Monday, February 12, 2007

Art Nouveau & Vienna Secession: United States

While Art Nouveau in the United States didn’t have the most lasting impression on its generation, its impact on the future of design can’t be denied. It is often times considered to be a regeneration of Victorian Style influenced by an awareness of the standards of quality and craftsmanship established in the Arts and Crafts Movement. While the décor in interiors remained rather stuffy, a change in subject matter set it apart from the interiors that came before it. Lighter, iridescent colors came into play and a focus was put on nature and natural forms. Sinuous forms taking on plant-like characteristics became visible in exteriors and interiors alike, marking a dramatic change and replacing the historic decorative elements that had come before. Iron and cast iron became large players in the execution of these designs. It was easily molded and manipulated into these very curvilinear and almost obscurely abstract designs.

The two most prominent players in this era of design were Louis Comfort Tiffany (1848-1933) and Louis H. Sullivan (1856-1924), both of which were known primarily for their definitive styles in Art Nouveau. Tiffany became increasingly interested in the decorative arts and founded the ‘Louis C. Tiffany & Associated Artists’ Design Firm in New York City. His early style tended to follow in the footsteps of the Victorian Era with highly decorative elements taking over his interiors. Tiffany was best known for his concentration in stained glass. He was commissioned to produce windows for many American churches, including H. H. Richardson’s Trinity Church in Boston. These works featured traditional imagery of religious subjects as well as landscape, floral and semi-abstract themes that were very similar to French Art Nouveau. While Tiffany grew to be most well known for his ‘Tiffany Lamp’, he also produced many vases, bowls and other decorative objects, combining his famous glass work with metal work resembling natural forms such as floral or vine-like pieces as well as peacock feathers and insect wings.

Louis H. Sullivan was the other key designer in this movement. Often considered the ‘Pioneer of Modernism’, Sullivan is noted for his ideology that “form is to follow function”. He was America’s first modernist architect and was noted for his use of rich ornament combined with strong functionality. Sullivan was a noted designer in terms of both spatial organization and ornament. His Chicago Auditorium Building (1886-1890) marked a major step in the development of iron structural framing, but the interiors of his buildings were the height of his designs. In this particular building, we find an auditorium topped with great arches incorporating the use of electric lighting, covered in gilded relief similar to what we’d find in the Victorian Era combined with great functionality and genius in his design of a moveable ceiling to promote better acoustics.

Many critics have considered this the “style that failed” and had only begun to appreciate it after World War II when various exhibitions and publications brought it to the masses. It is now considered to be a strong step towards modernism, but many disagree, claiming it didn’t let go of the frivolous and tasteless over decorating of the Victorian Era. Do you feel that this was merely an extension of the often over-done interiors of the Victorian Era or that it was, indeed, yet another step leading us toward modern design? Was Art Nouveau in the United States able to successfully transition from the Victorian Era and the Arts and Crafts Movement into modern design without entirely abandoning either of these schools of thought?

13 comments:

Caitlin said...

After reflecting on the Art Nouveau style in the United States, I don't believe that it was an extension of the Victorian Era. That era was a time of complete overly-done ornamentation and immensely frivolous decoration. The movement into art nouveau from the previous Victorian and Arts and crafts style creates almost a combination of the two. For example, the curvilinear lines created by Louis Comfort Tiffany in the "Tiffany lamp" reflected the free-form lines from the Victorian Era, but was more stylized to reflect the straight lines of the Arts and Crafts movement. I believe that Art nouveau was a movement that successfully brought us to what is modern design today. I also believe that Art nouveau in the United States was mostly successful in creating a new movement, while not abandoning either schools of thought from the Victorian Era and the Arts and Crafts movement.

kelsdietz said...

While Art Nouveau had it's share of decorative ornamentation such as in the Victorian Era, it was in a very different way. Victorian was just throwing a buch of collections from different themes into one room. While in Art Nouveau all decoration was related, interiors were design along with the furinture, sometimes even the silverware all under the same design scheme. Makeing the whole space related, unlike Victorian where no one origin could be found. Art Nouveau was a nice blend of the organic feel of the Victorian Era with the simple and clean feel of Arts and Crafts. And together they set the platform for modern design we know today.

Megandrees said...

Art Nouveau was very differnet from the Victorian and Arts and Crafts period but follows after them well. Art Nouveau was architecturally something that was never seen before. The curved line was incorporated in everything. Something that the other two styles didn't use. The world and how we live in it had recenetly changed so it makes sinces that architecture wouldn't follow any earlier works and create a new style.

brittanyg0321 said...

