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The Art Nouveau Movement

Glasgow, Vienna Secession and Italy


Art Nouveau was an international decorative style that thrived during the two decades (1890-1914) that encircled the turn of the century. It encompassed all the design arts – architecture, furniture and product design, fashion, and graphics. Because Art Nouveau forms and lines were often invented rather than copied from nature or the past, there was a revitalization of the design process that pointed toward abstract. Art Nouveau’s off-spring are 20th century designers who adopted, not its surface appearance, but rather its attitude toward materials, process, and values.

While a common form language linked the various versions of Art Nouveau, the style developed differently in each country. In England, new simplified forms had dictated suitable decoration; in France, the style developed from the sense that decoration
dictated form.The style in Belgium is characterized as a “whiplash linear” style. During
the mid-1890’s the German Jugendstil (Youth Style) and the Austrian Secession were characterized by hard-edge angular graphics; and the Glasgow Style, can be characterized by its rectilinear symmetry.

Although Art Nouveau gained its prominence in France, its roots come from England. Specifically, with the art of Mackmurdo. In England, the style of Art Nouveau primarily seen in the graphic design and illustration, not in its architecture, sculpture, etc. as in other countries.


In the early 1890s at the Glasgow School of Art there were four architectural students who showed many similarities in their work, according to the headmaster. These four began to collaborate on work and soon became known as “The Four.” These four were; Charles Rennie Mackintosh (1868-1928), J. Herbert McNair (1868-1955), and sisters Margaret Macdonald (1865-1933) and Francis Macdonald (1874-1921). Interestingly this group also collaborated on marriage; in 1899 McNair married Francis Macdonald, and in 1900 Mackintosh married Margaret Macdonald. “The Four,” is also known as the Glasgow School. They developed a rectilinear structure held together by a geometric composition combined with floral and curvilinear elements. The work used bold, simple lines to define flat planes of color. The Macdonald sister were strongly religious and included symbolist and mystical ideas into their work. But the strongest characteristic style of the Glasgow School was the strong rectangular structure of their work – which at the time was very different.

Mackintosh also made contributions in architecture, design of objects and chairs, as well as interior design and typography. His main design theme or characteristic being his use of vertical lines.

Margaret Macdonald became the wife of Charles Rennie Mackintosh, and was often overshadowed by Mackintosh. Margaret's work was linear and decorative, often using symbolism.

Again in the work of Frances Macdonald (who married Herbert MacNair), the work
shows strong linear flowing lines, along with the female and the picture plane being flattened. Like her sister Margaret, Frances was influenced by William Blake and Aubrey Beardsley.

With a style very close to that of the other Glasgow Four, Herbert MacNair's work was very linear, decorative and symbolic, as you see with his flower buds and female figure. In 1897 MacNair took a position at the University of Liverpool, but also continued to design. In 1899, he married Frances MacDonald, and in 1909 the couple returned to Glasgow from Liverpool. Unfortunately the couple had many financial troubles. Frances died at the young age of 47, and MacNair never painted again.

Another designer from the Glasgow School to be noted is Talwin Morris (1865-1911),
he made some major contributions in the area of book design.
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The Glasgow movement became admired in Europe (although not in England), especially in Germany and Austria. In Vienna Austria, the Vienna Secession came to be on April 3, 1897. Remember, that in Austria – Vienna specifically – is where foreign artists were not allowed to exhibit their work, with the visual arts being dominated by the conservative academics. In response a group of young architects, painters, and graphic artists formed this group called the Vienna Secesion. The painter Gustav Klimt (1862-1918) was the leader of this Vienna group. Architects Joseph Maria Olbrich (1867-1908) and Josef Hoffmann (1870-1956) along with artist designer Koloman Moser (1868-1919) were the group’s key members. The Vienna Secession was inspired by the Glasgow School, and like Glasgow worked against the floral motifs of art nouveau in France especially.

The influential magazine at the time was the Secession’s Ver Sacrum (Sacred Spring), published from 1898 to 1903. This magazine had an unusual square format, and the covers were often hand lettering combined with bold line drawings on a colored
background. This was a magazine where experimentation in design was allowed and
was described as elegant. So elegant that advertisers were required to commission to have their advertisements designed.

Like many of the other we have looked at,  the members of the Secession worked in architecture, crafts, graphic design, interior design, painting, print making and sculpture. Moser has become influential in graphic design with his move toward geometric form.

Characteristics of the Vienna Secession are; flat shapes, geometric patterning, and sans serif typefaces – even the handlettering).

Moser and Hoffmann (architect) went on to teach in what was called the Vienna Workshops in 1903. Similar to Wm. Morris’s workshops, these produced objects/fabrics for everyday use. This creative push in Vienna slowed down around 1910. Although the workshops flourished until the Depression era (1932).
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Italy was not a major contributor in Art Nouveau, but its style was called Stile Liberty. The style was most active in the commercial sector, and was centered in Milan and Turin – in Northern Italy. Much of the Italian Nouveau work was influenced from other countries developments, even its name is a reference to London, but it did have its own romantic style that was not seen in the other country’s styles.

Key characters in this style include; Giovanni Mataloni, Marcello Dudovich, and Leoneto Cappiello.

Giovanni Mataloni (1869-1944)
His imagery is characterized by his shading and chiaroscuro, he is said to be responsible to bringing Nouveau to Italy, and was a powerful force in poster art.

Dudovich Marcello (1878-1962)
Worked as a lithographer and illustrator, he also became involved in the new cinematographic industry. He was one of the most acclaimed advertising poster artists of his time.

Leonetto Cappiello (1875-1942)
Produced hundreds of lithographic posters that blended the Art Nouveau and Art Deco styles. He used bold colors and simple form, along with being playful.

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