Alphonse Mucha played a significant role in the rise of Art Nouveau which spread right across the world and at one point it was known simply as Mucha style, such was his dominance in the movement.
Whilst being a decorative illustrator, this art movement took in many other mediums such as architecture and some craftwork. The pinnacle of this group of like-minded creatives was between the years of 1890 and 1910. The characterised style of Art Nouveau involved swirling lines and a combination of man and nature. Patterned backgrounds were common, depicting floral arrangements. The legacy of this movement is that it is considered to be a contributing factor to the push towards the modernist styles of the 20th century. It was not the only contributing factor, but certainly one of the more significant. The breadth of genres impacted by this movement made it possible for the richer members of society to theme their entire homes around this style.
Jewellery, furniture and interior design could draw influence from the likes of Mucha. The Art Nouveau movement was initiated by several independent pockets of activity across Europe. There were catalogues and magazines as well as regular art fairs, all emcompassing an artistic approach which would eventually be labelled as Art Nouveau. Different locations across the continent would give their own names to this group, but essentially there were all referring to the same thing.
Jugendstil in German, Stile Liberty in Italian, Modernisme in Catalan are just some of the examples of that. It also spread far beyond just the paintings and illustrations of Alphonse Mucha, taking in other disciplines such as furniture, jewellery, architecture, interior and garden design plus also large amounts of glassware. Additionally, Secessionsstil was its name in Austria. Many exponents of Art Nouveau could be found in this region. The Parisien version was, as one might expect, influenced by many of the other artistic directions found here. The French capital is famous for being a melting pot of all manner of contrasting creative ideas. There are many art movements which complement with or cross over related groups of artists - Art Nouveau does so too.
Symbolism, Arts and Crafts, Pre-Raphaelites and Art Deco periods all link closely here, and several key artists from the late 19th century to early 20th century could be classified under several of these styles. Aubrey Beardsley, Alphonse Mucha, Edward Burne-Jones and Gustav Klimt are some of the famous names who closely match the characteristics found with the Art Nouveau group. It was a flexible umbrella of ideas across Europe, allowing some variations from artist to artist. The Modernisme of Antoni Gaudi is perhaps one of the most famous contributions to this umbrella of art movements. He produced organically themed exteriors to a number of buildings around the city of Barcelona and they were to become listed by UNESCO as sites of cultural importance. This curious artist would then involve himself with most aspects of the contents of his buildings, producing furniture and working with a team of assistants to design each room’s interior.
The illustrative work of Aubrey Beardsley would see him classified relatively closely to that of Mucha, though his style was entirely original and unique. He is also sometimes considered part of the Aestheticism movement that occurred just before Art Nouveau. There was also influence from the production of Morris & Co who developed a recognisable artistic style and used it as a marketable brand. Morris himself took his floral patterns across to a variety of mediums such as wallpaper and embroidery. Some of his colleagues would cover painting, drawing and even some stained glass windows. The group believed passionately in using traditional techniques rather than mass production and encouraged others to do the same in order to ensure the highest standards of quality.
Japanese art laid the inspiration to many of these western art movements, with alternative ideas around cropping and laying out a composition which actually had more in common with modern photography. Patterned arrangements of plants and flowers as well as some of the techniques used in the printing process were all exciting innovations that Europeans would want to fuse into their existing methods. Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec produced countless poster advertisements for French theatre which will immediately connect him to Mucha's time living in Paris. Their commissions would be similar in this aspect but the styles that they used to grab a local's interest in the latest show were very different. Lautrec preferred much less detail, often producing figures as silhouettes. He remains closely linked to the Art Nouveau movement. Charles Rennie Mackintosh was a notable Scottish designer who left the biggest impact of Art Nouveau within this region of the UK. Indeed much can still be enjoyed today, including several large series of furniture that he designed. He was also a respected architect too.
We are all aware of Sarah Bernhardt's involvement in the career of Mucha, and the close professional relationship that they developed. She also enlisted the help of other creative minds to complete commissioned pieces or jewellery and clothing, all of which would again be in the style of this 'new art'. In fact, on occasion, these artists would join forces if their skills lied in different disciplines. There is an existing item of a bracelet and ring that remains on display today and was made specifically for Sarah Bernhardt by Georges Fouquet after she had signed off a design by Alphonse Mucha, around 1901. Life in Paris would be a major driver to the careers of so many artists around this period, many of whom had moved there from outside French boundaries after hearing about the progressive culture that could be found here.
When we consider all of these different pockets of creativity across the European continent, we can certainly claim that Art Nouveau was a truly pan-European movement, even though it was given different names in some regions. There was also a high level of influence that occurred between these subsets, with Scottish designer MacKintosh believed to have left a great impact on various members of the Secessionsstil movement over in Austria. Art history is made up by these chains of influence which take the old and add the new, one century after another.
Tom Gurney in an art history expert. He received a BSc (Hons) degree from Salford University, UK, and has also studied famous artists and art movements for over 20 years. Tom has also published a number of books related to art history and continues to contribute to a number of different art websites. You can read more on Tom Gurney here.