Alongside the end of the Victorian and Edwardian periods, a style called Art Nouveau (New Art in French) was developed. The name comes from an exhibition in France where artists of the time were invited to present a kind of new aesthetic that resembled nothing of the other dominant styles of the time. Let’s look at some characteristics of this era.
Art Nouveau era
In England, the Arts and Crafts movement wanted to use the art of the handmade to express its dissatisfaction with heavy decorative techniques and products made with machines of incomplete and dull design. Art was brought back into the everyday life of the people and there was strong support for creativity and self-expression through the arts, especially through jewellery and metalwork.
The dominant theme of the Art Nouveau era is the “whiplash” line and free flow. Essentially the objects have no geometric design and strict edges. Instead, all shapes are fluid and represent the shapes and lines found in nature, in plants, and especially in the curves of the female body and the waves of female hair.
The imagination of the designers reaches the limit of fantasy and is fully unleashed. Victorian sedentarism and prudery are overcome and the new position of women in society inspires the designers. Thus, the dominant theme in the jewellery of the period is mythical creatures, monsters, and animals or insects, often combined with the sensuality of the naked female body. Creatures with wings and the body of a dragonfly and a woman’s bodice and head are created; the figure of the mythical Medusa is rendered formidable and beautiful in metal, enamel and gemstones; fairies, dragons and extremely lifelike insects – beetles, bees, locusts, etc. – adorn the bodice and clothing of women of the period. The Victorian snake is experiencing a revival other interpreted with an underlying sensuality in its movement, but various reptiles add new options for jewelry. Dark designs of bats, owls and vultures given in eerie detail in metal and enamel are often seen in jewellery.
The materials of jewellery of the period
As a reaction to the luxury of other styles, Art Nouveau artists aimed for exquisite craftsmanship and flawless results without necessarily using expensive materials. Thus the metal used by many is an alloy of metals often of a dark colour. The most important characteristic of Art Nouveau art is the exquisite use of enamel, particularly in its plique-a-jour and champlevé form, an art that only a few artists master and can render perfectly in their jewellery. In addition to enamel, they added colour to their jewellery with gemstones such as moonstones, amethysts, citrine and pink quartz, pearls and opals, as well as glass.