Pieter Bruegel the Elder

2019 sees the 450th anniversary of the death of Pieter Bruegel the Elder (c 1525/30 – 1569). To mark the occasion the Kunsthistorisches Museum Vienna is dedicating the world’s first ever major monograph exhibition to the artist widely regarded as the 16th century’s greatest Netherlandish painter.

Netherlandish Proverbs Oil on oak panel, 117 x 163 cm; Staatliche Museen zu Berlin, Gemaldegalerie, Berlin.

After an initial period of brilliance, during which time it rose to achieve perfection, Flemish art gradually fell into decline. Although thorough studies of its origins have revealed works, in particular those of the miniaturists, that are deserving of notice and which predate the artistic careers of the two Van Eycks, Hubert and Jan, the genius of the brothers remains stunningly spectacular, surpassing that of their predecessors to such a degree that it would be impossible to find an equally sudden, decisive and glorious evolution in the history of art.

Pieter Bruegel the Elder, The Painter and the Collector, ca. 1565.
Pen and brown ink, 25 x 21.6 cm.
Graphische Sammlung, Albertina, Vienna.
Petrus Paulus Rubens, Jan Brueghel the Elder and his family, 1612-1613.
Oil on wood, 124.5 x 94.6 cm.
Courtauld Institute of Art, Princes Gate Collection, London.

Even so, the lesser artists who followed the Van Eycks, whether they were either directly trained by them or simply influenced by their work, also possessed talent of admirable quality, but their sense and understanding of nature was less penetrating and profound and their execution less scrupulous. In not applying the same closeness of attention, which till then had been a rule of Flemish painting, these artists lost their opportunity for originality, relaxing their focus on nature and placing the primary importance of their work in its details.

Jan Brueghel the Elder and Hans Rottenhammer,
Rest upon the Flight into Egypt with the Temple of Tivoli, 1595.
Oil on copper, 26 x 35.5 cm. Private collection.
Pieter Bruegel the Elder, The Flight into Egypt, 1563.
Oil on wood, 37.2 x 55.5 cm.
Courtauld Institute of Art, Count Antoine Seilern Collection, London.

It became increasingly common for these painters to travel to Italy, and consequently their native impressions became mixed with those evoked by the lands through which they passed. Upon leaving the Flemish plains, the monotony of which is scarcely interrupted, the emigrant artists could not help but be struck by the imposing nature of the mountainous regions along their route.

Joachim Patinir, Saint Jerome in a Landscape, ca. 1530.
Oil on wood, 74 x 91 cm.
Museo del Prado, Madrid.

The Alps, the Tirols, and the Apennines offered the artists the rugged landscapes once sought by the Flemish Primitives, to whom simplicity had been of no interest. In their depiction of panoramas that stretched as far as the eye could see, these nomads remained faithful to their excessive preoccupation with the picturesque.

Pieter Bruegel the Elder, The Rabbit Hunt, 1560 (?). Etching, 22.3 x 29.1 cm.
The Royal Library of Albert I, Brussels.

They were of the belief that no amount of detail could be too much, and they tirelessly added bizarre rock formations and countless rivers to the harsh peaks and mountainous landscapes they painted. In addition, they laid out forests, towns, villages and castles that stretched into infinity. When, during their travels, they spent time in towns, at every step the Flemish painters encountered ancient ruins, monuments of various styles, statues, masterpieces by artists of the Classical age, and works of art no less admired by their less worthy successors; and everywhere they went they came across traditions and new ways of thinking vastly different from those they had known until then. How could they resist the seductions that solicited them from every direction? Their Italian colleagues, who were already organized in associations and guilds, welcomed the Flemish artists, affiliated them with their groups and initiated them into the wonders of the ars nova. On their return home, the travellers themselves often became apostles, extolling the principles of Italian painting and art in general, and attempting, though usually with little success, to imitate the Italian style…

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Portrait Paintings and Studio Drawings

portrait-paintings-and-studio-drawings

The first quality of great portraiture is the power to reveal the inner character, or story, of the sitter. It is said that every man habitually wears a mask in the presence of his peers, and it is only in moments of unconsciousness that he lets it down.

