When Samuel Bing, an entrepreneur from Hamburg, opened his shop in Paris, little did he know that he would unleash an artistic and decorative style that would dominate Europe. Bing's shop, La Maison de L'Art Nouveau (the origin of the movement's... [more]
When Samuel Bing, an entrepreneur from Hamburg, opened his shop in Paris, little did he know that he would unleash an artistic and decorative style that would dominate Europe. Bing's shop, La Maison de L'Art Nouveau (the origin of the movement's name), featured glass by Tiffany, paintings and graphics by Toulouse-Lautrec, jewelry by Lalique, and sculpture by Rodin. Rebelling against the stale Victorian vision of the time, these artists openly disclaimed any affinity with the past.
The style caught on, epitomized in France by the work of Victor Horta (1861-1947). Horta's lavish interiors for the Hotel Tassel and Hotel Solvay employed filigree ironwork, spiraling along banisters and ceilings, and light fixtures in the shape of vines and flowers. His use of organic forms was echoed in the work of glass makers Louis Comfort Tiffany and Rene Lalique. Their lamps were made to look like flower blossoms, while their dishes and stained glass repeatedly depicted woodland sylphs and lush vegetation.
A less curvacious, more rectilinear version of Art Nouveau emerged in Vienna, where in 1903 Josef Hoffmann and Kolomon Moser founded the Wiener Werkstatte, a cooperative guild of design craftsmen. The furniture and other household items they produced put a premium on functionality and employed spare decoration consisting of grids and geometric shapes. The materials they used, however were luxurious, whether precious metal, colored glass, or lustrous rare wood.
The Vienna group drew much of its inspiration from the Scottish design genius Charles Rennie Mackintosh. His work spanned the Art Nouveau continuum from organic to geometric. A chair such as his "Willow I" (1904) represents both of these modes. Made of ebonized oak, it is curved in back with a lattice design reminiscent of tree branches. The base boasts flowing curves that protrude at the sides. At one and the same time the piece calls attention to natural models and geometric order, to craftsmanship and design. It embodies the two seemingly contradictory poles of Art Nouveau style, demonstrating their fundamental symbiosis. [show less]