The art nouveau style is one I absolutely love, and if you’ve been following my blog you’ll know I’ve written a post before on this very topic. (Art nouveau, and all about antiques.) Last week the BBC began a series of programmes called Sex and Sensibility: The Allure of Art Nouveau, and I’ve been absolutely glued to it. If you’ve missed the first couple of episodes, there’s still chance to catch up on iPlayer (I’m not sure if this link will work outside the UK. Fingers crossed.)
I’ve always been hard-pressed to describe the art nouveau style. It’s one of those styles that’s instantly recognisable,
but so hard to put into words. In my last post I described it as all about “dramatic, curving lines with themes and colours taken from nature.” The presenter of the BBC programme, Simon Smith, describes it in a much better and suitably dramatic way as a movement stemming from “the fin de siècle, growing out of the dark, restless energies of industrial cities; fixated with nature, sensuality and sex…Sinuous and sensuous curves…Bold art for a new century…Bold, dramatic, sensuous lines with themes taken from nature.”
To be honest, when I began my novel The Antique Love, I hadn’t articulated to myself in such a precise way what it was about the art nouveau movement that made it so sensuous and seductive, and so particularly suited to be the theme of a romance novel. All I knew was that I loved the movement and wanted it to feature in my story. In the opening scene of the novel I have the heroine, Penny, showing an art nouveau necklace to the hero, Kurt.
He lifted the chain from its brass hook and let it slip lightly through his fingers until the gemstones came to rest in his open palm. A single strand of silver curled neatly into the shape of a heart, from the base of which trembled several tiny rose diamonds. At the apex of the heart, two further silver strands twined around each other and then parted, one strand curving into a delicate petal, the other dropping downwards to hold two pale pink, lustrous pearls right in the heart’s centre. The pearls shimmered in Kurt’s hand, bringing with them all the secrets of the ocean from which they’d been plucked more than a hundred years before. It was magical.
…He moved a slow, careful finger over the pearls in the centre of his palm, and she was suddenly afraid that the pendant she loved so fervently was literally in the wrong hands. There was something in the way Kurt was studying it – something a little too remote, too controlled.
In this first scene Penny is in touch with her emotions and in tune with all the sensuous romance of the necklace. Although Kurt appreciates the beauty of the necklace, he doesn’t yet feel it, in the way he should.
Penny owns an antique shop, and the art nouveau theme is carried on in the rest of the novel. Later on in the story there’s a strong hint at the paintings of Gustav Klimt, whose work I also love. Most of Klimt’s paintings are in an art gallery in Vienna. You can see all of them in this online gallery, but of course that’s never as good as seeing them in real life. The only Klimt I’ve seen in real life is this one in the Museum of Modern Art in Mew York:
I took this photo, but of course we weren’t allowed to use flash, and in any case a photo could never do justice to the beauty of the real painting. In real life, the painting is so beautiful, it actually brought tears to my eyes when I first saw it.
Watching the BBC programme about art nouveau has reminded me how much I loved writing the scenes featuring the art nouveau antiques in The Antique Love. Of course the story is mainly a romance, but what better style to feature in a story about love!
I’m delighted to say that The Antique Love is now available in print, as well as in e-format. If you’d like to find out whether Kurt ever digs deep into his emotions and wins Penny’s love, you can buy the novel here: Universal buy link for all major bookstores: Books2Read.
I’ve enjoyed revisiting this wonderful period in art. How about you? Do you like this particular style? Are there any artists, of any period, whose work you really love? If you have any questions or comments at all, I’d love to hear from you!