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No. 7, June 2000
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Louis Majorelle, cabinet. Walnut and oak veneered, enriched with marquetry  of various woods, wrought iron. French, 1900. Photograph copyright: exhibition catalogue V&A.
 

 

 
Art Nouveau 1890-1914
History and exhibitions

 
Art Nouveau 1890-1914, Victoria & Albert Museum, London, until July 30, 2000
 
What is Art Nouveau? A consciously mystical and illogical continuation of the Romantic tradition? "A logical opposition with a rationalist foundation", firmly rooted in the scientific achievements of the nineteenth century? A concrete expression of social science? A turning inward - materially and psychologically - of a decadent and capital driven bourgeoisie? A style centrally concerned with public life? A government-based, pragmatic money making strategy? A non-conformist artistic revolt intent on "defeating the establishment order"? An idealistic crusade, composed of a number of international styles? A movement by artists and their institutional sponsors who shared a contemporary nationalist ideal? There are a lot of often contradictory definitions of Art Nouveau, which are reflections of its multiple facets.
 
In a major exhibition, the Victoria and Albert Museum in London (V&A) celebrates Art Nouveau and, therefore, unites many disparate objects from museums and private collections from Europe and the USA, which at their time cohered into a style which became, despite contemporary rivals, the style of the age. At the V&A exhibition, Art Nouveau stands for: "a style in the visual arts that was a powerful presence in Europe and North America from the early 1890s until the First World War. The style emerged from the intense activity of a collection of movements, manufacturers, public institutions, publishing houses, individual artists, entrepreneurs and patrons, located all over the urban, industrial world. It existed in all genres, but the decorative arts were centrally responsible for its inventions and its fullest expression." The key motivation was modernity in the arts as a recognition and expression of a technically, economically and politically changing world. The German Art Nouveau intellectual Julius Meier-Graefe stated that "if the uses of art change, art itself must change." One aspect was the equality among the arts and their orchestration into unified ensembles: Gesamtkunstwerk was the keyword (a term first applied in the fin-de-siècle context to the music of Richard Wagner).
 
One of the first representatives of the Art Nouveau style was German-born French entrepreneur Siegfried Bing who opened a gallery and shop in Paris in 1895. The gallery L'Art Nouveau subsequently expanded to include workshops and ateliers. Hermann Obrist in Germany, Charles Rennie Mackintosh in Scotland, Emile Gallé in France and Louis Comfort Tiffany in the United States are a few other early names of the style, which, in its second phase from 1895 to 1900, spread to many urban centers in Europe and North America.
 
The V&A exhibition and its catalogue not only deals with the creation and meaning of Art Nouveau (e.g. the cult of nature and the relation between Orient and Occident), but also the materials of invention (e.g. new textiles and ceramics) and the different centers and their designers (e.g. Victor Horta and Brussels, Secession and Jugendstil in Munich). An exhibition not to miss, which includes painting, sculpture, jewelry, furniture, vases and other decorative objects as well as a look at architecture.
 
1900: Art at the crossroad. Royal Academy of Art, London, until April 2000. Catalogue edited by Robert Rosenblum, Mary-Anne Stevens and Ann Dumas, Royal Academy of Arts editions, 448 p.
 
The exhibition was centered on painting and sculpture. Objects from all styles, schools and nationalities of the year 1900 were represented (Europe, Russia, USA and Australia). At the same time a limited topic since nothing from 1890 or 1910 was included and a large show since not only Art Nouveau was on display. The show was divided in topical parts such as historical paintings, nudes, portraits, landscapes, etc. Within these categories, a large variety of schools were presented, such as the post-impressionists and the realists, Munch and Klimt, Maillol and Cézanne, Gauguin and Matisse, Liebermann and Von Stuck, Hodler and Nolde, young artists at the beginning of their career such as Kandinsky and Mondrian. The industrial society and the birth of the culture of the masses was one of their central subjects. 
 
Grand Palais, Paris. Exhibition: 1900, until June 26, 2000. Catalogue: 1900, ouvrage collectif sous la direction de Philippe Thiébaut, avec des contributions sur l'histoire, la science, l'architecture, la sculpture et la photographie, Editions RMN, 400 p.
 
Built for the Universal Exhibition of 1900, the stone, glass and steel architecture of the Grand Palais is the natural place to show the exhibition centered on Art Nouveau. All other artistic movements of 1900 are excluded from the show which presents, in contrast to the Royal Academy of Art, not only painting and sculpture, but also the applied arts, jewelery, illustrated books and, as an important part, architecture. Grouped around themes such as "modernity and tradition" and "the unity of the arts", the organizers tried to show a coherent image of Art Nouveau, excluding everything that does not fit into their definition. Important foreign Art Nouveau centers and nations are neglected or even ignored completely.
 
In 1900, Paris wanted to blend the world and the Art Nouveau building of the Grand Palais was one of the means to do so. At the turn of the century, architects, decorators, painters, sculptors and others were in search of a new art. Based on national, re-actualized and often rural traditions of arts and crafts, a new vision of art, architecture and design was to be born. A return to nature and its bio-morphological forms was one of the results. That's the essence of the Art Nouveau-definition at the Paris exhibition.

www.cosmopolis.ch
No. 7, June 2000
current edition & archives
Art  Film  Music  History  Politics  Archives
Links  For Advertisers  Feedback  German edition  Travel

Copyright 2000  www.cosmopolis.ch  Louis Gerber  All rights reserved.