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The Triumph of Beauty: Art Nouveau

By the late 1800s, art had taken a decidedly academic turn in Europe. To be considered a serious artist, artists needed to attend art academies and go through rigorous training and study the various lines, shapes, forms and textures with the ultimate goal of producing paintings of idealized figures and landscapes. Some who did just that believed that economic art was rubbish. They protested against art being taught like science and maths and in a way, they had a point. Art is not limited. It is not meant to be restricted to certain ideas. Art flows from the soul, twists through the consciousness and decorates life through its beauty. These rebel artists were a part of a short and significant movement called The Art Nouveau.

Derived from French, it basically means ‘new art’. If we had to look at these paintings carefully, a similar pattern would reveal itself. There are decorative whiplash motifs, formed by dynamic, undulating, flowing lines in a rhythmic fashion. Common characteristics of Art Nouveau are muted colors like olive green, carnation pink and periwinkle blue. Swirling lines as well as natural imagery. Examples of this ‘new art’ can be found in paintings and sculptures of course, but also architecture, jewellery, household items and graphics. This movement innovated interior design as artists drove for harmony and continuity in decor.

Portrait of Adele Bloch Bauer by Gustav Klint

Portrait of Adele Blouch-Bauer I

The ornamental nature of famed Austrian painter Gustav Klimt is an excellent example of art nouveau and is most dominant. His work is decorative, colorful and contains a lot of gold elements. His paintings have no space unadorned. A significant piece he completed in 1907 was the portrait of Adele Bloch- Bauer I. This was the last installation to his so-called Golden Phase series. His most famous painting, “The Kiss” is one of the finest artwork of the early modern period. The painting depicts two lovers embraced on the edge of a flower field or meadow and the painting again has overpowering golden elements.

the kiss by Gustav Klimt

The Kiss by Gustav Klimt

The twisting organic lines of art nouveau can also be found in the paintings of Czech artist Alfons Mucha. All his paintings have some common traits in them. Most of them have a powerful woman occupying the center of the painting wearing a flowing and elegant dress and her hair is intricately painted with contemporary hair-dos. There is an unmatched level of sophistication to his paintings. His elongated depictions of actresses and fantasy women decorated advertisements and theatre posters. His best-known work includes the decorative panels of ‘The Seasons’ which personifies seasons as sensuous women that illustrate the character of seasons individually as well as the harmony of seasons throughout the year. The panels have beautiful pastel shades that are well suited to the whole vibe of the seasons.

the seasons series by  alfons mucha

The Seasons Series by Alfons Mucha

Art nouveau painters evoked remote worlds where nature is immersed in mystery. It is twisted and feels like being stuck in a staggering labyrinth. Artist Aubrey Beardsley is another painter who influenced the art nouveau movement. His drawing in black ink looks highly inspired by Japanese woodcuts. His famous piece “The Dancer’s Reward” was an illustration for Oscar Wilde’s Salomé. It is a striking painting as it has a severed head on the table and even though the entire painting is in black ink which was seen in all of Beardsley’s work, the red of the blood can still be felt running down the table. The expressions of horror on the faces on the painting depict the picture and its mood perfectly.

The Dancer's Reward

The Dancer's Reward for Oscar Wilde’s Salomé.

Gustav Klimt once said, “Art is a line around your thoughts”. Salvadore Dali called art nouveau terrifying but a true beauty.

Art doesn’t have to be confined to lines and strokes. Art is everything from the curve painted on the canvas to the special curve on your face, your smile. Art is not a science to be studied with discipline. Art is what happens when we bend the rules.


By Manasi Telang

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