Jacopo Tintoretto (1518-1594), Self-Portrait, Italian, c. 1588.
Oil on canvas, 63 x 52 cm. Musée du Louvre, Paris.

The great portrait painter must be able to capture the true essence of the individual, an incredibly complex task that is often only revealed in fleeting moments. Such an artist, as the poet Tennyson describes, “pouring on a face, divinely through all hindrance finds the man behind it, and so paints him so that his face, the shape and colour of a mind and life, lives for his children, ever at his best.”

Alexander Roslin (1718-1793), The Lady with the Veil: Marie Suzanne Roslin (wife of the artist), Rococo, Swedish, 1768.
Oil on canvas, 65 x 54 cm. Nationalmuseum, Stockholm.

The goal was not only to portray the subject’s physical characteristics but the entire essence of the individual, Aristotle stated that “the goal of art is not to present the outward appearance of things, but their inner significance.” Interpretative portrait painting was often modelled after Leonardo da Vinci’s famous Mona Lisa. The mysterious nature of the Mona Lisa’s facial expression gives depth to her character- the spectator is instantly intrigued and desires to know what she may be hiding. Therefore to attain this level of portraiture, the artist must become cognizant and sympathetic to the spirit of the subject.

Leonardo da Vinci (1452-1519), Mona Lisa (La Gioconda), Italian, c. 1503-1506.
Oil on poplar panel, 77 x 53 cm. Musée du Louvre, Paris.

In addition from a compositional standpoint the Mona Lisa symbolizes perfection, its precise proportions and use of atmospheric perspective also are responsible for its acclaim in the art world. Many portrait painters since, however far from attaining his ideal, have idealised da Vinci and utilised his work as inspiration. James Abbott McNeill Whistler’s power was remarkable in his own circle, while Franz Hals and Diego Velasquez were more universally recognised. Often the personality of the sitter is revealed by a direct gaze that seems to encompass something fascinating about the subject. Whether delightful or solemn, the eyes of the sitter seem to draw the spectator in with a sense of “intimacy” that is difficult to break down and define. This quality is especially evident in the jovial nature of Hals’ portraits, the friendly smiles apparent within Joshua Reynolds’ paintings, the wistful stare captured in Rembrandt’s portraits, and the melancholy appeal within the paintings of Domenico Morone.

Leonardo-da-Vinci-Lady-with-an-Ermine
Leonardo da Vinci (1452-1519), Italian, Lady with an Ermine (Portrait of
Cecilia Gallerani), 1483-1490. Oil on panel, 54 x 39 cm.
Czartoryski Museum, Kraków.

At other times the sitter’s glance is averted, and he is quite unaware of observation. The artist has illustrated the sitter in the intimacy of his own self-communion; a trait that is often found in Titian’s subjects. Therefore the artist’s ability to depict the inner nature of the sitter became an incredibly subjective art. Initially when portraiture was only reserved for a specific social class, the aristocracy, the church and the upper middle class or bourgeoisie, it was necessary for the portrait to be a flattering representation of the subject. Eventually artists could freely express themselves in their own introspective manner when painting a portrait.

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Shelley’s Art Musings – Delacroix Sexist?

 

Eugene Delacroix – Liberty Leading the People (1830) Musée du Louvre

It’s an iconic and powerfully strong image, isn’t it. Lady Liberty leading the charge of freedom, in what is known as Delacroix’s most famous painting, but the symbolism and composition of the piece have opened debates around sexism and imagery.
Delacroix was notorious for his dramatic paintings, but audiences found his topics and depictions rather hard to stomach, as the scenes are overly violent, too grand, oversized and overpowering in the response that they almost demand.
Delacroix was a leading name in French Romanticism, born in 1798 he was educated at Lycée Louis-le-Grand, and at the Lycée Pierre Corneille in Rouen, where he immersed himself in the classics and won awards for drawing. In 1815 he started his training with Pierre-Narcisse Guérin in the neoclassical style of Jacques-Louis David. When his fellow artist Théodore Géricault painted “The Raft of the Medusa” in 1818, this inspired Delacroix’s first major painting – “The Barque of Dante”.

