The Female Form in Art Nouveau Jewelry

Datei:Alfons Mucha - 1898 - Dance.jpg

Alfons Mucha, 1898

Lady with Fan - Gustav Klimt

Gustav Klimt
Lady with Fan c. 1918

‘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.

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Work by Rene Lalique.

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.

Rene Lalique Jewelry Pendant

Pendant, Rene Lalique

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.


Paris, 1901
Georges Van der Straeten
V&A Museum


England, c. 1900-1901
A.C.C. Jahn
Pendant, partially gilded silver, ivory, opal and half-pearls
V&A Museum


England, 1901
A.C.C Jahn
Ring with chased gold and opal
V&A Museum 

Brooch of Leaves and Berries

Lalique, c. 1902, brooch ivory, enamels, gold, opals
Brooch, Lalique

Sources / Further Reading:

The Art Nouveau Whiplash Motif

Embroidery, Hermann Obrist: The Lone Cyclamen
Munich City Museum
note the Art Nouveau ‘Whiplash’ motif


France, c. 1901

Brooch, enameled copper set with opals and pearls

V&A Museum

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).

Art Nouveau interior, featuring a profusion of whiplash and curved motifs

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:

Pendant gold, enamel, opal, pearl, diamonds
Lalique, c.1901
Metropolitan Museum of Art

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

V&A Museum


Germany, c.1903

Enamelled gold, set with brilliant-cut diamonds, emeralds,a ruby, hung with a pearl.

V&A Museum


France, c. 1903. George Fouquet.

Brooch, gold, silver, enamel, pearls and rose- and brilliant-cut diamonds

V&A Museum

Sources / further reading: