Newsletter Archives

April 2001 - Art Nouveau

Art nouveau, which many associate with the Belle Epoque in Paris, was actually an international movement. Its origins can be traced to, among other sources, William Morris (1834 - 1896). A British craftsman, designer, writer and Socialist, Morris viewed mass production and use of machinery of the Industrial Revolution as a threat to the soul of modern man, and advocated craftsmanship based upon medieval values. He produced textiles and wallpaper, the designs of which were influenced by his knowledge of medieval art and of his observation of nature.

The art nouveau movement also found inspiration in the rocaille images of grottos and fountains that were popular during the reign of Louis XV (1757 - 1770), as well as in Japanese prints that evoked images of the natural world.

The movement was relatively brief, lasting from about 1890 to 1905. In Paris one can see an architectural example of this style at its most exuberant at 29, avenue Rapp. The entrance of the apartment building here, designed by Jules Lavirotte (1864 - 1924) in 1901, displays haunting imagery in polychromatic terra-cotta, wood, and iron.

One of the people who played a role in the commercial development of art nouveau in Paris was Siegfried Bing (1838 - 1905), an art merchant. In 1895 he opened a shop called Maison de l'Art Nouveau on the corner of rue de Provence and rue de Chauchat in the 9th arrondissement. Bing had his greatest success at the Universal Exposition of 1900, where he exhibited a series of interior designs for the home that included furniture, wallpaper, drapery, and various objects of art.

Another artist who led the art nouveau movement in Paris was René Lalique (1860 - 1945), glass and jewelry maker. He, too, exhibited at the Universal Exposition of 1900. One of his pendants in gold, chalcedony and pearl displayed the enchanting profile of a woman's face, her hair flowing as if swept by an arching wave.

But art nouveau also ranged to the determinedly bizarre, embodied by the architecture of Lavirotte (mentioned above) or by the entrances to the Paris subway system, the métro. Designed by Hector Guimard (1867 - 1942), these sinuous arches of ironwork in the form of curious vegetation were erected in 1900 at the time of the Universal Exposition and the opening of the long-awaited underground transportation system. Rehabilitation of some of these structures was undertaken in 2000 as part of the celebration of the 100th birthday of the métro.

There remain numerous examples in Paris of the influence of the art nouveau movement on architecture, furniture, objets d'art and jewelry.

Paris Panorama Newsletters for 2001