Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Nouveau to Deco

Alphonse Mucha Job 1897 (Art Nouveau)

A comparison between Art Nouveau and Art Deco came to mind as a topic of great interest to those of us who deal in the decorative arts. Although I claim no professional knowledge of the topic, I do understand a little bit of the history between the two.Antoni Gaudi, Casa Batllo, Barcelona, 1904-06 (Art Nouveau)

Art Nouveau is a style that was once considered avant garde and ground breaking. Traditional artists and craftsman shunned the flowing lines and whiplashes of this new art. Yet with proponents like Bing, Sarah Bernhardt, and Toulouse Lautrec, Art Nouveau found a voice, particularly at the 1900 Exposition Universelle.

The years between 1895 and 1910 saw an explosion of Art Nouveau work and proved the movement to be a reckoning force. The short time span is what makes Art Nouveau furniture, jewelry, and art work so valuable – It was only made for a specific time period, one that barely spanned a decade.

So, what exactly is Art Nouveau? Well, it’s a romantic style full of grace. Motifs include beautiful women with flowing hair, a strong tendency toward natural elements, and a distinct lack of symmetry. Excluding the gorgeous women (don’t we all wish we were so alluring), most portrayals of nature were realistic. Beauty was of utmost importance.
Cover, Harper's Bazaar, by Erte December 1929 (Art Deco)

Just as Art Nouveau was a reaction against the strict regime of traditional styles, Art Deco was the antidote for the freeflowing lines of its predecessor. Beginning in the 20’s, this style dominated the decorative arts for over two decades. In 1925, Art Deco work was the norm at the International Exposition of Modern Industrial and Decorative Art held in Paris.

Art Deco is in so many ways the geometric arch rival to Art Nouveau. Both were new and refreshing during their “reign”. Where Art Nouveau is curvaceous, Art Deco is linear. Shapes and straight lines dominant the palate. Its sophistication is portrayed through simple lines and stylized natural motifs, in exact opposition to the realistic approach of Art Nouveau.Silvered bronze bookends
by Maurice Guiraud -Riviera (Art Deco)

Please feel free to comment on your favorite style or to add to this short little history. In no way do I consider myself a scholar, so corrections and additions will be met with sincere interest.