Art Nouveau was an all encompassing style. It made it’s appearance not only in conventional displays of art, but in the external world as well. Buildings and products of all kinds also embodied the aesthetics of Art Nouveau.
The whiplash is one of the iconic motifs instantly recognisable in Art Nouveau. This elegant curvy stroke often seen in the locks of illustrated women in works by artists such as Alfons Mucha.
Inspired by natural forms and structures such as plants and flowers, the style has a very organic sense to it. This was also evident in the architecture of the time where there was a focus to harmonize structure and nature.
As Art Nouveau was a reaction against the “rigid” and “academic” art of the 19th century, it was only natural that counter-culture movements and mindsets were starting to unearth. One sign of this can be seen in the prevalence of female artists (which is uncommon) such as Margaret Macdonald Mackintosh. Even in the artworks, females are predominantly featured and on top of that, the manner in which they were depicted was a sign of the times. Lively, free and unabashed, woman appearing in works such as Jules Chéret’s posters further pushed for this societal shift.
With the law of posting in the streets being revoked, the artists flocked to this new “public gallery” of sorts and was possibly what helped these themes reach such a wide audience. A very peculiar shift, was also in the societal power-flip with the rich and poor. Being rich was seen as embarrassing due to the consensus that generational wealth was undeserved. Artists such as Lautrec who was from a wealthy family himself, split from his family who left the city away from this public disdain. On the other hand, the side of the city known for it’s poverty and unfavourable activities became a magnet for artists, such as Lautrec who often spent his time drawing the people there.
Something interesting to me are the fluctuating social trends that continue to this day. For example, wealthy families held high regard in the days prior to Art Nouveau. (Though William Morris, who wasn’t too pleased with his familial riches, was possibly a sign that different mindsets were afoot.) But when Art Nouveau went “out of style” wealth up to this point, regained it’s societal power. Perhaps, akin to William Morris, the movements of today which denote wealth (for one) as a sign of privilege also seem to ascribe a touch of depreciation for the disparity between those without such affluence.
In-style, out-of-style, many things don’t appear to have the staying power to last indefinitely from the popularity of the Japanese Ukiyo-e prints in European countries, to the liberation that women had along with Art Nouveau. These things have been seen to appear, fade away and re-surge from time to time in history. Be it the rush of popularity and the excitement of “something new” dying down or perhaps a state of permanence being unattainable, whatever the reason, there is something to learn from this Kafkaesque atmosphere that we live in.