Monthly Archives: August 2013

Art Noveau (1890-1910)

Today we’ll take a look at another piece of design history as it pertains to furniture that was around during the same era as the Arts and Crafts movement which we discussed in our last blog.  This movement was called Art Noveau and was a naturalistic style characterized by intricately detailed patterns and curving lines.  While it did find its way to the States (where it was also referred to as “Tiffany style” due to its association with Louis Comfort Tiffany), this movement is most often associated with France where the period truly began in 1890 and is seen as the first truly original design style to come along in almost a century.  Art Noveau is also considered a “total” style, embracing architecture, graphic design, interior design and the majority of the decorative arts, including furniture.  According to the philosophy of the style, art should be a way of life.

Although Art Nouveau acquired distinctly localized tendencies as its geographic spread increased, some general characteristics are indicative of the form.  One description described it as “sudden violent curves generated by the crack of a whip”, which became well known during the early spread of Art Nouveau.  Subsequently, not only did the work itself become better known as The Whiplash but the term “whiplash” is frequently applied to the characteristic curves employed by Art Nouveau artists.  Nature was advocated as a source of inspiration for artists looking to break away from styles of the past.  The unfolding of Art Nouveau’s flowing line may be understood as a metaphor for the freedom and release sought by its practitioners and admirers from the weight of artistic tradition and critical expectations.

Art Nouveau was a concerted attempt to create an international style based on decoration. It was developed by a brilliant and energetic generation of artists and designers, who sought to fashion an art form appropriate to the modern age. During this extraordinary time, urban life as we now understand it was established. Old customs, habits, and artistic styles sat alongside new, combining a wide range of contradictory images and ideas. Many artists, designers, and architects were excited by new technologies and lifestyles, while others retreated into the past, embracing the spirit world, fantasy, and myth.

Although international in scope, Art Nouveau was a short-lived movement that was a precursor of modernism, which emphasized function over form and the elimination of superfluous ornament. Although a reaction to historic revivalism, it brought Victorian excesses to a dramatic finale. Its influence has been far reaching and is evident in Art Deco furniture designs, whose sleek surfaces are enriched by exotic wood veneers and ornamental inlays. Dramatic Art Nouveau—inspired graphics became popular in the turbulent social and political milieu of the 1960s, among a new generation challenging conventional taste and ideas.

To learn more about the exact styles incorporated into Art Noveau furniture, visit this handy guide here. And be sure to stop by our showroom today so we can help you find your personal furniture style!

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Arts and Crafts Furniture (1880-1910)

Are you having as much fun as we are exploring the history of American made furniture?  We hope you are!  In today’s blog we’ll take a look at a style of furniture that was around at the same time as the Victorian Style Era – Arts and Crafts furniture, also known as Mission style or Craftsmen style.  This style is characterized by rectilinear design, simple, straight construction, and exposed joinery, often using medium or dark stained oak.

Arts and Crafts was an international design movement that was led by artist and writer, William Morris during the 1860s and inspired by the writings of John Ruskin and Augustus Pugin.  While it first developed in the British Isles, it quickly spread to North America.  This movement was largely a reaction against the impoverished state of the decorative arts at the time as well as the conditions in which they were produced and challenged the tastes of the Victorian era.  It stood for traditional craftsmanship using simple forms and often applied medieval, romantic or folk styles of decoration. It advocated economic and social reform and has been said to be essentially anti-industrial.

In Europe, the Arts and Crafts style was created with the goal of produce beautiful objects that would enhance the lives of ordinary people, and at the same time provide decent employment for the craftsman. However, in time the English Arts and Crafts movement came to stress craftsmanship at the expense of mass market pricing. The result was exquisitely made and decorated pieces that could only be afforded by the very wealthy. Thus the idea of art for the people was lost, and only relatively few craftsman could be employed making these fine pieces.  In the US, however, the idea of this movement was more fully actualized.  The Stickley Company in New York was trying to serve a burgeoning market of middle class consumers who wanted affordable, decent looking furniture. By using factory methods to produce basic components, and utilizing craftsmen to finish and assemble, he was able to produce sturdy, serviceable furniture which was sold in vast quantities, and still survives.

Why was this style also referred to as “Mission style” in the US?  This term reflects the influence of traditional furnishings and interiors from the American Southwest, which had many features in common with the earlier British Arts and Crafts forms.  This style incorporated Hispanic and Native American influences into the designs. In fact, the collecting of Southwestern artifacts became very popular in the first quarter of the twentieth century partially because of these influences.

Join us next time as we look at the Art Noveau movement!  In the meantime, we hope this look to the past has inspired you in any decorating endeavours you’ve had in mind.  Drop by our showroom today so we can help you pick out the perfect furniture style, vintage or new!