In this essay I will discuss the style label Art Nouveau. I will focus on graphic media, posters in particular in the year period of 1900s. I will discuss the so called fin-de-siecle poster. This means the main focus of this paper is on French art and design in this period. It is in France where Art Nouveau was originated and developed the most intensively.
Art Nouveau is a style in art that “exploded onto the art and design scene in the early 1890s and spread rapidly throughout the Western world” (Greenhalgh, 2000: 7). The style united art searches of artists in the field of architecture, graphics, sculpture, arts and crafts and quickly extended worldwide. The concept of Art Nuoveau is initially “originated from the gallery de L’Art Nouveau in Paris, opened by Zigrfrid Bing in 1895” (Weisberg et al., 2002: 127). Here first works of the new art were presented.
The development of this style is defined by aspiration of artists to break link with art styles of the past. The new art was a response based on the new technological and esthetic achievements of the new era. It was fed by needs of producers for the style suitable for new technologies of mass industrial production.
Many researchers connect the development of colonies to the development of the new style. And in Art Nuoveau “new exotic breeds of trees, national motives of the occupied territories are actively used” (Arwas, 2002: 193). The achievements of art of Japan, the countries of North Africa, the Middle East are actively adopted.
The style suggested the new relation to the nature and revaluation of a role and a place of the person in the natural world. The style is characterized by the new asymmetric, wavy rounded-off and smooth lines. Natural vegetable forms and motives get the increasing role in the new style. It can be plants and the flowers represented in the stylized form. New symbolical value of the stylized forms of animals, insects and reptiles are getting of more meaning in this period. The typical motives for works in Art Nouveau are the images of curling water plants (lilies, water-lilies). Images of female figures with streaming curly are wide used that, the opinion of some researchers, makes “the new art  conceptually erotic”. The forms of “circle, oval and square are widely used” (Wood, 2000: 87). Even the symbolical image of a human body or even its separate parts (for example kidneys) is actively applied in new style, emphasizing communication of the person with the nature. Natural and organic twisting lines reflect eternal variability of the nature. The prominent features of the new style were complexity and contradiction, decoration and ornament. They are inherent in fin-de-siecle posters originated in France. The prominent features of the new style were “complexity and contradiction, decoration and ornament” that are “inherent in fin-de-siecle posters originated in France” (Jobling & Crowley, 1996).
“Although international in scope, Art Nouveau was a short-lived movement whose brief incandescence was a precursor of modernism  Although a reaction to historic revivalism, it brought Victorian excesses to a dramatic fin-de-siècle crescendo.” (Gontar, 2006).
In the opinion of Arwas (2002) “the style of Art Nouveau is presented in the works of such artists as A. Toulouse-Lautrec, J. Cheret, A. Mucha, O. Beardsley, etc”. Each of the works in the new style “contains a lot of paradoxes, particularly the combination of the newly declared forms with reference to images of culture that is much older than the western” (Arwas, 2002: 78). The artists created advertising posters with the help of their rich imagination. It went beyond traditional standards of the art.
The style is epistomed by the painter/designer Alphonse Mucha who was Czech by birth, but became famous worldwide and in France. The so-called "Mucha style" is “equivalent to an official name of the Art Nouveau” (Greenhalgh, 2000: 29). It served as role model to a whole generation of designers.
In the center of Mucha’s posters are the idealized images of women that are characterized by the smooth lines, proximity to natural forms, and waiver of sharp angles. These signs are typical for the Art Nouveau. Initially, the female images were used for promotional purposes. Then they helped Mucha to gain success in creating posters. Nowadays this experience is widely used by the leading experts in the advertising industry worldwide. Mucha’s works, as for many experts,”are influenced by the medieval scenes and the Celtic mythology” (Greenhalgh, 2000: 49).
Floral motifs are borrowed from the Eastern culture. The artists widely used “floating stems and pale petals fully meet the concepts of Art Nouveau. Mucha uses the confirmation of pastels, exotic shapes, the repeating images of a beautiful lady. The women are curly, long-haired, dressed in the light Greek tunics that create a unique harmony and unity.