Théodore-Géricault-The-Raft-of-Medusa
Théodore Géricault – The Raft of Medusa (1819) Musée du Louvre

From this point, Delacroix continued to create works which divided the audiences, and it isn’t by chance that “The Raft of Medusa” was the painting to initially inspire him, as later, when creating “Liberty leading the People” he echoed the triangular structure of Géricault’s piece to add depth and balance to his greatest painting.
Liberty broke a trend in Delacroix’s style, with a woman leading the people to hope and freedom over a pile of dead bodies. It was no secret that Delacroix saw women as an aesthetic to life and many of his paintings have women in them as draped and accepting of their fate, so it is unusual to see a woman so dominantly prominent in his work. This was a far cry from the status of women in the 1830s, and there are some interesting factors within the painting which stand her apart from the women of any class during the French revolution. Is this just another painting which demonstrates Delacroix’s feelings on women, or is the symbolism much deeper than his apparent sexism?
Obviously, the woman leading the people is no ordinary women, she is, in fact, Libertas and is the embodiment of Liberty. She is shown baring her breasts and holding high the tricolour flag, while in her other hand a rifle fixed with a bayonet. She strides over the dead bodies of men as a small boy, armed with pistols, hurries along beside her, as the revolutionary men come to join her march.
You may think that this painting was a heavily political piece, a depiction of the revolution from the view of those who were opposed to the government, but this is a painting of a moment in time in the revolution where anything was possible, created by a man that was trying to make sense of what was going on around him; its a moment of anarchic freedom, it is the most enduring image of what revolution feels like from within: ecstatic, violent, libidinal and murderous.
This painting is in the style of romanticism, which doesn’t concentrate on the realism of a situation, more externalises the feeling of the artist on to the canvas.
Liberty shows her breasts, not in a sexual display, but in a display of dominance and power. This painting pre-dates Impressionists, who recorded what they saw, rather than depicting symbols in a romantic way. Would it have been possible to paint a French mortal woman in this stance? At the time probably not. Only a symbolic woman could have such a role in a piece of historical propaganda rather than a real woman. She is a robust woman, indicating the strength of her convictions. She is shown in profile, almost obvious to the maddening crowd which surrounds her. She barely notices the path of dead bodies which she strides over. She is ready to fight at close range and defend the honour of her convictions.
The young boy is the symbol of how early this moment in time is within the revolution. He stands for the childlike naivety which the masses created barricades to bring down Charles X. It’s always a disturbing image, an armed child, who doesn’t have the full moral or social sense to truly comprehend what is happening to act on judgement; yet it also echoes the hope which is shown with Liberty at the front.
There are dreamlike qualities to the painting. The revolutionary who looks up at Liberty from the ground has a blue shirt and a red headscarf he has a bit of white shirt poking out under his blue top – that is, he is decked in red, white and blue, echoing the tricolour that flies over the barricades. This man is clothed in a decayed, dying version of Liberty’s flag: he is her sick shadow, an indication and premonition of the outcome of revolution. It doesn’t matter who wins in the end, people still suffer and die.
Is Delacroix sexist in his subject matter? Well, of course, he is! In 1830, it would almost be impossible not to be sexist or patriarchal as the dominant society, even in revolutionary France, was sexist at this time, as was the rest of the Western World. However, is the painting sexual and misogynistic? No, I don’t think it is. Its subject matter is not about sex or sexuality but about the power of the revolution. Oh, so often we hear of the women being the temptress who leads men astray, so why wouldn’t the Goddess Libertas be leading men into a dangerous and fraught situation under the guise of the seduction of freedom.
Delacroix has painted the hysterical freedom and joy of revolution. His painting acting as a reminder of revolution’s most charismatic visual icon, and yet it is not naive. Death is part of the glamour, and there is sickness at the very centre of progress. Romanticism is not an optimistic art. If Delacroix’s painting understands the seduction of revolution better than any other, it also acknowledges the violence that is inseparable from that belief in total change and the rule of the crowd.

Edward Burne-Jones

One of the last Pre-Raphaelites, Edward Burne-Jones brought imaginary worlds to life in awe-inspiring paintings, stained glass windows and tapestries

When Burne-Jones’ mural sized canvas of King Cophetua and the Beggar Maid  was exhibited in the shadow of the newly constructed Eiffel Tower at the Paris Exposition universelle in 1889, it caused a sensation scarcely less extraordinary than the tower itself. Burne-Jones was awarded not only a gold medal at the exhibition but also the cross of the Légion d’honneur.

