Art Around the World

The Return of Art Nouveau

By Tom Gross, June 13, 2000

One hundred years ago, the new art – l’art nouveau – hit Europe like some great stylistic storm. From Paris to Prague, from Budapest to Brussels, this revolutionary style of art placed as much emphasis on design as on content, and was as much at ease applied to a cookie tin or a streetlamp as to a canvas. It was loved and loathed in equal measure. But its impact was such that its influence spread to architecture and the decoration of entire buildings.

Now Art Nouveau is back. The biggest exhibition since its heyday has opened at London’s Victoria and Albert Museum. It contains pieces of exuberant flamboyance from Europe and beyond that “set the imagination free.” Works on display are not limited to paintings, but cover everything from swirling banisters to the twisted glass of Renי Lalique and the posters of Alphonse Mucha. The eclectic mix of over 400 pieces even includes the entire entrance to a Paris metro station designed by Hector Guimard that has been brought over to London for the show. There are also pieces from America, such as electric lamps covered with shimmering cascades of colored glass by Louis Comfort Tiffany, the son of the famous New York jeweler.

The British critics have been enchanted, hailing it as “one of the most ambitious and beautiful exhibitions held in years.” It is perhaps ironic that the exhibition debuts in London, because although England helped to inspire the new style – the Italians called Art Nouveau “Stile Liberty” after the fashionable London department store – the British were also among the most vehement of those who rejected it as something alien and foreign.

In London until July 30, the exhibition will then travel to Washington D.C. More details can be found on the museum’s website, with links to other art nouveau sites.

Article copyright © Tom Gross. All rights reserved.