The main image that caught my attention during the lecture was Gismonda, by Alphonse Mucha, an artwork of the Art Nouveau period.
Poster for ’Gismonda’ (1894)
Art Nouveau, that lasted from 1890 to 1914, is an artistic movement that was practised in many fields of art, such as architecture and graphic design. The term “Art Nouveau” is the French term for “new art”, and the Art Nouveau movement is the first time that design had been promoted through mass communication.
When I first think of Art Nouveau, works like that of Alphonse Mucha’s come to mind instantly. Not knowing much about the history of Art Nouveau in Graphic Design, I was highly intrigued to learn that within the art movement, there had been many different variations of Graphic Design created, all over Europe, and that it had developed greatly over time.
The many styles looked rather different despite being in the same movement but had similar properties that stemmed from the art style that influenced them. Many of the artworks created during the movement had flat planes or were two dimensional, with an undulating asymmetrical line, that usually was elegant and graceful or infused with a powerfully rhythmic and whiplike force. This was strong violent curve was also referenced by the term “whiplash”.
These graphic art that had many organic and plant motifs were so heavily ornate that it was not desirable for text faces but great for display work. Thus, it had been more popular in poster printing and book production.
Learning that Art Nouveau developed from the Japanese art style Ukiyo-e, took me by surprise. I had never expected a connection between an Asian Art style and Art Nouveau, that felt highly westernized, but I soon saw some resemblance between the two styles. I had always thought Art Nouveau appeared rather comic-like and understanding its influence gave me some potential rationale to this connection. I think it was amazing that from an art style all the way from another continent, an array of styles all under Art Nouveau had been born.
It had been due to the Western culture beginning to exchange information and ideas through world trade, in which the start of Nouveau began. Famous makers of Art Nouveau objects were selling their ideas through magazines, journals, trade fairs, exhibitions, and they saw themselves as part of this larger world. Art Nouveau was the first style to sell itself and to be conscious of itself. At the beginning of 1890s, many artists reached out beyond their own countries for inspiration. Japonism was also a prominent trend then and thus had a strong influence on the artists.
Poster for ‘Job’ cigarette paper (1896)
Nevertheless, of all the different artists, I still liked Alphonse Mucha’s works the most. The bold lines and curves drawn, along with the colours used had caught my attention the most. I also really like his Poster for ‘Job’ cigarette paper. The sensual expression and flowy hair established the iconic image of the ‘Mucha woman’. His posters focused almost entirely on beautiful women in lavish settings with their hair usually curling in arabesque forms and filling the frame. Frankly, they were rather alluring and captivating.
The Seasons (series) (1896)
It was also very funny reading that Alphonse Mucha disliked being known as an Art Nouveau artist since he was one of the most well-known artists under Art Nouveau. Alphonse Mucha had apparently never wanted to associate himself with this newly born art movement, and he only wanted to communicate a spiritual message, insisting his paintings were entirely a product of his own imagination and Czech art. He even expressed his rage and frustration because of all the rapid fame he gained throughout his art. Thus, learning his name under Art Nouveau and hearing him known for his “Art Nouveau” works is absolutely hilarious.
All in all, I like his Gismonda work for Sarah Bernhardt the most. It was said to have the beauty and dignity of her personality onstage rather than representing her realistic features or the story. While his other works are more fluid and alluring, I think it was mainly the story of how this artwork had propelled him to fame that also fueled my love for it. The chances of him being the only one available to do the commission were odd, and for him to gain such fame overnight was truly a blessing in itself. The elegance of the work truly shined through.