Art Nouveau is a movement
that made a conscious effort to break with the past and
to establish a completely new style of its own. It developed
in the 1880s and was popular until World War II. Like Arts
and Crafts, it focused particularly on the decorative
arts and a desire to elevate them from mere craft to a
fine art. Unlike Arts and Crafts, however, which focused
on simplicity and honesty of form, Art Nouveau was a sophisticated
and mannered style, an amalgamation of a variety of influences.
The Romance of Zion Chapel
(John Lane, 1898)
It is somewhat difficult
to ascertain a single starting point for the movement.
The term "Art Nouveau" itself was first coined
in the Review L'Art Modern in 1881, though the writers
applied it more generally than its later definition. Different
countries grasped on to the "new art" idea and
its rejection of historicism and academicism, though they
chose their own versions of the label: Jugenstil, Art Joven,
Style Liberty, Secession. Because of the differences, some
argue that it is easiest to evaluate the style from a nationalistic
perspective rather than as a unified movement, though there
was certainly a great deal of cross influence.
There were many talented
artists who embraced the style. In America, Louis
Comfort Tiffany and his studio created elegant Art
Nouveau forms in glass, jewelry and interior design. Louis
Sullivan embellished his architectural work with extravagant
geometrically based organic forms. Will Bradley
spread Art Nouveau style in the graphic arts, influenced
strongly by British illustrator Aubrey Beardsley.
The Quest of the Golden Girl
(John Lane, 1898)
Art Nouveau style centered
primarily on an exploration of organic form. Its hallmark
feature was the elegant curving line. Robert Schmutzler
describes it well as "a long, sensitive, sinuous line
that reminds us of seaweed or of creeping plants, […]
the flick of a whiplash, flowing or flaring up, moderato
or furioso, always moving in a sort of narcissistic self-delight" (quoted
in Crichton). Geometric developments did occur later, and
particularly in the Glasgow School and Vienna Secession.
Asymmetry was another strong element of the style. Art
Nouveau's influences were wide and varied; artists tended
to be eclectic and assimilate whatever other styles might
be useful in the finished product. This included Japanese,
Greek, Rococo, Dutch, Celtic and Pre-Raphaelite sources,
Doktoren fra Thorshof
(John Anderson Publishing, 1901)
With its emphasis on decorative
arts, Art Nouveau played a significant role in book design.
Charles Ricketts, a collector, writer and artist founded
the Vale Press (1896-1904), creating fine editions in Art
Nouveau style. The aforementioned Beardsley gained his
reputation through book illustration, such as his work
on The Rape of the Lock. Will Bradley, in addition
to his commercial work, also created his own private press,
the Wayside Press (1896-1898), and designed and published
a number of Art Nouveau style books as well as his own
self-titled magazine, Bradley: His Book.
The influence of Art Nouveau
is complex within book cover production. Many of the bindings
of artists like Rickets, Beardsley and Laurence Housman
appear more restrained and geometric than their illustrations.
Bradley employed a range of Art Nouveau motifs on some
of his covers, including some that are reminiscent of other
artists (for example, Housman's style in Quest of the
Golden Girl, pbw01216).
A Silent Singer
Many binding designers
embraced the Art Nouveau whiplash curve as a means of
a contemporary feel. Though some experimented with asymmetry,
it was more common to integrate the distinct curve in with
a more standard symmetrical design. Often covers were not
pure Art Nouveau but a blend with other styles like classicism
(an example is the fine bindings of René Kieffer).
Some covers incorporated the more geometrical elements
present in groups like the Glasgow School and the Vienna
Secession (see pbw00561).
There are also certain typefaces linked to Art Nouveau;
one example is the Eckman typeface created by German designer
and illustrator Otto Eckman (pbw00868 is
similar). Yet, it is the Art Nouveau curve that is the
most easily identifiable feature of the style on covers
at the turn of the century.
Search the PBO database for Art Nouveau
Crichton, Laurie W. Book Decoration
in America, 1890-1910. A Guide to an Exhibition.
Williamstown, Mass.: Williams College, 1979.
Duncan, Alistair and Georges de Bartha. Art
Nouveau and Art Deco Bookbindings:
French Masterpieces 1880-1940. New York: Harry N. Abrams, 1989.
Garvey, Eleanor M. The Turn of a Century
1885-1910. Art Nouveau Jugendstil Books. Cambridge: Department of Printing and Graphic Arts, Harvard University, 1970.
Johnson, Diane Chalmers. American Art
Nouveau. New York:
Harry N. Abrams, 1979.
Lavallée, Michelle. "Art Nouveau." Dictionary
of Art. Edited by Jane Turner. New York:
Grove, 1996. (online version is available at some colleges and universities)