Art Nouveau from Europe and America from the Morse Collection
By the 1890s, new technology and thinking had transformed the Western world. Machines, electric power, and the ideas of Sigmund Freud and Charles Darwin among others, had created a new age. There was, it followed, a need for a new art to express the heart, mind, and imagination of the people living in this changed era.
Art Nouveau, which is French for “new art,” was until about 1910 the successful response by artists, designers, and architects from London to Paris, Milan to Vienna, and Central Europe to North America. Art Nouveau enjoyed a variety of names in these different art centers. It was the Liberty Style in England, for example, after the respected London retailer who enlisted the avant-garde designers to supply its store, and Sezessionstil in Austria, after the modernist artists’ group in Vienna. But it is the name Art Nouveau—taken from Siegfried Bing’s influential shop in Paris—that has achieved the widest popularity in characterizing all the art of this style, regardless of region. The Morse has a number of beautiful objects by artists working within the framework of Art Nouveau. The works in this gallery celebrate the style’s regional diversity and illustrate its common design vocabulary. Art Nouveau’s reform-minded artists preferred asymmetrical composition and shared an interest in subjects that included women and natural phenomena, often flowers and trees specific to an artist’s locale. Line was of prime importance. The curves and counter curves associated with the style were ideal vehicles for describing the female form with a heightened sensuality. Finally, Art Nouveau practitioners found inspiration in Eastern sources, from the rosewater sprinklers of Persia to the sea life depicted in Japanese woodblock prints.