Art Nouveau – Masters of Ornament

During the years 1890 to the beginning of the First World War, Art Nouveau, or the “new art” movement encompassed graphic arts, interior design, architecture, the use of technology and new scientific discoveries, as well as many of the decorative arts including textiles, jewelry, silver, ceramics and glassware, tile, ironwork, lighting, and the fine arts. It was considered a “total art style”, more of a movement than a style, which promoted the philosophy that art should be a way of life. In the words of William Morris, “Have nothing in your house that you do not know to be useful, or believe to be beautiful.” It was rooted in the Arts and Crafts movement of the mid to late 19th century which called for a closer union between the fine and decorative arts and away from the academic styles of the overly fussy and conservative Victorian tastes of the time.

Designs were inspired by all things in nature, employing flowers, vines, and other flora and fauna. Intertwining curvilinear forms, asymmetrical and dynamic, flowing one into another, always striving for harmony. It was described in 1894 as “sudden, violent curves generated by the crack of a whip “. Through exhibitions in Europe and the U.S. in the late 19th-early 20th century, Japanese woodblock prints became popular and were an important influence in Art Nouveau designs with their many references to the world of nature.

Art Nouveau designs have a distinctive appearance, instantly recognizable.  The artisans of the Arts and Crafts movement frowned upon the use of the machine as an aid in creating their art forms. Their ideal was to create a more humane and just society through their artistic endeavors. The artists of this “new style” enthusiastically adopted new materials and new technology in developing innovative, imaginative, and fanciful designs, particularly in jewelry, glass, and the new medium of cast iron, which was artistically utilized in architectural interiors and exteriors. It was truly “art for art’s sake” and beauty, grace, and harmony were the desired results.

In the United States, Art Nouveau is often referred to as “Tiffany style”, although there were several other well-known and highly regarded American design studios. Louis Comfort Tiffany (1848-1933) and his studio were most famous for their lamps. He experimented with the processes of coloring glass, and in 1894 patented favrile glass, which used metallic oxides to color the interior of molten glass giving it an iridescent effect. Among Tiffany’s most notable designs was the dragonfly. Gossamer-winged dragonflies, mysterious and ethereal, are admired in many cultures. They are a symbol of agility and purity because they are always found hovering and darting about near water. To the Chinese, they symbolize harmony and prosperity. Dragonfly lampshades became one of the Studio’s most popular designs, and were produced in many colors and styles. The most valuable and most highly prized by collectors have a matching base inset with mosaic glass. Tiffany lamps can be worth anywhere from 4000 to several hundred thousand dollars.

On June 6th, 2017, Sotheby’s will feature the estate of Carol Ferranti: Masterworks by Tiffany Studios.  On June 16th, James D. Julia, Inc. will be featuring lighting from Tiffany studios in their upcoming auction of Rare Lamps, Glass, and Jewelry. Among other designs, a dragonfly lamp and a remarkable wisteria leaded-glass window will be highlights.  Another resource, Liveauctioneers, is an excellent free website to view realized prices from various auction houses.

In my travels last year, I was fortunate to go to the Art Nouveau and Art Deco Museum in Salamanca, Spain.  Among their collections are wonderful examples of glass by Loetz, Galle’, Daum and Lalique.

The ideal of this movement can be summed up in the words of Christopher Dresser, a botanist, and a strong influence on American Art Nouveau design: “…nothing is too mundane to be transformed into a thing of beauty”  if it was from nature.

REFERENCES

 American Art Nouveau. Diane Chalmers Johnson.  Harry N. Abrams Inc., NY 1979

The Art of Louis Comfort Tiffany.  Donald L. Stover. The Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco 1981

Louis Comfort Tiffany.  Alastair Duncan. Harry N Abrams, Inc. NY 1992

Art Nouveau and Art Deco Jewelry: An Identification and Value Guide. Lillian Baker

 Essentials of Art History. George M. Cohen, PhD.  Research and Education Association

INTERNET RESEARCH

Art Design and Visual Thinking

Antique Reporter

Nature and Art Nouveau

The Aesthetic Movement

Art Nouveau – Wikipedia

“The Art that is Life” American Art Pottery

Arts & Crafts period tile mural for the Santa Fe train at Union Station, San Diego.

The Arts and Crafts Movement in America, spanning the years from 1875-1930, saw its beginnings as a rebellion against the fussiness and excesses of the Victorian age and the terrible economic and environmental conditions fostered by the industrial revolution. It had its origins in expressing the ideas of the Movement as stated in this quote from an exhibition catalog published by the Boston Museum of Fine Arts:

“Convinced that industrialization had caused the degradation of work and the destruction of the environment, Arts and Crafts reformers created works with deliberate social messages. Their designs conveyed strong convictions about what was wrong with society and reflected prescriptions for living. The aim was to incorporate art into everyday activities and thus, to democratize it”.

Groups of like-minded artisans formed guilds and collectives to produce handcrafted wares including tall vases, tiles, utilitarian shapes for daily use, original designs with simplified shapes, experimental glazes and painting techniques, many with incised and raised decorations. From the 1880’s to post World War 1, highly decorated Japanese porcelain and artifacts inspired American pottery artists and designers.

