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Art Nouveau: The Break of the Century and the Artists That Made it Possible

The main Art Nouveau artists have versatility in common but also a keen desire to bring back nature and fantasy into everyday life.

Towards the end of the 19th century, the Industrial Revolution generated great controversy both in society and in the art world. A movement arose that sought to return to the essential, simplistic, and functional aesthetics.

Art Nouveau was seen as the rupture inscribed in the change of century (19th to 20th), as the “new” within the plastic arts. Within this movement, we find new techniques, expressions, and conceptions of society; at the same time, we have the rescue of the mystical-medieval past through the organic figures, inspired by certain engravings, paintings, and, in general, in the art of the Middle Ages.

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The characteristics that allow us to recognize Art Nouveau are, in general, the inspiration in nature, rounded intertwining forms, asymmetry, and the use of the curved line; the images are, in their majority, women with delicate and graceful attitudes.

Whether in drawings, engravings, posters, magazines, painting, and poetry; in models in iron, glass, bronze, or wood; architecture, poetry, and applied arts, the theme to be developed was the beauty of women: the voluptuousness of a dress, the flight of hair, the beauty of youth, and the whiteness of the skin. Flowers, ivy, butterflies, nature, clouds, and mystical animals symbolize women in a new ornamental aesthetic.

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The homogeneity of modernism provoked a kind of relationship between minor arts and major arts. The Greeks divided the arts into these two branches: The fine or “higher” arts were those that allowed the works to be enjoyed using superior senses such as sight and hearing, physical contact being unnecessary: architecture, sculpture, painting, music, poetry, and dance (today cinema is considered part of these major arts); the minor arts, which were those that impressed the senses -taste, smell, and touch- such as goldsmithing, ceramics, textiles, among others.

Although each regional version of Art Noveau has its own stamp and influence, the representatives of this movement have versatility in common; they are new humanists whose work encompassed more than one discipline.

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As part of this innovation towards a new art (as a concept, expression, and signification), the paradigms imposed by the different art academies are broken, and the freedom to express oneself in art is given. One of the main characteristics of this trend is that it adapts to the circumstances of modern life and is closely linked to industrial production, developing mainly in graphic design: posters, postcards, decorative panels, advertising, textile prints, and printing types.

Most Influential Art Nouveau Artists

Alphonse Mucha (1860-1939)

Czech by birth, he produced a large number of paintings, posters, advertisements, publicity, and illustrations, as well as designs for jewelry, carpets, wallpapers, and theatrical sets (lithographs). His works introduced beautiful young women in neoclassical attire.

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Aubrey Beardsley (1872-1989)

English painter and illustrator. His artistic line was similar to that of Mucha. Most of his work is ink paintings with mythological themes and caricatures. His production is characterized by large black areas in contrast with other white, as well as curves of Japanese engraving.

Théophile Alexandre Steinlen (1859-1923)

French-Swiss painter and lithographer. He collaborated especially for various magazines and books with illustrations such as Le vagabond, by Maupassant, among others. From 1885 he developed as an industrial poster artist, the best known being “Le Chat Noir.”

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Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec (1864-1901)

French painter and poster artist who was noted for his depiction of Parisian nightlife. His work is characterized by spontaneity and the ability to capture movement in his scenes and characters.

Gustav Klimt (1862-1918)

The Austrian painter and symbolist found in women one of his most recurrent sources of inspiration. His works often show an allegorical or symbolic approach that made them somehow more admissible to the public opinion of the Viennese bourgeoisie.

Koloman Moser (1868-1918)

The Austrian artist designed a wide range of artwork: books and graphics, as well as stamps and vignettes for magazines, in addition to stained glass, porcelain, ceramics, blown glass, tableware, silverware, and furniture.

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Story originally published in Cultura Colectiva News

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