Art Nouveau furniture

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Desk and chair by Hector Guimard, 1909–12
Cabinet by Louis Majorelle c. 1900

Furniture created in the Art Nouveau style was prominent from the late 19th century to the advent of the First World War. Unlike furniture made by the British Arts and Crafts movement, from which it emerged in stylistic respects, most Art Nouveau furniture was produced in factories by normal manufacturing techniques, which led to tensions with Arts and Crafts figures in England, who criticised continental Art Nouveau furniture for not being "'honestly' constructed.[1] It also tended to be expensive, as a fine finish, usually polished or varnished, was regarded as essential, and continental designs were usually very complex, with curving shapes that were expensive to make. It by no means entirely replaced other styles of furniture, which continued to be popular, with Art Nouveau styles largely restricted to an expensive "art furniture" category.[2] The style was named for Siegfried Bing's Maison de l'Art Nouveau gallery and shop in Paris, which opened in 1895,[3] and in France and Belgium furniture designers took up the style with more enthusiasm than those of most countries.[4]

Several notable designers were architects who designed furniture for specific buildings they had also designed, a way of working inherited from the Arts and Crafts movement; these include Charles Rennie Mackintosh, Antoni Gaudí, Hector Guimard and Victor Horta. Mackintosh's furniture was relatively austere and geometrical, marked by elongated dimensions and right-angles.[1] Continental designs were much more elaborate, often using curved shapes both in the basic shapes of the piece, and in applied decorative motifs. In many ways the old vocabulary and techniques of classic French 18th-century Rococo furniture were re-interpreted in a new style. Luxury veneers were used in the furniture of leading cabinetmakers Georges de Feure and others.[5]

Alphonse Mucha produced a few designs, but was little involved with production. The École de Nancy (School of Nancy in France), the Wiener Werkstätte in Vienna and the Deutscher Werkbund were groupings including many designers of Art Nouveau furniture.[6] The Exposition Universelle de Paris in 1900 was an important showcase for designers, and the Prima Esposizione Internazionale d'Arte Decorativa Moderna at Turin in 1902 heavily featured the work of furniture designer Carlo Bugatti of Milan.


In France, the centre for furniture design and manufacture was in Nancy, where two major designers, Émile Gallé and Louis Majorelle had their studios and workshops, and where the Alliance des industries d'art (later called the School of Nancy) had been founded in 1901. Both designers based on their structure and ornamentation on forms taken from nature, including flowers and insects, such as the dragonfly, a popular motif in Art Nouveau design. Gallé was particularly known for his use of marquetry in relief, in the form of landscapes or poetic themes. Majorelle was known for his use of exotic and expensive woods, and for attaching bronze sculpted in vegetal themes to his pieces of furniture. Both designers used machines for the first phases of manufacture, but all the pieces were finished by hand. Other notable furniture designers of the Nancy School included Eugène Vallin and Émile André; both were architects by training, and both designed furniture that resembled the furniture from Belgian designers such as Horta and Van de Velde, which had less decoration and followed more closely the curving plants and flowers. Other notable French designers included Henri Bellery-Desfontaines, who took his inspiration from the neo-Gothic styles of Viollet-le-Duc; and Georges de Feure, Eugène Gaillard, and Édouard Colonna, who worked together with art dealer Siegfried Bing to revitalize the French furniture industry with new themes. Their work was known for "abstract naturalism", its unity of straight and curved lines, and its rococo influence. The furniture of de Feure at the Bing pavilion won a gold medal at the 1900 Paris Exposition. The most unusual and picturesque French designer was François-Rupert Carabin, a sculptor by training, whose furniture featured sculpted nude female forms and symbolic animals, particularly cats, who combined Art Nouveau elements with Symbolism. Other influential Paris furniture designers were Charles Plumet, and Alexandre Charpentier.[7] In many ways the old vocabulary and techniques of classic French 18th-century Rococo furniture were re-interpreted in a new style.[8]

In Belgium, the pioneer architects of the Art Nouveau movement, Victor Horta and Henry van de Velde, designed furniture for their houses, using vigorous curving lines and a minimum of decoration. The Belgian designer Gustave Serrurier-Bovy added more decoration, applying brass strips in curving forms. In the Netherlands, where the style was called Nieuwe Kunst or New Art, H.P. Berlag, Lion Cachet and Theodor Nieuwenhuis followed a different course, that of the English Arts and Crafts movement, with more geometric rational forms.

In Britain, the furniture of Charles Rennie Mackintosh was purely Arts and Crafts, austere and geometrical, with long straight lines and right angles and a minimum of decoration.[1] Continental designs were much more elaborate, often using curved shapes both in the basic shapes of the piece, and in applied decorative motifs. In Germany, the furniture of Peter Behrens and the Jugendstil was largely rationalist, with geometric straight lines and some decoration attached to the surface. Their goal was exactly the opposite of French Art Nouveau; simplicity of structure and simplicity of materials, for furniture that could be inexpensive and easily mass-manufactured. The same was true for the furniture of designers of the Wiener Werkstätte in Vienna, led by Otto Wagner, Josef Hoffmann, Josef Maria Olbrich and Koloman Moser. The furniture was geometric and had a minimum of decoration, though in style it often followed national historic precedent, particularly the Biedemeier style.[9]

Italian and Spanish furniture design went off in their own direction. Carlo Bugatti in Italy designed the extraordinary Snail Chair, wood covered with painted parchment and copper, for the Turin International Exposition of 1902. In Spain, following the lead of Antoni Gaudi and the Modernismo movement, the furniture designer Gaspar Homar designed works that were inspired by natural forms with touches of Catalan historic styles.[10]

In the United States, furniture design was more often inspired by the Arts and Crafts movement, or by historic American models, than by the Art Nouveau. One designer who did introduce Art Nouveau themes was Charles Rohlfs in Buffalo, New York, whose designs for American white oak furniture were influenced by motifs of Celtic Art and Gothic art, with touches of Art Nouveau in the metal trim applied to the pieces.[10]


Designers[edit]

Gallery[edit]

Notes[edit]

  1. ^ a b c Lucie-Smith, 160
  2. ^ Lucie-Smith, 160–162
  3. ^ Kevin P. Rodel; Jonathan Binzen (2003). Arts & Crafts Furniture: From Classic to Contemporary. Taunton Press. pp. 87–. ISBN 978-1-56158-359-1.
  4. ^ Lucie-Smith, 163–165
  5. ^ Gontar, Cybele. "Art Nouveau", In Heilbrunn Timeline of Art History. New York: The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 2000–. (October 2006)
  6. ^ Lucie-Smith, 161–165
  7. ^ Riley 2007, p. 302.
  8. ^ Gontar, Cybele. Art Nouveau. In Heilbrunn Timeline of Art History. New York: The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 2000 (October 2006)
  9. ^ RIley 2007, p. 308.
  10. ^ a b Riley 2007, p. 312.

References[edit]