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Art Nouveau

The term Art Nouveau describes a movement in art, design and architecture that flourished in both Europe and America between 1890 and 1910. Drawing inspiration from the natural world, the style is characterised by swirling lines and curvaceous organic forms set within an eccentric geometry. The movement was a natural progression of two previous styles, both of which rebelled against the effects of mass production in the industrial age: The Arts and Crafts movement, which elevated the status of the decorative arts and craftsmanship, and the Aesthetic movement, which promoted ‘art for art’s sake’. An additional influence was that of Japonisme – a craze for Japanese art and design – as Japanese prints and artefacts flooded the Western market following government trade agreements in the 1860s. Japanese shunga (erotic prints) were particularly influential, feeding an increasing appetite for risqué and explicit imagery that was fuelled by the recent invention of photography and a growing market for pornographic imagery. Sensuality is an important part of the Art Nouveau style and artists made the most of a general relaxation of moral attitudes across Europe, often pushing at the boundaries of the risqué and the explicit.
The term ‘Art Nouveau’ was first used in a Belgian art journal in the 1880s to describe the work of ‘Les Vingt’, a group of 20 artists seeking reform through art. Inspired by the teachings of William Morris with the Arts and Crafts movement, and by the work of leading 19th art theorists such as John Ruskin, who promoted unity across the ‘high’ and decorative arts, the group reflected a growing artistic trend throughout Europe and America. The opening of the Parisian gallery L’Art Nouveau in 1895 by an influential art dealer, which solely exhibited and traded in this exciting contemporary style, increased public appetite and established the French capital as a centre for the movement. The 1900 Exposition Universelle, which also occurred in Paris and celebrated the achievements of the last century and the creative and technological developments to come, brought the Art Nouveau style to a much wider public audience, helping to disseminate the movement across Europe.
Regional variations of the movement are known by different names. In Glasgow, Charles Rennie Mackintosh helmed the British Art Nouveau movement and it is often referred to as the Glasgow Style, or Modern Style. In Austria-Hungary it was described by the Secession, in Spain, Modernismo or Modernisme (Catalan), in Portugal, Arte Nova, in Scandinavia, Jugendstil, and there are further regional examples and titles besides.  
Key Figure: Antoni Gaudí
Antoni Gaudí (1852-1926) was a Catalan architect and one of the most significant designers in Spanish history. Although he is considered to be the leader of the Modernisme movement, his work was so innovative that it frequently pushed against the boundaries of what the style was understood to be. Gaudí’s work is characterised by an imaginative use of organic forms inspired by the natural world, a high attention to detail and craftsmanship, colour, exuberance, and an advanced understanding of structure. His magnum opus is, of course, Barcelona’s Sagrada Família, work on the construction of which continues to this day, but Gaudí’s wider legacy throughout Spain is rich and varied. Among a host of other Art Nouveau gems, Gaudi’s unmatched style can be seen in La Seu, Palma’s historic cathedral, where his later additions include an enormous golden crown of thorns suspended above the altar.
Key Location: Villa Majorelle
Located in Nancy, the Villa Majorelle was designed and built by the architect Henri Sauvage between 1901-1902 and was one of the first, and most influential, examples of the Art Nouveau architectural style in France. It was commissioned by the furniture designer Louis Majorelle and served as both his home and studio, showcasing his own work as well as that of his contemporaries working in the Art Nouveau style. Externally, the building features much glorious decorative detailing, including swirling balconies, inlaid ceramic tiling and curling, vegetal metalwork. Internally, many original details survive, conveying the elegance and exuberance of the Art Nouveau style. Experience the harmonious vision of architect and client in real life on our study tour to Nancy.
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