I recently had a commission to do a variation of my Tree of Hearts wedding invitation, replacing the bunting with a more autumnal trailing vine border. I started to cut the production this week and it occurred to me that it has more than a hint of Art Nouveau about it. It should come as no surprise to me really, as its something I have frequently studied over the years.
I first became interested in it aged 18, at Art College studying Fashion & Textile Design and on a trip to Paris, my first visit. We spent hours in the Musee d,Orsay and I left the museum shop armed with a pile of postcards of the things I loved - Alphonse Mucha Illustrations, and Art Nouveau silverware & furniture. It is pretty hard to visit Paris without being affected by the style as you are surrounded by it, from the underground signs to the railings & many shopfront windows framed in the sinuous lines of the Art Nouveau style.
Fast forward a few years and I am developing products for a company that specialised in gifts inspired by historic design, Art Nouveau was one of our best selling ranges, anything with a Mucha image on it became an instant best seller! I think it is safe to say I have read almost every book on the subject of Art Nouveau and have viewed tens of thousands of images, almost a overdose of it you might say.
It's been a few years now since my Art Nouveau overload and I think I can appreciate it again in the way I did when I was 18. What I love is the way it was embraced by every creative medium and became truly accessible to everyone. jewellery, textiles, print media, furniture, architecture, the list is endless. If you look hard enough you will find a little piece of Art Nouveau design wherever you go. One of my favourite things to do when I am wandering around a town is to look up past the store signs, quite often you find lovely little design details that give hints of the buildings past life, Art Nouveau lettering carved in to the brickwork or sinuous patterns, I've even seen some lovely ceramic mosaics. If you are ever in Leicester then check out the Turkey Cafe on Granby Street, as an art student In Leicester I never tired of looking up past the dreary Opticians below at the stunning tiled facade nestling between some quite ordinary buildings and I would wonder how many people just walked straight past it because they never bothered to look up.
If you live in the older house you may be lucky enough to still have an original Nouveau stained glass door, railings or fire place. We rent some office space in an old 18th century townhouse and there is the most beautiful original cast iron fireplace in the kitchen that had been blocked up and painted over with white emulsion - such a shame!
As I mentioned before, Art Nouveau crossed in to all areas of design, and print media was no exception. My father, a Marine Historian has shelves crammed full of old books and I have always enjoyed rummaging through the shelves. I am not that interested in Marine History, it is the bindings I love, embossed and foiled entwined flowers and foliage. The publisher Blackie & Sons (ceased trading in 1991) produced some beautiful bindings, many designed by the illustrator Talwin Morris who was also responsible for introducing Walter Blackie to one Charles Rennie Mackintosh. This resulted in Blackie commissioning Mackintosh to design The Hill House in Helensburgh. I would thoroughly recommend if you have the opportunity to visit this property that you take it, every last detail was designed by Mackintosh (with input from his wife Margaret Macdonald Mackintosh) from the Furniture to the light fittings & rugs, and I feel like it is a bridge in to the world of modern design. There are so many more examples I could mention (the Nottingham Zara building for one), but why don't you start looking and see how many examples of Art Nouveau you can find, and let me know what your favourites are.