Art nouveau refers to a style of Art, Architecture and Decorative Arts that was popular from 1890-1910. The name comes from a gallery in Paris called “Maison de l’Art Nouveau” owned by Samuel Bing.
It overlapped both the Edwardian and Victorian eras, and was frowned upon by both periods. The style was primarily about free flowing curved lines, with asymmetrical motifs, mostly natural, with human faces (generally female) and was strongly influenced by Japanese art. Jewellery featured gemstones such as pearls, moonstones and opals which were affordable to many. The emphasis on passion, nature, eroticism and the female form was considered by many people to be shameful and decadent, which, combined with its price, helped fuel its popularity! The next two pieces below would have no doubt shocked the morals of the era!
A common motif in Art Nouveau is a nude/semi-nude female, often with long flowing hair, being transformed into a winged creature, such as in the next two pictures below, where the lady is transforming into a butterfly. (In the first image she also has a fish tail.)
It also saw the birth of Enamelling as a superb art, with masters such as René Lalique producing pieces the like of which had never been seen before. Below is a wonderful brooch, with enamelling in rich Autumnal colours, and the profile of a lady in the centre.
A magnificent example is pictured below, and illustrates the symbolism of the Art nouveau period: the brooch is called l’hirondelle, the swallow. The swallow is a bird which returns every summer, and so represents constancy and faithfulness. The blue waves give an almost dream-like feel to the piece, and the strong asymmetry of the piece reflects the nature of the pearl at the bottom.
Overproduction and mass-popularisation of Art Nouveau style in the 1910s helped bring about its demise.
While the pieces above illustrate the most elaborate pieces of the era, there were many pieces produced which were less ornate, and more suited to everyday wear, such as this diamond drop pendant. This piece has lovely open design, small leaf design in the centre, and a large diamond suspended off the bottom. It is made to be worn directly on the skin, and sits flat on the neck.
And to round off the blog post, here are more amazing pieces, mostly by René Lalique.