Has art and design always been perceived as traditional, contemporary and modern? What are the design influences at the turn of the 20th Century that still embellish our spaces with elan today? How did the Tiffany lamp get immortalised for its distinctive treatment? What inspired the La Goulue, Toulouse-Lautrec’s first poster for the Moulin Rouge? Let’s explore two beautiful art movements that rose above orthodox principles and promoted handcrafted designs with nature as a source of inspiration, and can still find the pride of place in our environs.
Arts and Crafts Movement (1880-1920)
In the mid 1800s, art historians and reformers critiqued the Great Exhibition of 1851 held in Hyde Park, London. The Great Exhibition of the Works of Industry of All Nations as it was also called, was a celebration of modern industrial technology and design. As a sharp reaction that concluded the display to be excessively ornate, artificial and a decline in standards of quality, the arts and crafts movement was born. This movement held machines and industrialisation accountable for repetitive elements in design, and influenced British and American architecture, decorative arts and crafts, furniture and garden designs in an attempt to reform design and decoration in the mid 19th century.
William Morris was a towering influence on this movement and advocated the idea of handicraft that avoided any use of machinery in modeling designs, especially furniture and interiors.
The ideals of this arts and crafts movement influenced architecture, painting, sculpture, graphics, illustration, book making, photography, and in the purview of interior décor came woodwork, stained glass, leatherwork, embroidery, rug making, metalwork, enameling and ceramics. Other notable contributors to this movement were CR Ashbee who designed jewellery and silverware, CFA, Voysey whose sophistication was reflected in wallpapers, furniture and metalwork, and John Ruskin who based his furniture and interior design patterns on flora and fauna, often drawing inspiration from the bold forms of medieval styles and domestic traditions. The arts and crafts movement furniture style had a rectilinear form, with vertical, elongated forms finished in dark wood like stained oak. The upholstery was remarkably simple, with natural cloth or leather, devoid of over ornate and luxurious impressions. The decoration on furniture was left minimal too allowing the quality of material to reign. Gustav Stickley’s dropfront desk and his adjustable-back armchair with leather upholstery (1900) are excellent examples. An impressionable architectural marvel of the movement is the Red House situated at Bexleyheath, London (1859), designed by architect Philip Webb for William Morris.
Art Noveau Movement (1890-1914)
As the name suggests, this “New Art” movement was interestingly also known as the Glasgow Style in Scotland, Stile Liberty in Italy, Sezessionstil in Austria, Tiffany Style in America and Jugendstil in German. As its predecessor, this art lobby arose as a reaction as well, but to neoclassicism and historicism. Art Noveau did not entirely reject machine involvement in design, and readily adopted new materials, machined surfaces and abstraction over pure design.
Using principal materials like glass and wrought iron for sculptures, Art Noveau pieces produced sculptural qualities even in architecture. In fact, Art Noveau architecture employed technological innovations of the 19th century such as exposed iron and the use of massive, irregularly-shaped glass pieces. Highly stylised, curvilinear and flowing lines were characteristic of this period with the use of nouille (noodle) or coup de fouet (whiplash), hyperbolas and parabolas as well. Art Noveau was a unified style of many functional and simplistic aspects of everyday living, often encouraged by organic forms and patterns that would flow from one object to another.
There was a desire to abandon historical art that was deemed suffocatingly ornate, and to revive individualised craftsmanship where the function of an object would dictate its form. Japanese wood block prints with floral and bulbous forms became a passion for artists like Gustav Klimt, Emile Gallé, and James Abbott McNeill Whistler during this period. Paris still retains the glory of the Art Nouveau period in the form of its 10 metro stations designed 116 years ago by Hector Guimard. Opaque panelling with floral motifs and kiosks with fan-shaped roofs called édicules were the hallmark of Guimard’s style. Furniture design during this period bore curving complex shapes which were difficult to create, and hence were quite expensive. Louis Majorelle, a French decorator and furniture designer, created ornate and original pieces embellished with inlays. He was inspired by dragonflies, waterlily leaves, tendrils, stems of plants and his woodwork bears details of natural elements. A noted example of his creations is the Nénuphar bed with water lily motifs. This era also delivered to the world the unique and distinctly handcrafted Tiffany Lamp, handmade by craftsmen in the studio of Louis Comfort Tiffany.
While there are other movements that influenced design and décor at the turn of the 20th century, these two movements were particularly expressive and defiant and rose above the ethos of traditional artistic expression.
— The writer is a design expert who understands the intrinsic aspects of interior spaces and its trends. He helms an exclusive designer furniture brand....