Mucha also uses geometric figures in the works, such as a circle as a symbol of the endless repetition, circulation, and as a symbol of the feminine principle.
Mucha also uses a symbolic representation of a horseshoe in a larger size, with the painted ornament inside. Here is the reference to a pagan and mythical worldview. These figures are related to the “emotionally filled concept in advertisements” (Sterner, 1982: 59).
The first big success came to Alphonse Mucha in 1894, when he made a poster for the great actress Sarah Bernhardt (Sarah Bernhardt, 1844-1923). As it was told later by the artist, at the end of 1893, he was called by the owner of the printing house named de Brunof, with whom he maintained a business relationship. Mucha was asked to create a poster for the great actress.
On the Img1 one can see the actress in her best, with the fluffy hair, decorated with orchids, in a richly ornamented dress with goldly embroidered sleeves, with a palm branch in his right hand.
The poster is performed in the technique of the multi-color lithography. The figure is flat, not shaded, but very decorative. The poster is performed predominantly in the gold tones. On the top of the image on a gold background the name of the play «GISMONDA» is written. It is the typical example of the work in the Art Nouveau style. The author successfully reaches the features of the style with the help of using his rich imagination. He interprets the female image according to the peculiarities of this new style.
Image 1. Alfons Mucha. Gismonda Poster.
On the Img2 one can see an actress in the image of Samaritan. By this work, Mucha references to the Greek mythology. He is trying to show a positive character. As for the new style, it is met by feminine image of a beautiful lady. The modern style is correlating with the traditional culture. The image of Samaritan is borrowed from the Eastern culture and relates to the Christian religion. The woman has red fluffy hair, the body is curvy, the hair is curly, Floral motives resembles the Japanese culture. It also influenced on the Art Nouveau artists, as mentioned above.
Contemporary painting in this period is an important factor in this study. The “famous painter Toulouse-Lautrec was also connected to this group” (Iskin, 2013: 34). His works differ from Mucha’s paintings in certain way. But he has made a great contribution to the development of Art-Nouveu.
Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec is one of the most brilliant artists of the period of new art. He was able to “convey the atmosphere of his time by referring to the image of women from an artistic medium” (Iskin, 2013: 35). The usual accent is on the observation that is often ironic and dynamic. His works often depict the images of Paris's famous actresses, singers and dancers, and other images of women of the creative professions. Unlike the posters by Alphonse Mucha with his feminine images, Toulouse-Lautrec extremely realistically depicts female images. The artist finds the most expressive features of the model. He emphasizes her natural role in life.
Unlike Mucha who idealizes his female images, Lautrec often refers to the form of the grotesque, as a special mean of the artistic expression. Interestingly, “the irony and the grotesque strong start is a typical phenomenon for the artistic culture of modernity” (Iskin, 2013: 55). This technique can be seen in the works of such masters as Aubrey Berndsley, Konstantin Somov and Theodor Heine.
The most interesting image of a woman is a woman of artistic profession. Toulouse-Lautrec was able to transmit it through the lithographic posters or billboards. During his life the artist created about 30 posters, which are the most clearly expressed his magnificent talent as a painter. All posters are made in the lithograph technique. Unlike the other artists, who preferred to go to professional printers, Toulouse-Lautrec himself “learned the "technical" side of the process” (Sterner, 1982: 123).
Many works by Toulouse-Lautrec are worth mentioning and especially his poster "Moulin Rouge" that we can see on the Img3 where La Goulue and Valentin are shown dancing in the great theater hall, surrounded by black silhouettes. In the foreground, the artist depicted the cropped shape of Valentine as a gray-green shimmering silhouette, emphasizing the dim, dull color and the stylish curved line. The figure of Valentine partially closes the figure of circling partner behind him, and she is the only character who is not drawn as monochrome planar image of a man. However, he skillfully simplifies the figure of La Goulue and skillfully introduces her to his composition. The viewer sees La Goulue not in full: it is slightly covered by the right figure of Valentine; her shiny white skirts are hidden behind the yellow lamps from the left. Space depth of the hall is transmitted in two ways: lines in the background, and figures of the first and second plans that differ in their sizes. Large group of viewers are the solid black mass, and the contour of her is the artful arabesque, clearly marked out cylinders and hats with feathers. Black and red letters over the dancers and audience groups inform us about the cabarets and give an idea of where this couple is dancing.
