Art Nouveau sat side by side with the Victorian and the Edwardian periods in an uneasy coalition. It influenced Western art in all its forms; interior design, textiles, metalwork, architecture and jewellery. Just as the Edwardians were known for their Garland jewellery, the apostles of Art Nouveau were known for the freeform, swirling lines known as Whiplash, which celebrated the mysteries of nature, the sensual world and the female form. The traditional Victorians found it wanton and immoral. The Edwardian establishment decided it was simply decadent. Both were right. That was the appeal of Art Nouveau.
The Art Nouveau movement was no less a product of environmental and social changes than the Victorian and Edwardian movements were. It simply had a different approach. It was influenced by the new finds in archaeology, the new and exotic floral imports from the East and the huge changes in both science and industry.
Lost Techniques and Use of Materials
While the Edwardians revelled in the use of diamonds and the new metal ‘Platinum’, for the masters of Art Nouveau more was less. While precious gems were still used, other more natural materials were now considered from a jewellery point of view, horn and ivory were stained and polished, while colourful patinas were employed to enhance metals. Precious stones were used as accent stones to the subtler colours of opal, topaz, moonstone, peridot, chalcedony, amethyst, aquamarine, demantoid garnet, among others. Baroque pearls dangled from pendants or brooches to represent pods or petals, anything in nature was inspirational.
This period also took full advantage the Japanese influx of artisans and arts taking England by storm. Previously unknown or long forgotten techniques of enamelling included Cloisonné (cells filled with separate colours of enamel), Champlevé (small hollow areas of metal filled with enamel), Plique-À-Jour (gold chambers filled with transparent enamel for a stained glass effect), and Pâte-De-Verre (melted ground glass moulded into complicated shapes), were suddenly all the rage.
Myth & Nature.
Materials and techniques aside, it was the motifs of Art Nouveau that caused the stir. Human, vegetable and animal forms were morphed together in a sensual fusion. Partially clothed women with flowing hair flaunted the new feminine freedom and eroticism. Nature lost her innocent representation and became a wanton, sinuous, passionate thing, an affirmation of youth and suggestiveness. From the depths of the subconscious rose mythical and nightmarish dragons, chimeras, griffons, and other creatures of myth. Chameleons and serpents become the subject of bracelets, the ‘scarab’ symbol of the Egyptian god of the Sun became rings and pendants. Sea horses and sea creatures give inspiration for pendants, dragonflies, butterflies, grasshoppers, bees and wasps moved on springs, while all manner of winged animals from peacocks, swans and swallows to roosters, owls and bats became brooches. Fertile nature gave inspiration with her buds, seedpods, blooms and withering blossoms depicting natural cycles and the passing seasons. These in turn led to a rich palette of verdant greens, delicate pinks, lilacs and any number of pastel combinations highlighted by rich violets or fuchsias evocative of Spring and Summer, deep oranges and reds mix with earth tones to denote Autumn, and cool blues and silver represent Winter. Art Nouveau's philosophy appealed to the mind rather than the wallet. Art Nouveau's inner life disturbed balance of the mild-mannered facade of Edwardian and Victorian self belief.