Art Nouveau… My Favorite!

Sorry for my late post folks…. I’ve been sick this week.  But I don’t really want to talk about the frailty of my humanity.  Instead I’d prefer to discuss – the excitement that Art Nouveau inspires within me!

There’s something about the lines … I’ve always been drawn to the lines of Art Nouveau, be it painting, graphic design, art, industrial design, or sculptural work.  There’s something in the elegance of the lines and the subject matter, that draws me like a moth to a flame (and it has since long before Graphic Design or art were ever on my radar as a potential interest or career path).

The color palettes have always captured my attention as well, be they subdued or vibrant, full of robust primary colors or stippled and softened with subtle water color washes.  Art Nouveau can be ethereal, mystical, organic, or geometric, bold or simple.  It was a party, a celebration of something new, a revolution and a rebellion against the mass produced, the cheap, the restrictive, and the dull.

Art Nouveau was all of this and so much more.  It was a coming to terms with what was, assimilating what had come before, and incorporating new influences such as Ukiyo-e art forms that were just making their way into Europe from Japan that had been isolated for centuries. It was incorporating the Art’s and Craft’s movement.  Everyone was welcome to the party! No one was being excluded!  Art Nouveau was like the Woodstock for Art!  Mind you this happened between 1881 and 1910-ish so this free-love art fest flourished and amazing things happened for 20 years or so.  There was a lot of experimentation and not just with posters and advertisements.  Art Nouveau also expanded into architecture and furniture as well as fashion.  Again, everyone – and it seems everything – was invited to the party.

Until now, I only knew that I loved this style of art and honestly I didn’t really understand the difference between Art Nouveau and Art Deco.  I’d thought it was two references for the same thing.  I’d never taken the time to research the artists…. I even have a print of Theophile-Alexandre Steinlen’s poster “Tournee du Chat Noir de Rodolphe Salis”  hanging in my apartment but I never knew the name of the artist before reading my text book.   I felt slightly ashamed about that but now that I know, it’s no longer something to be embarrassed about


What I love about Steinlen’s poster, aside from the bold black cat and the use of only 3 colors is the typography.  I love the C and the H. Particularly the way the letters overlap and the way the H descends below the C is really cool.  The H almost seems to be reaching for the word below creating a visual connection.  I also like that the first letter of each word  is black creating contrast with the rest of the letters and bringing cohesion with the Cat which is the main subject. The rest of the letters in ‘Chat Noir’ are red as opposed to ‘Rodolphe Salis’, which are Yellow thus the top and bottom are tied together.  The contrast between the three colors is well done and keeps the entire design simple yet dynamic at the same time.  Lastly there is a red corona around the cat’s head that’s almost reminiscent of a halo around the Virgin Mary’s head (or it could be sun like).  I don’t understand the connection but I enjoy the ornamentation and I’m really fond of that one bit of complication on an otherwise simple arrangement.

Another thing I discovered about Art Nouveau was who my favorite artists were.  While I do have an extreme fondness for Jules Chéret – and who wouldn’t be fond of such an innovator? – I found that Alphonse Mucha was the artist that I’d admired the most.  Talk about Ethereal!  Here are a few examples of Mucha’s work:


His color choices, line work, and embellishments are thoughtful, detailed and graceful.  The left image – the quadtych – which depicts four stars of the night sky as beautiful women is elegant and understated with a subtle color pallet and sinuous lines.  Seductive without being salacious, all four images seem to be illuminated from a point within the painting.  The image on the right, titled Ivy, is reminiscent of a mosaic.  It too feels illuminated, but this time from the subjects face. This piece is full of patterns and surrounded with a geometric floral border complete with an earthy and rich color palette … again I’m drawn to the lines.  Mucha has so much command of his line drawing … I need to practice that with my own!

