The Late 19th Century
During the late 19th century, if you wanted to become a painter or sculptor (and you could afford it), you could go to art school. You would spend most of your time studying the human form as making and designing things was considered to be more lower class. It was rare you would see a female as women were not allowed to attend art schools until much later on; they weren’t even allowed to paint the naked body and would be limited to studying sculptures instead. If you wanted to become an architect, you would learn it on the job much like an apprenticeship.
Outside of this, there were those who also became interested in design alongside their main career. For example, Owen Jones was an architect considered to be one of the most influential design theorists of his time. He released the book ‘The Grammar of Ornament’, a design sourcebook containing ornamental designs from all over the world in order to help other aspiring designers take influence from others. Another inspiring artist was Dr. Christopher Dresser, a designer and design theorist who considered himself to be an ‘ornamentist’. He pioneered conventionalised ornament. The more something is stylised the more it is conventionalised. He is widely known to be the worlds first ‘industrial designer’; he understood how things were made but he would provide the designs to ceramic and furniture companies rather than making the himself. It is clear that he was claimed by the Aesthetic Movement, influenced by Japan after a trip to the country where he brought back things for inspiration, as well as being iconically known for his modern/minimal looking metal work
The Arts and Crafts Movement
The Arts and Crafts Movement was an international trend in the decorative and fine arts marking the beginning of a shift in how it was thought things should be made. This was due to the damage the effect of industrialisation had on society. In 1884 a group of British architects created an organisation focused on the ideas of William Morris and the Arts and Crafts Movement in order to bring artists/designers together to discuss topics and learn things from each other. Later on, the Art Workers Guild formed the Arts and Crafts Exhibition Society in order to exhibit the decorative arts alongside the fine arts. It is interesting to note that the poster for this society contained an illustration of an artist and worker shaking hands, a symbol for setting aside class to come together as creatives.
An example of a designer considered to use the Arts and Crafts style is C. F. A. Voysey, an English architect, furniture and textile designer, mainly known for building several country houses but who also designed wallpapers, fabrics and simple furnishings in his early career. Another well known contributor to the movement was C. R. Ashbee, a British architect and designer who founded the Guild of Handicraft to help teach traditional craft making skills.
The members of the Arts and Crafts movement were not particularly big fans of Art Nouveau because they believed it was not true to materials, taking hours to carve, having elements not necessary for the structure and designed purely for aesthetic reasons. However, it did originate in the UK.
A big influence of Art Nouveau was nature and natural things. Artists were inspired by plant forms which they then flattened to create abstract and elegant creations. The style was interpreted differently by different countries; the French city of Nancy embraced it throughout the entire region covering buildings with extravagant floral and leaf motifs. Artists including Émile Gallé and Louis Majorelle co-founded the ‘Ecole de Nancy’, the leaders whose inspiration stemmed from plants and animals. The style was also interpreted different by designers in Madrid. The Colonia de la Prensa is a good example of architecture with beautiful modernist ceramics, wrought gates and statues.
It is clear there is not just one style of Art Nouveau; another influence was geometry, and asymmetrical compositions, thought to be pioneered by the Scottish architect Charles Rennie Mackintosh. His style was recognised through his use of black and white geometric patterns, characterised by strong but graceful abstract lines and shapes. He is largely know for designing the building that houses the Glasgow School of Art, one of the cities leading landmarks.
The Viennese loved Mackintosh and invited him to exhibit at the eighth Secession exhibition, founded by artists such as Gustav Klimt and Josef Hoffman, who Mackintosh influenced significantly alongside a generation of other Viennese designers. Viennese Jugendstil, was hugely shaped by the architect Otto Wagner, whose buildings were usually symmetrically arranged, normally with floral ornamental exteriors using marble, glass, tiles and metal. Another designer involved largely in founding the Secession was the graphic designer Koloman Moser, who alongside Josef Hoffman established the Wiener Werkstätte, a company that brought together designers and artists from different specialities. Some good examples of the geometric style of Art Nouveau are shown in Hoffman's designs such as the 'Kubus Armchair’ with the use of squares and cubes, and graphic art with clean linear lines.
As a young man, Moser was one of the many artists considered to be ‘Symbolists’, a movement that sought to use art to escape from reality and represent ideas and emotions, depicting an inner world. It was heavily influenced by the work of Edward Burne-Jones.
A good example of a symbolist painting is 'The Crying Spider’ by Odilon Redon; a representation of his internal feelings and ghosts of his own mind through the image of a crying human face on a spiders body. Another good example is 'Anxiety’ by Edvard Munch, symbolising emotions of heartbreak and sorrow.