Many pottery-making collectives sprang up across America during these years, and especially in California, incorporating new ideas about design, philanthropy, and social consciousness. The Arequipa Pottery located in Marin county in Northern California, was established as part of a tuberculosis sanatorium for young working-class women who were taught the craft as part of their recovery program and produced wares for sale in stores across the country, as well as being displayed at the Pan Pacific Exhibition in San Francisco in 1915.

The popularity of the Arts and Crafts movement began to decline after World War 1 as newer design forms began to evolve. The design aesthetic of the movement continued to influence modernism in the 1930’s and 1940’s and into the post-modernism period of the 1950’s and 1960’s. Sunnylands, the Walter Annenberg estate in Palm Springs, is a fine example of post-modernism architecture as it echoes the idealism, beauty, grace, form in nature, and simplicity of the earlier movement.

There are a few Arts and Crafts potteries still producing today, but almost all of them were out of business by 1930. There was a resurgence of handcrafted pottery and objects late in the 20th century and there are many artisans producing fine handcrafted works today. American Art Pottery can be found in antique stores, auctions, and on line. There are collections in many museums around the country. There are walking and home tours in San Diego and Pasadena focusing on arts and crafts design and architecture at various times of the year and many websites, books, publications, organizations and dealers can be found on line relating to the Arts and Crafts movement and, specifically, art pottery.

A worthwhile show for those who are interested in handcrafted art pottery, old and new, is the upcoming Los Angeles Pottery Show at the Pasadena Convention Center on May 20-21, 2017. It is the largest pottery and tile show in America.

FURTHER RESEARCH

General Books on the Arts and Crafts Movement:

The Art That is Life – Arts and Crafts Movement in America 1875-1920, Boston Museum of Fine Arts, Wendy Kaplan   1987

The Arts and Crafts Companion, Pamela Todd, 2004, Bullfinch

The Arts and Crafts Movement in Europe and America: Design for the Modern World 1880-1920, Wendy Kaplan, 2005, Thames & Hudson

The Arts and Crafts Movement (World of Art), 1991, Thames & Hudson

Arts and Crafts in Britain and America, Isabel Anscombe and Charlotte Gere, 1978, Rizzoli

General Books on American Art Pottery and Tile:

American Art Tile 1876-1941, Norman Karlson, 1998, Rizzoli

American Art Pottery, David Rago , 1997, Knickerbocker Press

California Pottery: From Missions to Modernism, Book Published  in Conjunction with Exhibition at the Autry Museum of Western Heritage, 2003-2004

Journal of the American Pottery Association – bi-monthly magazine with fully researched and in-depth articles and information on all aspects of art pottery

www.AmArtPot.org/

justartpottery.com         Newsletter and Blog

Museum Collections

LACMA

Oakland Museum    Oakland, CA

Kirkland Museum    Denver, Colorado

Everson Museum    Syracuse, New York

American Arts and Crafts Collection of Alexander and Sidney Sheldon (exhibition publication)

Palm Springs Art Museum

Art Pottery collections displayed in many Museums around the US.

The Arts and Crafts Society – aggregate of resources, books, collections and museums worldwide

Arts & Crafts pottery compote

Caring For Cut Glass

The American Cut Glass Association has a very informative website.   In addition to membership information there are tips on identifying cut glass, dating and patterns.

There are several free articles from past issues of their journal “The Hobstar”.  Among them are two articles by Vickie Matthews.

The Care and Cleaning of Cut Glass” has tips on handling, washing and displaying.  Since I’m located in an area prone to earthquakes, I especially like the suggestion of using a neutral wax or gel product sold at antique shops, hardware stores or on-line.   These products can be removed without harming the glass or signatures.

Packing and Shipping of Cut Glass” has tips on wrapping, boxing and using various shipping services.  Many of these tips can be used for transportation of glass, china or collectibles in general.

One of the best places to view cut glass in Southern California is the Historical Glass Museum in Redlands.   They have an entire room dedicated to American Cut Glass.  Located in a Victorian house, they have many other types of American made glass; the largest collection West of the Mississippi.  Check their website for upcoming lectures.

Reference: The Collector’s Handbook

The Collector’s Handbook, 10th edition  is written by James Halperin, Gregory Rohan and Mark Predergast in conjunction with Heritage Auctions.  Updated in 2016,  it contains sections on administering, estate planning, evaluating and selling your collection.  There are good references in the appendices as well.  At 181 pages, there is a wealth of information and advice for collectors and their heirs on how to protect their investment.

There are discussions in several chapters about the importance of having your collection appraised for different reasons including insurance, planning, donation, selling, estate tax or division.  It also mentions the importance of using professional and qualified personal property appraisers.

The book is available by free download on the Heritage Auctions website (registration required) or by hard copy for a nominal fee.  I highly recommend taking the time to download and keep a copy of this handy reference book.

Resource:

The Collector’s Handbook,

2016 Revised Edition, Ivy Press, Inc.