Our second design series posting focuses on one of our favorite (albeit very brief) design eras, 1890-1910, when Art Nouveau was all the rage. One of our favorite artists from the era is Charles Rennie MacIntosh. In the United Kingdom, he was leading the Arts and Crafts movement where he incorporated some of the Art Nouveau ideals to create the “Glasgow Style”.
His furniture and architectural designs maintained the simple lines of the Arts and Crafts movement. He experimented by elongating forms to accentuate an aspect of a window or of a piece of furniture (as seen in this chair). His influence also appears in the American Craftsman.
Art Nouveau took its design cues from nature. Using purely organic lines, artists tried to emulate nature as much as possible to some extraordinary ends, like this settee. Famed Spanish architect Antoni Gaudi created buildings with as few straight lines as possible (try to imagine a building with no straight walls).
A few decades earlier, Japan had finally opened its borders to the west after years of fierce isolation. By the turn of the century, anything and everything Japanese was wildly popular. Known as Japonism or Japonesque, the Japanese design aesthetic became extremely influential in art and furniture.
Japanese ideals of transient, natural grace and beauty were embraced by artists in this era. Nowhere were the Japanese ideals (wabi, sabi, and yūgen) more evident than in the Art Nouveau movement.
As we mentioned in the previous post, Aubrey Beardsley brought this aesthetic to his illustrations. Gustav Klimt, too, was influential in the movement. He created mosaic friezes for the Stoclet Palace in Belgium, a pinnacle of Art Nouveau-inspired architecture.
Artists like Rene Lalique and Louis Comfort Tiffany created iconic glass and jewelry with natural themes. (Think of every colored glass dragonfly lamp you have ever seen—it was inspired by Tiffany!)
The Art Nouveau movement overlapped entirely with the American Craftsman style. If you are familiar with what we call Craftsman here in the US, you will notice some stylistic similarities between it and Charles Rennie MacIntosh's Glasgow Style. While Art Nouveau was arguably more prominent in the UK, the Craftsman style was (and still is!) very popular here in the US. More on the American Craftsman style in the next post!