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An Introduction to Art Nouveau Jewellery

June 20, 2024
Home / The Vault / An Introduction to Art Nouveau Jewellery

The design aesthetic of the Art Nouveau movement has become unmistakable across art, architecture, illustration, graphic work, furniture and jewellery. The free-flowing, whimsical forms evoked a sense of liberation during a period in history when art and design were experiencing reforms across Western cultures. This innovative design language married the simplistic aesthetics of the East with the naturalistic motifs of the Victorian era. Artists such as George Fouquet, Alphonse Mucha, Louis Tiffany and the renowned, René Lalique, pioneered this design movement and to this day, remain synonymous with the term Art Nouveau.

What is Art Nouveau?

The term Art Nouveau is of French origin and simply translated means 'new art'. The design aesthetic focused on the influence of nature and the feminine. The epicentres for the Art Nouveau movement were Brussels, Paris and Munich, though its influence quickly flourished across Western Europe and the United States from the 1880's until approximately 1914. Flowing tendrils, sinuous lines and 'whiplash' curves were seen across designs of all art disciplines. Flora and fauna were represented through the depiction of irises, orchids, dragonflies, snakes, cranes and peacocks. The female form was celebrated with particular emphasis placed on the woman's profile and sensual flowing hair. The term Art Nouveau was said to stem from the Parisian gallery of influential art dealer Siegfried Samuel Bing, called the 'Maison de L'Art Nouveau'.

What influenced the Art Nouveau movement?

A simplicity of design was borrowed from the Japanese design aesthetic known as Japonisme. The reopening of trade routes between the East and West in 1858 had invigorated the art scene with the introduction of new and exotic styles. Art Nouveau was also a response to art reforms which had been widespread across Europe and America. Art Nouveau coincided with the Arts and Crafts Movement and Aesthetic Movement. Following the Industrial Revolution of the first half of the century; "anxieties about industrial life fueled a positive revaluation of handcraftsmanship and precapitalist forms of culture and society" (Obniski 2008). These movements formed in part, a rejection of mass production and sought to improve and promote craftmanship and traditional techniques. The movement across Britain was in particular "inspired by the ideas of John Ruskin and William Morris, it advocated a revival of traditional handicrafts, a return to a simpler way of life and an improvement in the design of ordinary domestic objects" (V&A Museum). Art Nouveau aimed to encompass a sense of spiritual uplifting through the use of the sweeping, free-flowing forms and the distinct use of line; often interpreted as a metaphor for freedom and self-expression.

Who is Alphonse Mucha?

Alphonse Mucha was an influential artist living in Paris during the period and best known for his distinct graphic design works and paintings. His artworks often incorporated the idealised female form with references to nature and the celestial. He gained much notoriety throughout Paris for his artworks and at the turn of the century went into partnership with renowned jeweller, George Fouquet. "The two men collaborated from 1899 to 1901, during which time Mucha not only conceived a spectacular series of elaborate jewels executed by Fouquet's Paris atelier but also designed a sumptuous new Fouquet showroom in the rue Royale, where the interior decoration specifically harmonised with the jewelry" (MET Museum). The showroom designed by Alphonse Mucha remains on display in Paris at the Musée Carnavalet and remains one of the greatest examples of Art Nouveau design and architecture of the time.

What is Art Nouveau Jewellery?

Art Nouveau jewellery is defined by the same principles of the other visual and decorative arts of this time. Long flowing lines were achieved in metalwork and wonderful colours and details through enamel work and the inclusion of gemstones. Naturalistic motifs were popular with elongated floral motifs creating elegant settings. A fashion for mixed and layered metals had developed and the use of green, rose and yellow gold layered on silverwork was widely adopted. There was a resurgence in the fad for medal jewels, typically depicting a woman's profile. This was a revival of the Greco-Roman trend for medals and was a means for jewellers to fill a gap in the market that had been left by cameo jewels, which had fallen out of favour with the turn of the century.

Art Nouveau Jewellers

There were many talented artists who produced jewellery during the Art Nouveau era and the design principles, largely due to the strong emphasis on clean lines, made the designs adaptable to jewellery. The jewellery house of George Fouquet was renowned for Art Nouveau jewellery, which he was able to produce in collaboration with Alphonse Mucha. The designs of Louis Comfort Tiffany were also synonymous with the movement, particularly across America, he was the son of Charles Lewis Tiffany (1812–1902), founder of Tiffany & Co. Although he did produce some enamel and silver jewellery, perhaps his biggest contribution was through his glass production studio, in which he produced the famous Tiffany lamps. Charles Horner was an English jeweller who also adapted the Art Nouveau style and produced many silver and enamel pendants. He was well-known as a producer of thimbles and his iconic twisted silver wire and paste 'knot' necklaces.

However, there is one jeweller whose work was so influential through the Art Nouveau period that his craftsmanship and techniques have gone down in history as some of the world's best. René Jules Lalique, was a French born jeweller, medallist and glassworker whose jewellery works greatly contributed to the Art Nouveau movement. His exquisite pieces of jewellery remain highly prized by collectors, and he continues to be celebrated as one of the most significant jewellers of the early 20th century.

The Art Nouveau movement was the birth of a new and unique style of art and design. The revolt from the industrialisation of art created a new landscape and sense of freedom for craftspeople across all disciplines. The jewellery of the time is distinct in style and is admired for its elegant curves and motifs.

Shop our range of Art Nouveau era jewellery here or in-store at our Sydney boutique.

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