dutch painter) 

  • Emile Gallé (French Glass Maker) *

  • Antoni Gaudi (Spanish architect) 

  • Hector Guimard (French architect) *

  • Ferdinand Hodler (Swiss painter)

  • Victor Horta (Belgian archtect) *

  • Georg Jensen (Danish Silver Smith) *

  • Gustav Klimt (Austrian painter) 

  • Georges Lemmen (Belgian painter) 

  • Lucien Lévy-Dhurmer (French painter)

  • Aristide Maillol (French sculptor) 

  • Louis Majorelle (French furniture designer) *

  • Alfons Mucha (Czech painter) (not shown for copyright reasons)

  • Giovanni Segantini (Italian painter) 

  • Theophile Alexandre Steinlen (Swiss/French painter)

  • Louis Comfort Tiffany.(American Stained Glass artist) 

  • Johan Thoorn Prikker (Dutch illustrator)

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Revised 14-sep-2006. Ann Mette Heindorff
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