The Img3 is a good example of the Art Nouveau style label. Femininity and masculinity are vividly seen not only as the characters are dressed, but also like they behave in the cabaret. It seems that they feel free to be in such a provocative place as the Cabaret “Mouline Rouge”. This fully meets the requirements of free natural forms of the new style of that period. Natural features of the characters are good examples of their attitude to life. The author meets the requirements of new style in full.
Image 3. Toulouse-Lautrec. Moulin Rouge Poster.
Alphonse Mucha and Henri Toulouse-Lautrec were quite progressive artists. However, this period is remarkable by the works of many other artists who used everyday themes in the Art Nouveau context. Every artist of that period worked in the frames of realities of the end of nineteenth-the beginning of twentieth century adding their new perspective to visualize images.
The role of the drawing art began to increase in this period. The art began to get commercializing intensively. For instance, Alphonse Mucha was the first to establish the new kind of poster in the Art Nouveau style. Thereafter, this genre was widely used by theaters and big trademarks. In comparison to Mucha’s works, Lautrec’s images “were not as much commercialized”. (Iskin, 2013). In any case, the new world progressive trends to commercialize art were popular among many painters.
Lautrec’s creativity influenced many artists. Swiss-born painter Felix Vallotton (1865-1925) was interested in the abstractive means that reflected reality. Vallotton created series of portraits of famous writers of that time. He “achieved the significant generalization in the characterization of his models” (Sterner, 1982: 177).
Theophile Steinlen (1859-1923) was another representative of the new art style. The artist is “no stranger to the discoveries of the artists in the period of 1860-1870-ies” (Sterner, 1982: 189). In comparison to the works of the other artists, Steinlen sharply and accurately conveys some specific moments in the mobile city life. In addition, he is trying to solve some particular socio-ethical problems. The social life in Paris is the central theme of his works.
In general, the term Art Nouveau is wide. However, it does have common themes and common stylistic prospective. The works of Alphonse Mucha, Henri Toulouse-Lautrec, Felix Valotton, Teophile Steinlen, etc. have much in common, as they are related to the same period of the development in art. The style label of Art-Nouveau came to the world culture in the period of fien-de-siecle, in the end of the 19th century, when new progressive trends were coming to life.
Arwas, V 2002, Art Nouveau: The French Aesthetic, London: Andreas Papadakis.
Greenhalgh, P, ed. 2000, Art Nouveau: 1890-1914, London: Victoria and Albert Museum; Washington, D.C.: National Gallery of Art.
Jobling P & Crowley, D 1996, Graphic Design: Reproduction & Representation since 1800. Manchester; New York: Manchester University Press. Distributed in the USA by St. Martin’s Press.
Iskin, RE 2013, Identity and Interpretation: Receptions of Toulouse-Lautrec’s Reine de joie Poster in the 1890s.
Sterner, G 1982, Art Nouveau, an Art of Transition: From Individualism to Mass Society. 1st English ed.
Weisberg, G, Becker, E, and Possémé, E, eds. 2004, The Origins of L'Art Nouveau: The Bing Empire, Exhibition catalogue, Amsterdam, Van Gogh Museum.
Wood, Gh 2000, Art Nouveou and the Erotic, Harry N. Abrams, English Language edition.
List of Illustrations
Image 1. Alfons Mucha. Gismonda Poster. Three Rock Mountains. At: http://www.threerockmountain.com/user/mucha%20-%20gismonda_big.gif (Accessed on 15/12/2013) Page 5
Image 2. Alphonse Mucha. The Samaritan Poster. At: http://www.wikipaintings.org/en/alphonse-mucha/the-samaritan-1897 (Accessed on 15/12/2013) Page 6
Image 3. Toulouse-Lautrec. Moulin Rouge Poster. At: http://artseverydayliving.com/blog/wp-content/uploads/2012/09/Lautrec_moulin_rouge_la_goulue_poster_18911.jpg (Accessed on 15/12/2013) Page 7