King Cophetua and the Beggar Maid, 1880-1884. Oil on canvas, 290 x 136 cm. Tate Britain, London.

He became one of those rare “Anglo-Saxons” who, from Constable in the early nineteenth century to Jerry Lewis in the late twentieth century, have been taken into the hearts of the French intelligentsia. For a few years while the Burne-Jones craze lasted, fashionable French women dressed and comported themselves “à la Burne-Jones”, cultivating pale complexions, bruised eyes and an air of unhealthy exhaustion.

The Annunciation (“ The Flower of God”), 1863. Watercolour and gouache, 61 x 53.3 cm.
Collection. Lord Lloyd-Webber.

The two great French Symbolist painters Gustave Moreau and Pierre Puvis de Chavannes immediately recognised Burne-Jones as an artistic fellow traveller. In 1892, the cheer leader of the “Decadence” “Sâr” Joséphin Péladan, announced that Burne-Jones would be exhibiting at his newly launched Symbolist Salon de la Rose-Croix alongside Puvis de Chavannes and other leading French Symbolist and English Pre-Raphaelites. Burne-Jones wrote to his fellow artist George Frederick Watts “I don’t know about the Salon of the Rose-Cross — a funny high-fallutin’ sort of pamphlet has reached me — a letter asking me to exhibit there, but I feel suspicious of it.”

Sidonia von Bork, 1860. Watercolour and gouache,
33 x 17 cm. Tate Britain, London.

Like Puvis de Chavannes (who went so far as to write to Le Figaro denying any connection with the new Salon), Burne-Jones turned down the invitation. It is very unlikely that Burne-Jones would have accepted, or perhaps even have understood, the label of “Symbolist”. Yet, to our eyes, he seems to have been one of the most representative figures of the Symbolist movement and of that pervasive mood termed “fin de siècle”.

Going to the Battle, 1858. Grey pen and ink drawing on vellum paper, 22.5 x 19.5 cm.
Fitzwilliam Museum, Cambridge.

Symbolism was a late-nineteenth-century reaction to the positivist philosophy that had dominated the mid-century. It found expression in the gross materiality of the paintings of Courbet and Manet and the realist novels of Emile Zola and in Impressionism with its emphasis on sensory perception. Above all, it was a reaction against the belief in progress and modernity represented by the Eiffel Tower itself and against the triumph of industry and commerce celebrated in the vast “Hall of Machines” in the same exhibition, which had filled Puvis de Chavannes with horror and had given him nightmares.

Clara von Bork, 1860. Watercolour and gouache, 34 x 18 cm.
Tate Britain, London.

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William Morris: A Pattern is either right or wrong…It is no stronger than its weakest point

Exhibition: William Morris and the Arts & Crafts movement in Great Britain

Date: February 22 – May 20, 2018

Venue: Museu Nacional d’Art de Catalunya | Barcelona Spain

Edward Burne-Jones (for the design) and Morris, Marshall, Faulkner & Co. (for the production), The God of Love and Alceste, 1861-1864. Stained glass window from Chaucer’s Goode Wimmen, 46.8 x 50.7 cm. Victoria & Albert Museum, London.

From the middle of the nineteenth century to the beginning of the twentieth century, we have passed through a period of aesthetic discontent which continues and which is distinct from the many kinds of discontent by which men have been troubled in former ages. No doubt aesthetic discontent has existed before; men have often complained that the art of their own time was inferior to the art of the past; but they have never before been so conscious of this inferiority or felt that it was a reproach to their civilisation and a symptom of some disease affecting the whole of their society.

William Morris and William Frend De Morgan (for the design) and Architectural Pottery Co. (for the production), Panel of tiles, 1876. Slip-covered tiles, hand-painted in various colours, glazed on earthenware blanks, 160 x 91.5 cm. Victoria & Albert Museum, London.

