The ‘New Art’ or ‘Art Nouveau’ Movement (1890-1914) was known by a variety of other names internationally. Although each country had their own name for and interpretation of the Art Nouveau style, there were certain chief characteristics which united this design movement. In this post, I am simply going to list the names for Art Nouveau in several major countries as I believe this knowledge is useful in the study of antique and period jewelry.
‘New Art’ or ‘Art Nouveau’ – Great Britain
‘Art Nouveau’ – France
‘Jugendstil’ – Germany and Norway and most Nordic Countries
‘Tiffany Style’ – USA
‘Stile Liberty’ – Italy
‘Sezessionstil’ – Austria
‘Secense’ – Czech lands
‘Arte Nova’ – Portugal
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‘All art is erotic’ – Gustav Klimt
The Art Nouveau Movement (1890-1910) began at a time of great awakening in the attitudes and behaviors of Victorian era people. Attitudes towards women were transforming rapidly and the early suffrage movements for women were already beginning in England. Women were experiencing more financial and political control and were breaking away from their traditional roles as objects to be repressed, controlled or utilized. Femininity and sensuality now became core cultural values. Gentle, flowing and frequently erotic sensibilities were expressed abundantly in art, design, literature and music. ‘The Art Nouveau Movement’, ‘Stile Liberty’, ‘Sezessionstil’, ‘The Aesethic Movement’, ‘The Arts and Crafts Movement’, ‘The Naturalism Movement’ and ‘Jugendstil’, along side the ‘Pre-Raphelites’, are just some of the terms given to or related to this cultural avalanche of beauty and art.
Jewelery, becoming altogether less structured in every way, was an expressive outlet for this new explosion of creativity. As women became free of the traditional restrictions of previous fashions, widely adopting ‘rational dress’ and looser hair styles, this new liberated female form was given expression in art and was a popular motif in the jewelry of the time. Long, flowing hair was the most commonly found feature as this seemed to be symbolic of all things feminine and carefree. Brooches and pendants were the most common type of jewelry to be decorated with the female form.
The most popular female motif was the face of a young woman in profile, but the female form was expressed in every way, fully nude or loosely clothed. Sometimes the woman would be presented with birds, flowers and insects; sometimes, as a hybrid creature. Regardless of the form she took, she would always be shown to be romantic and ethereal, with the sublime beauty and grace that we love about all things Art Nouveau.
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France, c. 1901
Brooch, enameled copper set with opals and pearls
The Art Nouveau Movement (1890-1910) was a design movement defined by many motifs, but none more so than the Whiplash Motif. The whiplash and curved motifs of Art Nouveau are seen as universally characteristic and are an easy way of recognizing an Art Nouveau piece. (Arts and Crafts Movement Jewelery, which many would define as a cousin of Art Nouveau, also uses the whiplash motif to a slightly lesser extent. Also it is important to note that there are many other names for Art Nouveau that I will be discussing in future posts).
Whilst not all Art Nouveau design pieces contain whiplash or curved motifs, they are generally considered the most commonly found design feature. Some would say Art Nouveau curves have their roots in Rococo Scroll Work, others would say they are inspired by Japanese or Celtic design elements. Whilst all of these are no doubt true, I have always thought of the curves of Art Nouveau design as originating from something deep within us and to be a reflection of our biological nature. Arguably, all design is exactly this, but the curves of Art Nouveau seems to emanate from our deepest levels rather than directly referencing other design movements. These spirals, curves and whiplash-like shapes can be found in both the natural and man-made worlds.
For example, have a look for the Art Nouveau-like curves in the following:
Now, spot the whiplash and curved motifs in the following beautiful Art Nouveau jewelry pieces:
France c. 1900, Lucien Gautrait.