I agree that the Art Nouveau style was done very differently from the Victorian Era. The whiplash and S curves seen in the example of Hotel Tassel, would have never fit into any of the previous styles. The cluttered mess of the Victorian just didn't have the cohesiveness that the Art Nouveau designs did. Also the more organic lines in Art Nouveau contradict the more linear aspect of Arts and Crafts.

Jonathan Fox said...

This era was indeed a step forward. It wasn't a giant leap, but it was an important step that had to made in order to get out of the Victorian era. What the designers of this era did was to take small cues from the Victorian era and apply principles of the Arts & Crafts era and meld them into an ornate, yet simplistic design style. Empahasis on quality, simplicity and consistant theme was top priority, yet ornament and color was not spared.

RCRecker said...

The art nouveau period was a good step forward. This was because of the unique organic designs. Ornamentation was also used in the time period but it was used in a different way then in the Victorian era. The decorations and ornamentation were more in the architecture. Unlike the Victorian era were the decoration was in textiles and items that were displayed rather then in the designs.

sally9787 said...

The style of Art Nouveau was not, in my opinion, an extension of the Victorian era. While it has been said that it had some design similarities, Art Nouveau was about functionality combined with ornamentation, and also about the organic shapes of nature. The Victorian era was about how many things you could have, it was about showing prominence and not about the functionality of a room. Art Nouveau was able to transition in a way that didn't totally leave behind all the ideas of Arts and Crafts and the Victorian era, but did transition to where it was it's own style. It used the functionality of the Arts and Crafts movement, and (somewhat) the ornamentation ideas from the Victorian era and then transformed them into an idea that was original and sent it into modernism with a little bit of the ideas that came before it.

sally9787 said...

The style of Art Nouveau was not, in my opinion, an extension of the Victorian era. While it has been said that it had some design similarities, Art Nouveau was about functionality combined with ornamentation, and also about the organic shapes of nature. The Victorian era was about how many things you could have, it was about showing prominence and not about the functionality of a room. Art Nouveau was able to transition in a way that didn't totally leave behind all the ideas of Arts and Crafts and the Victorian era, but did transition to where it was it's own style. It used the functionality of the Arts and Crafts movement, and (somewhat) the ornamentation ideas from the Victorian era and then transformed them into an idea that was original and sent it into modernism with a little bit of the ideas that came before it.

monicam said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
monicam said...

I tend to feel as though the Arts and Crafts movement was somewhat of an "extension" of the Victorian Era in the sense that interiors were heavily decorated and ornamented. However I do think that these two styles are completely different in the fact that one seemed to be more of a "put as many plush and decorative things you can in a space." (which would be The Victorian Era.) and one was more of a highly decorated but more cohesive, thought out ornamentation; (the Arts and Crafts movement.) So, in that statement, I believe that without the Arts and Crafts movement we could have missed some of these important fundamentals of ornamentation in interiors that helped lead to todays modern design.

kinseyjanzen said...

I believe that the Art Nouveau was a necessary and orderly step after the Victorian Era, but they are very different styles which are both important to the design world today. Although both make use of the curvilinear line, the Victorian Era overuses it for ornamentation, while the Art Nouveau uses line for design reasons instead of to for making the designs more popular. Art Nouveau makes use of the S and whiplash curves in a consistent and coherent way. Therefore, even though the Art Nouveau style was after the Victorian Era, it is not an extension of it.

Joyce T said...

I feel as thought the curvilinear elements found in both the art nouveau and Victorian Era are due to the new technology allowing these features to be built. I dont think that the Art Nouveau was an extension of the Victorian era but rather an improvement of how to utilize these new technologies to create a cohesive, free-flowing design. As many have said before me, the victorian era was more about status symbols and combining styles. While Art nouveau may have the curvilinear look of Victorian, the design is much more cohesive and organized. It is difficult to say that any one style led to the modern era. I feel the modern era was a reflection on all previous styles, but perhaps art nouveau is in closest correlation to the modern era.

edperr2 said...

The Art Nouveau style was fully engaging. The Victorian Era clutter was reflectant of no design aesthetic. The Arts and Crafts was a style which began the fresh new thought process that led to The Nouveau style. But, no other style was able to fully accomplish the things that Nouveau was able to do. Which is why it was the beginning to modern design. With the complete use of natural form compiled with the restrained use of proportion, the Art Nouveau style was able to tackle psychological issues of movement and experience while still carrying the age old beauty of nature. Like modern design that is constantly using proportion to awe and nature to be green.

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