We, powerful in many things beyond any past generation of men, feel that in this one respect we are more impotent than many tribes of savages. We can make things such as men have never made before; but we cannot express any feelings of our own in the making of them, and the vast new world of cities which we have made and are making so rapidly, seems to us, compared with the little slow-built cities of the past, either blankly inexpressive or pompously expressive of something which we would rather not have expressed. That is what we mean when we complain of the ugliness of most modern things made by men. They say nothing to us or they say what we do not want to hear, and therefore we should prefer a world without them.

Rose (detail), 1883. Pencil, pen, ink and watercolour on paper, 90.6 x 66.3 cm. Victoria & Albert Museum , London.

For us there is a violent contrast between the beauty of nature and the ugliness of man’s work which most past ages have felt little or not at all. We think of a town as spoiling the country, and even of a single modern house as a blot on the face of the earth. But in the past, until the eighteenth century, men thought that their own handiwork heightened the beauty of nature or was, at least, in perfect harmony with it. We are aware of this harmony in a village church or an old manor house or a thatched cottage, however plain these may be; and wonder at it as a secret that we have lost.

Indeed, it is a secret definitely lost in a period of about forty years, between 1790 and 1830. In the middle of the eighteenth century, foolish furniture, not meant for use, was made for the rich, both in France and in England; furniture meant to be used was simple, well made, and well proportioned. Palaces might have been pompous and irrational, but plain houses still possessed the merits of plain furniture. Indeed, whatever men made, without trying to be artistic, they made well; and their work had a quiet unconscious beauty, which passed unnoticed until the secret of it was lost.

Dante Gabriel Rossetti (for the design) and Morris & Co. (for the production), The Rossetti Armchair, 1870-1890. Ebonized beech, with red painted decoration and rush seat, 88.8 x 49.5 x 53 cm. Victoria & Albert Museum , London.

When the catastrophe came, it affected less those arts such as painting, which are supported by the conscious patronage of the rich, than those more universal and necessary arts which are maintained by a general and unconscious liking for good workmanship and rational design. There were still painters like Turner and Constable, but soon neither rich nor poor could buy new furniture or any kind of domestic implement that was not hideous. Every new building was vulgar or mean, or both. Everywhere the ugliness of irrelevant ornament was combined with the meanness of grudged material and bad workmanship.

Tulip and Trellis, 1870. Hand-painted in blue and green on tin-glazed earthenware tile, 15.3 x 15.3 cm. Victoria & Albert Museum , London.

At the time no one seems to have noticed this change. None of the great poets of the Romantic Movement, except perhaps Blake, gives a hint of it. They turned with an unconscious disgust from the works of man to nature; and if they speak of art at all it is the art of the Middle Ages, which they enjoyed because it belonged to the past. Indeed the Romantic Movement, so far as it affected the arts at all, only afflicted them with a new disease. The Gothic revival, which was a part of the Romantic movement, expressed nothing but a vague dislike of the present with all its associations and a vague desire to conjure up the associations of the past as they were conjured up in Romantic poetry. Pinnacles, pointed arches and stained glass windows were symbols, like that blessed word Mesopotamia; and they were used without propriety or understanding. In fact, the revival meant nothing except that the public was sick of the native ugliness of its own time and wished to make an excursion into the past, as if for change of air and scene.

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Degas: Light as a Tutu of a Ballet Student of the Paris Opers

Exhibition: The Art of Pastel From Degas to Redon

Date: 15 September 2017 – 8 April 2018

Venue: Le Petit Palais 

The Dancing Class (detail), c. 1870. Oil on wood, 19.7 x 27 cm. The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York

Edgar Degas was closest to Pierre-Auguste Renoir in the Impressionist’s circle, for both favoured the animated Parisian life of their day as a motif in their paintings. Degas did not attend Charles Gleyre’s studio; most likely he first met the future Impressionists at the Café Guerbois. It is not known exactly where he met Édouard Manet. Perhaps they were introduced to one another by a mutual friend, the engraver Félix Bracquemond, or perhaps Manet, struck by Degas’ audacity, first spoke to him at the Louvre in 1862. Two months after meeting the Impressionists, Degas exhibited his canvases with Claude Monet’s group, and became one of the most loyal of the Impressionists: not only did he contribute works to each of their exhibitions except the seventh, he also participated very actively in organising them. All of which is curious, because he was rather distinct from the other Impressionists.

