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Art Nouveau Visual Art

Art Nouveau Visual Art

Author: Ian McConnell
This lesson will examine the characteristics of the aesthetic movement known as Art Nouveau or "The New Style".
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An overview of the Art Nouveau aesthetic in the visual arts.

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[MUSIC PLAYING] Hello, I'd like to welcome you to this episode of Exploring Art History win Ian. My name is Ian McConnell, and today's lesson is about Art Nouveau Visual Art. As you watch the video, feel free to pause, move forward, or rewind as often as you feel is necessary, and as soon as you're ready, we can begin.

Today's objectives are listed below. By the end of the lesson today, you should be able to identify and define today's key terms, describe the motivation behind the Art Nouveau movement, and identify examples of Art Nouveau artwork.

Key terms as always are listed in yellow throughout the lesson. First key term is Art Nouveau-- or Jugendstil, an international style of decorative art and architecture popular in the late 1800's and early 1900's Characterized by themes of plants and flowers and curving lines. Graphic Art-- art made on a two-dimensional or flat surface. Commercial Art-- art produced for the purpose of advertising a product.

The big idea for today is that the Art Nouveau aesthetic was in many ways a "return to nature." The traits of Art Nouveau were responses against the Industrial Revolution. And the artwork that we'll see today dates from between 1892 and 1908.

We'll be traveling to Menton, France, where Aubrey Beardsley died in 1898. Vienna, Austria, where Gustav Klimt was educated and worked. Prague in the Czech Republic where Alfonse Mucha died in 1939. And Paris, France, where Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec worked.

So Art Nouveau, or new art, is the French name for an international art style that saw its greatest popularity during the 1890s and very early 1900s. It was known as the Jugendstil in Germany, the secession in Vienna, or the Vienna Secession, and Modernismo in Spain.

Regardless of the name, the aesthetics of Art Nouveau were relatively consistent throughout Europe. With the emphasis on organic curving lines and shapes, themes of flowers, leaves, grass, and insects, and women with long flowing hair.

As I mentioned before, Art Nouveau was an international movement known as the secession in Vienna, Austria. The artist Gustav Klimt is perhaps the most important artist to emerge from this region during this time. He's one of the founding artists of the Vienna Secession as it was known, which was established to explore outside the boundaries of traditional academic art. Gustav's painting, "The Kiss", is an example of how artists like Klimt were pushing new boundaries.

Part of his golden period, or golden phase it was sometimes called due to his inclusion of gold leaf. It's thought to be inspired by the Byzantine mosaics of the Shenzhen and Ravenna in Italy. It's an interesting depiction of an intimate moment between two lovers, albeit in a rather uncomfortable looking posture. Klimt only exposes the heads, arms, hands, and lower legs in the case of the woman.

Everything else melds together in an exquisite blend of gold and pattern. Now his style is truly unique, but the design aesthetic of Art Nouveau is evident in the inclusion of flowers and elements of nature.

Art Nouveau shared many of the same philosophical beliefs as the Arts and Crafts movement of the same time period. And in fact, could be considered a derivative form of the Arts and Crafts philosophy. In so much as the stylistic aspects were very similar. There's an interest in functional objects, high quality artisanship, and the decorative arts.

Furthermore, there was an emphasis like the Arts and Crafts movement on functional objects and quality artisanship. Additional traits of the Art Nouveau style that were responses to the Industrial Revolution and how they were difficult to mass produce.

Now why was this important? Well mass produced items were considered ugly and a poor quality. And although related, the two movements were not the same thing. Art Nouveau really penetrated all areas of art, not just architecture and design. It took on newer forms of artistic expression, clean commercial art, and graphic art.

Alfonse Mucha was at the forefront of this new direction in artistic expression, and he produced numerous poster prints that were used in advertisements. Many of which service some of the best examples of the Art Nouveau design aesthetic.

Now this print from an advertisement for Gismonda, a Greek melodramatic play, is one of the first examples of this new form of artistic advertisement. The long flowing hair and organic motifs are classic examples of Art Nouveau design. In fact, it was Mucha's particular style, the emphasis on curvilinear organic lines and stylized woman's hair in tendrils that came to define much of the aesthetic of Art Nouveau.

Now the previous example essentially launched Mucha's career. He was commissioned to produce numerous advertisements such as this example of an advertisement for Job Cigarettes. The company's name almost seems like an afterthought. Partially hidden behind the figure of a beautiful woman whose hair really takes on a life of its own, defying gravity and cascading around her in mounds of curly, vegetative looking tendrils.

Now Mucha brilliantly avoids reducing his artform to a common advertisement, and quite the contrary. Instead he raises the advertisement to the realm of high art.

Now Aubrey Beardsley's "The Peacock Skirt" was an illustration for a work of literature by Oscar Wilde, the famous Irish author. Now it departs from the post-impressionist and impressionist emphasis on color, reducing the image to black and white and using the organic patterning and curvilinear lines to define the image rather than color.

It's importing sample of how Japanese illustrations were influencing the creation of new forms of artwork during this time period. An influence that can also be seen in the art of Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec.

So does this look familiar? Well if you've been following our lessons, you'll notice that this image has come up a few times the. The reason is because it serves as an example of the influence of Japanese artwork on post-impressionism as well as Art Nouveau, and how the line is often blurred between the two depending on the particular aspects of the work of art that are being emphasized. In terms of post-impressionism, it's an example of color exploration. But it definitely retains the illustrative line that exists in artwork classified as Art Nouveau, and also serves as another example of how commercial art-- like that of Alfonse Mucha-- had become an entirely new form of artistic expression.

Now this print in English is called the Queen of Joy, and it's actually an advertisement from book of the same name. It's depicting a scene from the book in which a Jewish banker is flirting with a well-known Parisian courtesan. Now the characters are reduced to simplified caricatures amidst a further simplification in overall complete reduction of background and ancillary elements to color and line in order to emphasize the important moment from the book being depicted.

So like Mucha, Toulouse-Lautrec had succeeded in elevating the advertisement to high art, yet maintains the functional aspect of the artwork which was to sell books. Clearly articulated in the large font, identifying the title and author just in case you were curious about what you were looking at.

So that brings us to the end of this lesson. Let's take a look at our objectives again to see if we met them. Now that you've seen the lesson, are you able to identify and define today's key terms? Can you describe the motivation behind the Art Nouveau movement? Can you identify examples of Art Nouveau artwork?

And once again, the big idea for today is that Art Nouveau aesthetic was in many ways a "return to nature." Traits of Art Nouveau were responses against the Industrial Revolution. And that's it. Thank you very much for joining me today. I'll see you next time.

Notes on "Art Nouveau Visual Art"

Key Terms

Art Nouveau

Or Jugendstil, an international style of decorative art and architecture popular in the late 1800's and early 1900's characterized by themes of plants and flowers and curving lines.

Graphic Art

Art made on a two-dimensional or flat surface.

Commercial Art

Art produced for the purpose of advertising a product.


The Kiss; Public Domain: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Gustav_Klimt_016.jpg    Gismonda; Public Domain (PD-1923): http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Alfons_Mucha_-_1894_-_Gismonda.jpg    Job Cigarettes; Public Domain (PD-1923): http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Alphonse_Mucha_-_Job_Cigarettes_1.jpg    Peacock Skirt; Public Domain: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Beardsley-peacockskirt.PNG    Reine de Joie; Public Domain: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Lautrec_reine_de_joie_%28poster%29_1892.jpg