Gold decorated with ‘plique-à-jour’ enamel and set with rose- and brilliant-cut diamonds,
opals and emeralds with an opal drop
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Although there is some disagreement about precise dates and categories, these seem to be the most agreed upon definitions of the historical periods of antique and vintage fine and collectible jewelry in the English speaking world. Often these periods overlap and of course changes in styles can often be more nuanced and gradual than these categorizations might suggest. However, for the practical purpose of understanding the history of antique jewelry, these are the best definitions as I see them. I have also given an approximate overview of some of the basic characteristics of each period which I will be adding to over time, so if you find this useful as a reference please do keep checking back in.
Georgian Jewelry (1714-1837)
Some characteristics of Georgian jewelry: gems set in gold / claw settings for paste / Motifs included bows, flowers, giardinetti, feathers, leaves, arrows, quivers, lyres / cannetille work / types of jewelry included stomachers, aigrettes, girandoles, chatelaines, buckles, buttons, pendeloque earrings, pairs of bracelets, necklaces secured by ribbons, slides and rings, enamel work/ Etruscan revival beginning 1830
Victorian Jewelry (1837 – 1901)
Victorian Jewelry can be further broken down to:
Late Victorian Aesthetic jewelery 1880-1900
Some characteristics of Victorian jewelry: Gemstones such as diamonds, emeralds, coral, amethyst, garnet, turquoise / Tortoiseshell / Human hair / Sentimental and nostalgic items / Black and dark colored mourning jewelry / Matching sets (parures) / Cameos / pique / Jet / Revival themes that took their inspiration from ancient cultures (Egyptian, Greek, Roman, Gothic, Renaissance, Assyrian, Etruscan), Canetille continued.
Arts & Crafts Jewelry 1894-1923
Some Characteristics of Arts & Crafts Jewelry: Hand-worked / lack of mechanization / natural materials / simple designs / colorful uncut stones / rejection of Industrial Revolution / often silver
Art Nouveau Jewelry 1890 – 1914
Some characteristics of Art Nouveau jewelry: Curves / Natural motifs / Mythical creatures such as dragons, mermaids, fairies and sprites / Gems such as pearls, opal, moonstone, aquamarine, tourmaline, rose quartz, chalcedony, chyrsoprase, and amethyst / Enamel /Glass/The female form and face / Long pearl strands / no diamonds
Edwardian or Garland Jewelry 1901-1915
Some characteristics of Edwardian or Garland Jewelry: More ostentatious display of wealth / diamonds, emeralds and rubies / bow, garland, leaf motifs / intricate detailing / platinum settings
Art Deco Jewelry (1920-1939)
Some characteristics of Art Deco Jewelry: Bold geometric designs / Vertical lines / Contrasting primary colors / Gemstones included diamonds, black onyx, lapis lazuli, rubies, emeralds, sapphires, jade, torquoise, topaz / Cabochon and carved gemstones / Amber, bakelite, celluloid and enamel work.
Retro or Cocktail Jewelry (1940-1959)
Some characters of Retro or Cocktail Jewelry: Motifs included stylized flowers, animals and bows as well as mechanical motifs such as tank treads, padlocks and chains/ Enamel work / Jeweled brooches / Thin sheets of gold created to conserve metal whilst giving an impression of substances / Gemstones were often small and included diamonds, synthetic rubies and light sapphires / Rose gold / bold / inspired by Hollywood / chunky, raised gemstones / synthetic gems / patriotic themes / large and gold / brooches / wide bangles
Modernist Jewelry (1930-1960)
Some characteristics of Modernist Jewelry: Rejected the ‘fussiness’, feminine and decorative styles of Art Nouveau / Rejected the rigidity and structure of Art Deco / Inspired by ‘Art’ (sculpture and painting) / Often worked in silver and copper / No concern for value of materials, not used to express wealth / Used found objects / Surreal motifs /Geometric or biomorphic / Masculine / Semi-precious stones such as garnets and opals and unusual stones such as cat’s eye / African and cubist motifs / Primal forms / Unexpected materials such as acrylic and wood / Influenced by Bauhaus, Surrealist and Dadist / Hand-working and one of a kind designs
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