The Art Nouveau movement was truly international, sweeping across Europe and the Americas around 1890-1910. Although it was relatively short-lived, it was, perhaps as a result of this, all the more intense. It is very recognizable, dramatic, and also collectable. It shares many of its origins with the Arts and Crafts movement, and indeed many French commentators of the day attributed the origins of French Art Nouveau to the former. Stylistically, naturalistic forms predominate. Free-flowing lines, swoops, and swirls in natural and organic curves frame flowers, insects, leaves, and the faces and bodies of romantically inspired maidens. In many ways these organic forms look weary and melancholy, as if the burdens of the end of the century weighed heavily upon them. Designers became more interested in the morphology of organic forms, with roots, buds, thorns, and stamens predominating over perfect, complete flowers. The most iconic of all Art Nouveau symbols must be the female face, with freely flowing locks in the sinuous, flowing meanders of true fin de siècle style.
The most influential jewellery designer of the Art Nouveau period must be Rene Lalique, who not only used semi and non-precious materials but mixed them with precious stones and metals, and following his lead, the style found its way down from the upper echelons of society to the popular culture of the day His early collections most notably that in horn inspired the likes of Elizabeth Bonte and George Pierre to produce collections of remarkable horn pendants intricately carved and set with stones.
Art Nouveau Buckle, c1900
This gilded brass buckle demonstrates the very essence of the French Art Nouveau style: the willowy maiden on the left side combing her hair, another young maiden on the right side absorbed in reading both surrounded by flowers (probably chrysanthemums) that are past their best and losing petals the lines of the buckle are suitably flowing and sinuous.
In fact, the themes of the Art Nouveau style have been rather over-used here and this buckle is rather typical of mass-produced accessories. Pieces such as these were made in their thousands and are not especially valuable. The fact that it is a buckle also limits its value rather. One commonly sees buckles converted into brooches, but these have little, if any value.
Art Nouveau Bracelet, c.1900
Another of the favourite themes of Art Nouveau was the insect, especially the dragonfly, which perfectly symbolized the ephemeral quality of nature. Their iridescent wings were the subject of many a design execution in plique a jour, with some spectacular results. This bracelet is simply stamped out of brass and then gilded. Its form is known as a slave bangle, which is to be worn high on the arm. It is another mass-produced piece, made in many thousands.
Art Nouveau Inspirations
The inspirations for Art Nouveau come from many sources: flowers, insects, sea creatures, fruits, mythical beasts, medieval legends and so on. At this time the Suez Canal was being built, so Egyptian motifs were particularly strong. Patterns and motifs from the Celtic world remained popular, as during the Arts and Crafts movement. Many design ideas came from Japan and were dubbedlapanism (orlaponisme). Japanese art was new to Europe, and its fascination with naturalistic forms struck a chord with Europe's increasingly urbanized population.
Echoing the taste for more exotic motifs was the use of more exotic earthy and non-precious materials. One of the proponents of the increasingly fashionable fantasy jewelry was Elizabeth Bonte who through experimentation, devised a technique for the processing of horn to create wonderful and often very intricate jewelry almost always signed with her last name in italics. She later joined forces with another designer,George Pierre,,who signed his pieces "GP".
Writer - Steven Miners