The Dance Foyer at the Opera on the rue Le Petelier, 1872. Oil on canvas, 32.7 x 46.3 cm.
Musée d’Orsay , Paris.

Degas came from a completely different milieu than that of Monet, Renoir, and Alfred Sisley. His grandfather René-Hilaire de Gas, a grain merchant, had been forced to flee from France to Italy in 1793 during the French Revolution. Business prospered for him there. After establishing a bank in Naples, de Gas wed a young girl from a rich Genoan family. Edgar preferred to write his name simply as Degas, although he happily maintained relations with his numerous de Gas relatives in Italy.

Orchestra Musicians, 1872. Oil on canvas, 69 x 49 cm. Städel-Museum , Frankfurt.

Enviably stable by nature, Degas spent his entire life in the neighbourhood where he was born. He scorned and disliked the Left Bank, perhaps because that was where his mother had died. In 1850, Edgar Degas completed his studies at Lycée Louis-le-Grand, and, in 1852, received his degree in law. Because his family was rich, his life as a painter unfolded far more smoothly than for the other Impressionists.

After the Bath, c. 1896. Pastel, 89.5 x 116.8 cm.
The Philadelphia Museum of Fine Arts , Philadelphia.

Degas started his apprenticeship in 1853 at the studio of Louis-Ernest Barrias and, beginning in 1854, studied under Louis Lamothe, who revered Jean-Auguste-Dominique Ingres above all others and transmitted his adoration for this master to Edgar Degas. Degas’ father was not opposed to his son’s choice. On the contrary: when, after the death of his wife, he moved to Rue Mondovi, he set up a studio for Edgar on the fourth floor, from which the Place de la Concorde could be seen over the rooftops. Edgar’s father himself was an amateaur painter and connoisseur; he introduced his son to his many friends. Among them were Achille Deveria, curator of the Department of Prints and Drawings at the Bibliothèque Nationale, who permitted Edgar to copy from the drawings of the Old Masters: Rembrandt, Dürer, Goya, Holbein.

Two Dancers Entering the Stage, 1877-1878. Pastel on monotype, 38.1 x 35 cm. Fogg Art Museum , Cambridge

His father also introduced him to his friends in the Valpinçon family of art collectors, at whose home the future painter met the great Ingres. All his life Degas would remember Ingres’ advice as one would remember a prayer: “Draw lines … Lots of lines, whether from memory or from life” (Paul Valéry, Écrits sur l’Art [Writings on Art], Paris, 1962). Starting in 1854, Degas travelled frequently to Italy: first to Naples, where he made the acquaintance of his numerous cousins, and then to Rome and Florence where he copied tirelessly from the Old Masters. His drawings and sketches already revealed very clear preferences: Raphael, Leonardo da Vinci, Michelangelo, and Andrea Mantegna, but also Benozzo Gozzoli, Ghirlandaio, Titian, Fra Angelico, Uccello, and Botticelli. He went to Orvieto Cathedral specifically to copy from the frescoes of Luca Signorelli, and visited Perugia and Assisi. The pyrotechnics of Italian painting dazzled him. Degas was lucky like no other.

The Morning Bath, c. 1887-1890. Pastel on off-white laid paper mounted on board, 70.6 x 43.3 cm. The Art Institute of Chicago , Chicago.

One can only marvel at the sensitivity Edgar’s father demonstrated with respect to his son’s vocation, at his insight into his son’s goals, and at the way he was able to encourage the young painter. “You’ve taken a giant step forwards in your art, your drawing is strong, your colour tone is precise,” he wrote his son. “You no longer have anything to worry about, my dear Edgar, you are progressing beautifully. Calm your mind and, with tranquil and sustained effort, stick to the furrow that lies before you without straying. It’s your own – it is no one else’s. Go on working calmly, and keep to this path” (J. Bouret, Degas, Paris, 1987).

