Art Nouveau was a French movement that had a great impact on all areas of visual art and was hugely popular in Europe and the USA. It’s versatile and decorative way, serpentine lines, abstract arabesques, and stylized human and plant forms, made it a perfect fit for areas such as design, architecture, painting, and graphic art in general.
The name of the movement was given after Siegfried Bing’s store Maison de L’Art Nouveau, inaugurated in 1895. The store sold many different items like oriental artwork, for example, the Japanese prints, and European sculptures done with glass, by designers such as Louis Comfort Tiffany, and Rene Lalique, who would portray stylized sculptures and jewelry made of glass of flowers and insects.
Influenced by different stimuli, Art Nouveau artists were inspired by the simplicity of the Japanese Woodprints, by the British movement Arts & Crafts, especially the patterns and floral designs of William Morris. They were also stimulated by the stylization developed by certain artists like Paul Gauguin, Vincent van Gogh, and Edouard Munch. The movements decorative aspect and contents without narrative helped Design embrace the style, also working with expressive and symbolic content. This helped pave the way for abstract art.
The painter Jan Toorop starts off as part of the Symbolist movement, but gradually migrates to Art Nouveau, painting more decorative pieces with ambiguous meanings. This can be seen in Fatality, where the artists used decorative, serpentine lines and depict an unknown world, far from our reality. Aubrey Vincent Beardsley, another prominent artist of this movement, did not start working as an artist but was highly encouraged by Sir Edward Coley Burne-Jones to start an artistic career. Beardsley worked on a series of illustrations for Oscar Wilde’s playwright Salome, including The Peacock Skirt. He uses Salome’s skirt to portray the decorative Art Nouveau style, done simply. Some of the original work made for the novel was censored for being considered too pornographic, but the artist sends in astonishing new work as a response. The publication was scandalous for the public of the time and tarnished the painter's reputation, especially for having his name linked to Oscar Wilde, who was completely outcast for the provocative themes in his writing.
At the end of the XIX century, artists from Germany and Austria from a group called Secession, aiming to separate from the Academies and enable independent salons. This group didn’t have their style but were mostly from the Art Nouveau. The main painter in the Secession was Gustav Klimt. In his golden phase, Klimt paints his masterpiece The Kiss, a portrayal of a man giving a woman a soft kiss on the cheek, and both are wrapped by this golden surrounding that can resemble clothes or blankets and it seems to protect them from the outside world. He decorates this abstract and geometric forms and floral patterns. The background that could be interpreted as the sky is filled with golden specks and the couple rest in a field of flowers. Klimt showed this in an exhibition in 1908, and it was a huge success – even thou the exhibition was not – and the Austrian government bought it for the National Collection. The artist's father was a goldsmith, which led him to learn how to use the material, as golden leaves and powdered gold. This also came influenced by the Byzantine mosaics, after he took a trip to Ravenna in 1903.
The poster was starting to gain more position as Nouveau artists would use their art as advertising. Jules Cheret was a painter and printmaker and would make posters for theater plays, like the Carnival at the Theatre de L’Opera. Originally done in stone lithography, a printing technique from the XVIII century, for faster and easier printing. Another artist who worked with prints, as well as paintings, was Alphonse Mucha. Advertising for a variety of products as well as presentations, the Art Nouveau style is very much present in his prints, everything is beautifully illustrated and detailed, like in the poster for Chocolat Ideal. Most of Mucha’s work involves women posing with elaborated fabric, usually symbolizing something, like the Four Seasons, types of flowers, or precious stones, as seen in Amethyst. As opposed to the way women were depicted in the past, Mucha's women were not meant to seduce but merely decorate. Ferdinand Holder paints many adorned landscapes and portraits. In the painting Day, five nude women seem to adorn the scene by throwing small flowers on the ground, almost in synchrony.