History of Modern France

The Third French Republic 1870-1940. Part 3

21 & 22 April 2021

The Three Great Figures of French Art Nouveau: Siegfried Bing, Hector Guimard & Louis Majorelle

A poster (1895) by Félix Vallotton advertising Bing's Maison de l'Art Nouveau in Paris 

The Art Nouveau style that emerged in the 1890s and briefly conquered much of Europe signaled both a new beginning and an end in the evolution of 19th century styles. It defiantly broke with the classical and historicist traditions of the 19th century with the ambition of founding a radically new style on the eve of the 20th century. Yet it also revived the crafts and forgotten techniques of the pre-industrial age. Its sinuous lines referencing feminine beauty and nature forms did not, like bell-shaped skits and corsets, in the end, survive in the new machine age of the early 20th century. In many ways, it was the last attempt on the part of extremely talented artists and designers to restore a nostalgic sense of beauty and refinement in an increasingly brutish and mechanized world.

 

In France its most original representatives were undoubtedly the architect Hector Guimard, the art dealer Siegfired Bing and the cabinetmaker and manufacturer Louis Majorelle. In his buildings Guimard combined modern materials like glazed brick, cast iron and concrete with forms inspired by Gothic architecture, Japanese decoration and nature. Bing, who was also one of the great European dealers of Japanese prints, opened in Paris the veritable temple to the new style, the spectacular gallery designed by Henry van Velde with glass by Tiffany, the Maison de l’Art Nouveau. Majorelle was a founding member of the celebrated École de Nancy in Nancy in Lorraine, that included, cabinetmaker and glass artist Jacques Grüber, the glass and furniture designer Émile Gallé and the crystal manufactory of Daum. By tracing their careers we will see how Art Nouveau aspired to be more than a mere decorative style, but a complete world of beauty onto itself, an alternative to what its promoters considered to be the material vulgarity and aesthetic bankruptcy of the late Victorian age.

La Maison Coilliot (1898-1900)

house and factory of the ceramic entrepreneur by Hector Guimard in Lille.