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Gallé: Time’s Fragility

Exhibition: A Passionate Eye for Japanese Art. Japonisme in Emile Gallé’s Work

Date: 3 April 2017 – 31 March 2018

Venue: Kitazawa Museum of Art

During the end of the 19th century, Western Europe experienced a great rebirth and reinvigoration in decorative arts, with a focus on the imitation of nature. In fact, in the 1860s, vital scientific works (by Haeckel, Kommode, Blossfeldt, etc.) were published, offering the new art a repertoire of forms, and directing it towards a path of modernity. At the same time, a taste for Japanese art started to develop, seen through personalities such as Hayashi Tadamasa, an art dealer, who set up residence in France, enabling Western Europe to discover Japanese modes of production. Japanese art is based on the observation of nature, on the poetic interpretation of natural forms. Science and art displayed a similar move towards renewal during the 19th century.

Stationery holder, c. 1878. Faience, yellowish flakes, white tin glaze, height: 13.5 cm, width: 34 cm, depth: 20.5 cm. Landesmuseum Württemberg , Stuttgart.

This went hand in hand with an artistic awakening of nationalities throughout Western Europe. It was no longer a question of the past nor foreign taste. Instead each nation developed its own aesthetic. Above all, functionality became a priority in arts, decorative embellishments were reduced and useful decoration and objects moved to the foreground. Such art was forbidden during the century through various trends: “[this century] had no folk art“ said Émile Gallé in 1900.

Daisies inkwell, before 1872. Faience, yellow-reddish flakes, white tin glaze, height: 6.5 cm, width: 7 cm, depth: 7 cm. Landesmuseum Württemberg ,
Stuttgart.

In the 1870s to the 1880s, their forces returned. What was seen as superfluous in the past, was revived in the field of arts. All these events occurred in Western Europe at the same time, and led in the late 19th century to the birth of Art Nouveau, a name that perfectly reflected the innovativeness of the art movement. Although an overall stylistic similarity existed, the formal development of Art Nouveau varied from land to land.

Daisy vase (front and reverse), 1874-1878. Faience, white tin glaze, yellow-reddish flakes, height: 17.4 cm, width: 17 cm, depth: 7.5 cm. Münchner Stadtmuseum , Munich.

The 1889 World Exposition in Paris reflected the scale of the influence of Art Nouveau, exposing a complete image not only of the various areas of production, but also of the national tendencies. Art Nouveau exploded in France in 1895 in a similar way that Alphonse Mucha’s placard for Sarah Bernhardt in the role of Gismonda caused a sensational uproar. In December of the same year, Siegfried Bing, an art dealer with German ancestry but French nationality, opened a gallery entirely devoted to Art Nouveau and played a significant role in the diffusion of the movement.

Smoking service: tray, tobacco tin, ash tray, cigarette holder, and match
case, date unknown. Faience. Landesmuseum Württemberg ,
Stuttgart.

In the realm of decorative arts Émile Gallé (1846-1904) – a Nancy-born glassmaker, carpenter, and ceramicist – acquired over the decade much fame with his Art-Nouveaustyle art pieces. He incorporated his passion for botany in his father‘s trade of pottery and glassware in 1877. His inspiration came from nature and from the works of Japanese artists, which he collected. He developed new techniques, filed patents, and directed various steps in the process of development, a legacy in the industrial revolution in his workshops. During the 1889 World Exposition, Gallé received three awards for his entries. He then acquired the epithet homo triplex from the critic Roger Marx.

Hen terrine, after 1880. Faience, yellow flakes, white tin
glaze, height: 16 cm, width: 27 cm, depth: 18 cm. Musées royaux
d’Art et d’Histoire , Brussels.

In 1901, together with Victor Prouvé (1858-1943), Louis Majorelle (1859-1926), and Eugène Vallin (1856-1922), he founded Alliance Provinciale des Industries d’Art, also known as École de Nancy. Their goal was to eliminate the separation between disciplines: there should no longer exist a distinction between experienced and unexperienced artists. Nature is the foundation of their aesthetic, seen through the creation of flower and plant stylisation. After Art Nouveau reached its peak in 1900, he quickly disappeared from the world of art. In contradiction to his major speeches, Art Nouveau is a luxury style, difficult to reproduce on a large scale. The First International Exhibition of Modern Decorative Arts in Turin of 1902 indicated that a new art movement was already underway: Art Deco.

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