I know I briefly mentioned Chéret and I would be remiss if I didn’t talk about him just a little more, because really, we owe him so much.  If I were wearing a hat right now, I’d tip it to him.  Because his posters and ad’s portrayed the type of woman woman I’ve always enjoyed being…. Is that the right way to express that?  Let me clarify just in case…. Our text has indicated that Chéret was attributed to being “‘The father of women’s liberation’ because he introduced a new role model for women in the Victorian Era”  Meggs’ p202  our text goes on to say, and I’ll quote further:

“Roles for women were limited to the proper lady in the drawing room and the trollop in the bordello, when into this dichotomy swept the Cherettes. Neither prudes nor prostitutes these self-assured happy women enjoyed life to the fullest, wearing low-cut dresses, dancing, drinking wine, and even smoking in public.”

I really love how our text expresses this.  I completely resonate with that statement and I’m grateful to Chéret for creating an arena for women to feel free to be happy!  He may not have done this intentionally but that doesn’t matter in the slightest.  I look at his posters and designs and see the impact he made and I can directly correlate that to my life today.  I wish I could thank Chéret personally for his impact on society as a whole.  Instead I’ll enjoy his art while drinking a glass of wine, smoking a cigarette while wearing a low-cut dress and discussing the techniques of cross hatching versus stippling effects and water color techniques with my other girlfriends and have a good time.  Something I probably wouldn’t be able to do if I was a trollop in a bordello or a prude … er, I mean an proper lady in the drawing room.

Ok, enough discussion of my infatuation of Art Nouveau…. I think you get the picture.  It’s obvious and my continual fawning over the subject is getting old, I’m sure.  But there’s one more thing that finally struck home this week… its something that had been percolating in the back of my brain for a couple of chapters and I wanted to point out now that the light bulb finally turned on.  My “Ah Ha!” moment happened when I read this passage about artist and architect Henri Van de Velde

Although Van de Velde became an innovator of art nouveau, he was far more interested in furthering the Arts and Crafts philosophy than in visual invention as an end in itself. After the turn of the century, his teaching and writing (The Renaissance in Modern Applied Art, 1901; A Laymans Sermons on Applied Art, 1903) became a vital source for the development of twentieth century architecture and design theory. He taught that all branches of art — from painting to graphic design, from industrial design to sculpture — share a common language of form and are of equal importance to the human community. They all demand appropriate materials, functional forms, and a unity of visual organization.

You see, Van de Velde was an architect and a painter.  So many other artists we’ve read about, William Morris for example (The leader of the Arts and Crafts movement) was also an architect.  So this was my Ah ha!… I just kept seeing architect over and over and that was filed away in my brain – it felt significant somehow. They used architecture and translated it to typography.  They used architecture and translated it to lithography and art.

I Googled the word Architecture and this is what I got as a “definition”:

Architecture – Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
“Architecture” can mean: A general term to describe buildings and other physical structures. The art and science of designing buildings and (some) nonbuilding structures. The style of design and method of construction of buildings and other physical structures.

So what these men have done (and a few women) is translate that to type and design.  Guttenberg with his press, Morris with his books and type, Chéret with his life size lithographic masterpieces and Mucha with his ethereal works of magnificence.

So it leaves me thinking how to go about translating my skill set… I’m no architect and I’m a rather clumsy illustrator.  I’m an awesome abstract painter though!  When I’m done painting abstractly I take a step back and have a look see, and holey moley there’s a fox wearing a Russian hat, or a mermaid in a waterfall or something else extraordinary that I couldn’t have thought up myself.  But sit down and think it up on my own?  No way.  I’m also really excellent at blending colors.  Perspective gives me a lot of trouble though. But I’m sure, there’s something else I can use as a springboard to my art.  Photography?  That’s another heck yeah.  Digital painting?  Yep, I’m on board with that as well but still a little clumsy too.   I can also practice my lines and work to become less clumsy.  Practice…. Always practice.  So… I’ve got some skills now I just have to be the architect and build on them.

Any way, That’s about all I’ve got in me folks so I guess I’d better wrap this up.

This Field Journal was brought to you by Art Nouveau and Absinthe, the perfect digestif for Art Nouveau. And one last bit of Art Nouveau eye candy, because I just can’t help myself.


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