What is L’Art Nouveau?

This is the third article of the School for Housewives 1904 series published on Jan 17, 1904, and is a column on Art Nouveau and more specifically Art Nouveau furniture made popular by Siegfried Bing, a German art dealer who operated a gallery in Paris, la Maison de l’Art Nouveau.

School for Housewives – What is l’Art Nouveau?

What is l’Art Nouveau?

We find in every class of useful articles employed in the home of today certain graceful shapes which we are told are “art nouveau pattern.” We find the name attached to every sort of merchandise from spoons to chairs and sofas, from finger rings and tortoise shell combs to bookcases and mantels.

We are told that “the new art is now permanently established,” that it “marks an epoch in decorative art.” Yet still, surrounded on every side by it, many a woman is still asking herself, “What, oh what, is l’Art Nouveau?”

Let us, first of all, answer her question in the fewest possible words. The “new art,” examples of which are found on every side of us, is a recently developed style in decorative art, which originated in the Paris studio of a certain Monsieur Bing, and was by him christened with the name it now bears. It is a style of protest, intended to wage war against the inartistic furnishings which disfigure so many modern houses.

What is a style? The dictionary definition would be a technical one difficult to understand. Let us look for some familiar examples, outside of art.

Many women at present wear their hair brushed high up over the forehead in a manner which dates back several hundred years. In the details of the arrangement this may vary from season to season, from decade to decade – but the style is still Pompadour.

There was a pattern of coat worn in the time of the English King Charles and fashionable, too, in the days of the French Bourbons. It had large skirts and wide cuffs, embroidery and other individual features. A more important point was its dignity. This coat altered somewhat according to fashions as the years passed, but it never ceased to be the same style. We find its successor today in the Prince Albert, or frock coat, which belongs to a distinct order as contrasted with the “cut-away” or “sack” models, which are representative of other “styles.”

No one who sees a specimen of Art Nouveau manufacture can mistake it for anything else. It is invariably and infallibly recognized at a glance by its leading characteristic, which is that the leaves, stems or flowers of plants and trees form the basis of its design. These designs are sometimes simple enough, but oftener, perhaps, twisted and tortured into intricate patterns. But whether the object be useful or ornamental, and whether it be of large size or small, the fundamental idea remains the same and many be seen in all the complex evolutions of the modest rose or stately palm leaf, whose flower or left formed the skein, as it were, with which the artist wove the exquisite ideas they inspired.

The history of the “new art” is none the less interesting because it bears out the time-honored axiom concerning the lack of novelty “under the sun.”

The most prominent disciples of the movement are one and all ready to admit that anything new in decorative work must necessarily have absorbed something of preceding schools.

The term “Art Nouveau” may be said to have been invented by M. Bing, when he threw open the doors of his now world-known establishment in the Rue de Provence and invited the students of the new art to bring their efforts to his galleries for exhibition. Not the youth of France alone, but enthusiasts from all countries responded to the invitation.

Marion Harland

Housewives, Parents and Children Around the Council Fire
Talks With Marion Harland

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