I’ll admit that I’ve been working through the course material in anticipation of getting to the Romantic and Modern era assignments, because this is the era in which my favorite Western art was made!
Art Nouveau is a movement that is considered a “total art style,” since the highly stylized shapes of nature were prevalent in everything from prints, paintings, architecture, sculpture and jewelry. It was popular from the 1880’s until World War I, and advocated nature as the primary source of inspiration. Art nouveau artists were informed by anatomical and botanical illustrations and photography, which correspond to the academic and scientific discoveries of the era. They were also influenced by Japanese woodblock prints, which began to circulate after Japan ended their isolationist policies. The unfolding curves and lines are sometimes understood as a metaphor for freedom and release from the weight of artistic tradition of the past (Gontar 2006).
I’m going to analyze one of my favorite Mucha prints, The Seasons: Summer (1896) and the building called Casa Milá, constructed by Antoni Gaudi between 1906-1912. As a teenager, I’d always loved the work of Alphonse Mucha, but art nouveau found a true place in my heart when I went to Barcelona, Spain in 2004. We had the fortune of going to a castle that was once owned Salvador Dali, which had numerous art nouveau forms. I distinctly remember a bust sculpture of a woman with flowing Mucha-like hair and goldleaf flowers in her hair. There were also displays of combs and hand mirrors with curving nouveau plants on them. Heaven!
Impressionism is a style of artwork I have had a hard time relating to or enjoying. Strictly landscape paintings have never been a keen interest of mine. The loose application of paint and abstracted yet still recognizable subjects are not a style I personally enjoy. I find the majority of Impressionist paintings to be quite bland; it’s art that I often see in waiting rooms and areas that needed something to hang on their walls, but wanted it to be mellow and match their seating arrangements.
The Seasons: Summer (1896), Alphonse Mucha, Paris
For those who read my first blog post, Alphonse Mucha is one of my absolute favorite artists! His catalog of work is prolific, ranging from stylized lithographs and posters, grand paintings and even jewelry. I’ve always been drawn to Mucha’s lithographs. Many of his works I find most captivating are done in series, such as The Seasons.
Summer reminds me of lazy summer nights in Alaska, when the sun just barely skirts above the horizon all night. The sky is still blue, but has bright gold colors as well. I see this in Mucha’s delicate transition in the background of a blue sky, turning gold, and then becoming water where the reflection of the gold sky and the shadow of the woman’s feet can be seen.
A hallmark of Mucha’s style and the art nouveau movement is flowing, organic forms. Look at how none of the lines, whole bold, are never actually straight. The woman’s hair drapes in identifiable sections whose lines blend together, and it becomes entangled with the foliage of the branch she is leaning on.
Heavy line quality, curving forms and delicate color transtions create overall harmonious compositions that have heavily influenced my own artwork.
Casa Milá (1906-1912), Antoni Gaudi, Barcelona
I never gave architecture all that much thought until I actually went to Spain. While Park Güell was an astounding experience and the Segrada Familia perhaps his most well-known work, Casa Milá holds up in my memory a bit better. I was instantly struck by the green color of the windows and the ceiling leading up the stairs that looked like patina on old copper.
The lines in Gaudi’s buildings follow the conventions of art noveau; to be informed by nature, organic and flowing. I don’t think that there is a straight line in a Gaudi building. Even the walls have a gentle curve to them. As I mentioned before, art nouveau is a total art style. Every detail is brought to an elegant and decorative level. Functional things are made beautiful, if only just to be aesthetically pleasing. Even the ventilation stacks atop the building are sculpted to look like abstracted soldiers in armor. I sat on the roof of this building for hours and drew all of the different details that I could find.
Antoni Gaudi’s work within the art nouveau movement is closely associated with the Modernista movement in Barcelona.
Water Lilies (1919), Claude Monet, Paris
Monet is one of the most well-known Impressionist paintings out there, or maybe just one of the most well-known painters out there. I see prints of his prolific works just about everywhere, and they just don’t really do it for me. It’s a technical thing as well as an aesthetic thing for me.
Impressionists sought to capture fleeting moments and how light falls on subjects or scenery within those moments. Specifically, they capture the effects of light and shadows with vivid colors, rather than shades of black or gray. Conservative art critics of the age called the sketchy works “impressions,” or unfinished. Since the collective of artists making these radically different paintings were sticking it to the more traditional academic painting of the day, the “impressions” stuck to give them a name to identify their movement (Samu 2004).
My tastes, as we have seen in this and other blog posts, tend more toward the graphic. I like tight lines and defined spaces with subjects in them. Monet’s impressionist work has loose brush work applied in layers that have thicker application, but are still loose. The space in Monet’s water lillies isn’t all that well defined, save for the lillies themselves painted on a very minimal angle that suggests the surface plane of water.
I guess I just have a really hard time with paintings that are just intentionally rough, if even a bit sloppy compared to what I prefer.
Woman Standing Holding a Fan (1878-70), Mary Cassatt, Paris
As the work of Cassatt, Renoir and Degas show, impressionists weren’t entirely about loosely painted landscapes. They also included loosely painted people! The Impressionist paintings that focus on people interest me a little bit more than the landscapes, but not by much.
I chose Woman Standing Holding a Fan because there are parts of this painting that I do and do not enjoy. The loose and even nondescript way that the woman’s face, hands and fan are rendered bother me. It’s like a painting is purposefully unfinished. I am, however, drawn to the defined shapes of contrasting colors in the background, which seem to denote the corner of a room (this painting has a space). Furthermore, I’m drawn to the negative space created by the woman reaching down to touch her dress, which brings my attention to the blue shape once again.
While I can appreciate that Impressionism helped lead us toward abstract and expressionist art, it’s just not quite for me.