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!
15 thoughts on “The allure of art nouveau”
What a lovely post Helena, and what a beautiful painting. I had forgotten how much I loved Klimt! I have always been drawn to late nineteenth – early twentieth century artists, in particular Danish painters Paul Gustav Fischer and his atmospheric Copenhagen scenes, and Peder Severin Krøyer. I also love orientalist painters Maxime Noiré and Etienne Dinet, who always make me dream of North Africa and sun-drenched villages and oases. The Antique Love was a great romance and it’s wonderful to see it in print! I hope it is very successful.
Thanks so much for your comment, Marie. I haven’t heard of the orientalist painters you mention. Thanks for telling me of them. I always like to discover new artists. I checked out their paintings on line, and they’re beautiful. I’d like to see them in real life. Thanks for mentioning them!
Great post, Helena, and that was a lovely image in your novel (although I enjoyed everything about the story!). I love all kinds of art and we were lucky enough to visit the gallery in Vienna some years ago. I think I’d appreciate the paintings even more now.
I’d love to visit the gallery in Vienna, Rosemary.In real life, his paintings must be magnificent. Thanks for your lovely comment!
Your blogs are always nice, but this one particularly so. That is what good art does — it fills us with nearly inexpressible emotion.
Hi Ken, yes you’re so right about great art. It must be wonderful to be an artist. Sadly I can only manage words. I always think paintings and music say so much more emotionally. Thanks very much for your kind comment.
My husband and I collected art nouveau posters for years. The BIG ones, that they used to paste on buildings around town to advertise different shows, say by Sarah Bernhart. Although he’s now gone, I cherish the memory of where and how we bought every one. My favorite is a gorgeous Cheret. With the Muse sale, of course I’m going to go get your book….Jean Stewart
What a lovely comment, Jean, and what a fabulous idea to collect art nouveau posters. It’s a testament to the art nouveau style that those posters are still loved today. When I was in Paris a few years ago I bought some similar posters on the Rive Gauche. They, too, have happy memories for me. I hope your posters continue to bring you memories of happy times. Thank you so much for your comment, and I do hope you enjoy The Antique Love.
More art deco than art nouveau, but…
Oh, that would be very sad if Earl’s Court goes, James. It’s such a great building. Let’s hope the campaign to keep it is effective. They once threatened to demolish St Pancras, but that never happened, so fingers crossed.
The link doesn’t work outside the UK, I can confirm. But the series has been on YouTube for years already, currently not as the BBC does a re-run and had all video’s removed from YouTube. It’ll be a matter of time, and then it will be back on there, no worries.
And about Art Nouveau, what can I say…
I didn’t realise that series had already been on Youtube. I do hope they allow Youtube to show it again after the series ends here, so that viewers who can’t get iPlayer can watch. It’s a fascinating programme. And your blog is wonderful! What a mine of fabulous photos and information. I’m so happy to meet someone who loves art nouveau as much as I do. And I love your avatar, too! Thanks so much for dropping in and introducing yourself. Lovely to make your acquaintance!
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You can watch the series on my blog though…
Thank you so much for posting those links on your website. You have a wonderful blog. I enjoyed revisiting it very much. I look forward to re-watching the episodes you posted. It was a great series.
I’ll post a link to your article on my social media, so others can catch up.
Thanks for getting in touch. Good to hear from you again!
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You’re welcome Helena;
spread the love!
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