Art Nouveau – Bing & the Defining Moment

“I have tried to do what is true and not ideal.” Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec

Siegfried Bing was a businessman; he came from a family of trade. Born in Hamburg, Germany on February 26, 1838, he is known as a celebrated Parisian art dealer and the person responsible for Art Nouveau’s defining moment. On December 26, 1895, Siegfried Bing introduced Art Nouveau to the world by opening the legendary Maison de l’Art Nouveau gallery at 22 rue de Provence, Paris. It may seem ironic that a businessman named the brand. But it does confirm the perception that business and art are truly compatible, even symbiotic in their relationship. From that moment, Art Nouveau was officially accepted into contemporary vocabulary.

Siegfried Bing’s exceptional grasp of commerce was put to good use in promoting art. After the death of his elder brother in 1873, he became the sole owner of the Bing family enterprise in France. He parlayed the family fortunes into a flourishing import-export business which focused on the importation and sale of Japanese and other Asian objets d’art.  In reality, Maison de l’Art Nouveau had several iterations. There had been earlier stores at 22 rue de Provence and at a nearby location, 19 rue Chauchat,  specializing in Asian imports and Japonisme (more on this in later posts). But the 1895 opening was different. Siegfried Bing’s strategic choice of Henry Clemens Van de Velde, a Belgian Flemish painter architect and interior designer, was inspired. The resulting ambience gave depth and substance to a gallery dedicated to a new age – modern art.

Imagine being at Maison de l’Art Nouveau on opening night. The original exhibition featured the works of Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec and the stained glass of Louis Comfort Tiffany. Siegfried Bing was a transformative agent, a catalyst for change. His love for art was paramount; he created a business model that celebrated and recognized great talent. He was also a man of commerce. Art Nouveau had a strong connection to modern commercialism, the growth of industry and the mass production of goods

By definition, modern art includes artistic works from approximately the 1860s to the 1970s.  Maison de l’Art Nouveau appeared during the heyday of Art Nouveau: 1890-1905. It seems the timeline goes back further…to the pioneers…to England we sail.

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Chasing Terracotta Warriors

The British Columbia Lions Society for Children with Disabilities/Easter Seals is in the art news again! This time they are undertaking the Terracotta Warriors Art Project. For me – it’s a perfect opportunity to chase art. The British Columbia Lions Society connects the enjoyment of art with the satisfaction of giving to a worthy cause.  They have given us Eagles in the City, Spirit Bears in the City and Orcas in the City. In the past, I had fun chasing animals – now I will be chasing Warriors.  You’re invited to join me!

The Map – Terracotta Warriors

Art Nouveau: Salome, Oscar, Aubrey & The Yellow Book

“An idea that is not dangerous is unworthy of being called an idea at all.” Oscar Wilde

The year was 1893. The Studio, a new illustrated magazine of fine and applied art, published its first issue featuring a daring illustration for Oscar Wilde’s scandalous play, Salome. The Irish playwright inspired a young English artist, Aubrey Beardsley, to create a stunning femme fatale in black ink and graphite on paper. Provocative! Beardsley made a name for himself that day. Some say that this was the first work of Art Nouveau.

Aubrey Beardsley was a gifted artist and musician. He did not have an easy life; he endured significant health issues, beginning at age 9 with an attack of tuberculosis. He persevered, despite all odds. In grammar school, he drew caricatures of his teachers and illustrated the school’s journal, Past to Present.  Sir Edward Burne-Jones, artist, designer and an associate of William Morris, mentored Aubrey Beardsley, encouraging him to take evening classes at the Westminster School of Art. (Evening classes do pay off!) His work was noticed. Soon Aubrey Beardsley was illustrating Sir Thomas Malory’s, Le Morte d’Arthur. And not just one or two illustrations – but over three hundred!!

Aubrey Beardsley looked for fresh and innovative modes of expression, which led to his involvement in the English translation of Oscar Wilde’s text, Salome. (Originally written in French) Wilde responded by making a copy of the play dedicated especially to Beardsley. It seemed a perfect duet – Oscar and Aubrey – until the illustrations were published. Wilde believed that the Art Nouveau style exhibited too much Japanese influence which was not in keeping with Salome, a Byzantine work. The real problem of course, was that Wilde recognized that the strength and genius of Beardsley’s drawings eclipsed his work.  And then came The Yellow Book…

The Yellow Book, published quarterly in London from 1894 to 1897, was a leading journal in the British 1890s. Aubrey Beardsley, credited with the “yellow” cover idea, was its first art editor. Critics denounced The Yellow Book for its indecency, which made it all the more tantalizing. Contributors included the celebrated artist, John Singer Sargent and the eminent writers, Henry James and H.G. Wells.  Wilde resented Beardsley’s participation in the publication, although he had far more serious problems to worry about.   In 1895, Oscar Wilde was sentenced to two years hard labour for his questionable morals.  Subsequently, Aubrey Beardsley was dismissed as art editor, based on his association with Wilde. Thereafter, contact between the two was severed.

Aubrey Beardsley bounced back when he partnered with Leonard Smithers (known for his erotic publications) to establish the journal, The Savoy. He seemed destined for even greater artistic heights. That was not to be.  On the night of March 15 or 16, 1898, Aubrey Beardsley died of illness, or perhaps by his own hand, at the age of 25. In his short life, he had a significant influence on Art Nouveau.

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“In the present age, alas! our pens are ravished by unlettered authors and unmannered critics, that make a havoc rather than a building, a wilderness rather than a garden. But, a lack! What boots it to drop tears upon the preterit?” Aubrey Beardsley

Anonymous Has Been Identified!

You may recall, my May 11th post – Anonymous. Good new! I chased down the artists. The signage was in front of me all along – just a few yards from the artwork. It was easy to miss, I told myself. What surprised me was that the artwork had been there since 2010.  How many times had I walked past without a glance?  Which proves my initial premise – chasing art is a delicate business.  You must keep your eyes and heart opened to the possibilities that surround us!

Project:  Studio in the City – Viewfinder

Installed:  May 2010 at Lonsdale Quay, North Vancouver, Canada

Lead Artist:  James Koester

Student Artists:  Jessie Ning, Wen-Ching Shang, Mandana Salimian, Fernanda dos Santos Seffrin, Shaghayegh Namazi, Ilinca Ianorescu, Shamus Isaztt,

Art Nouveau: Ideas Inspire Innovation

“Great nations write their autobiographies in three manuscripts – the book of their deeds, the book of their words and the book of their art.”  John Ruskin

The Belgian journal L’Art Moderne, in the early 1880s, used the phrase Art Nouveau to describe a group of progressive Belgian artists working under the group name of Les Vingt (20 artists). These artists challenged the status quo by creating a new style. They were not alone. Many artists from Europe and America were on the same wavelength because they were all reading, or rather devouring, the works of French Gothic revival architect, Eugene-Emmanuel Viollet-le-Duc and the influential British art critic, John Ruskin.

Viollet-le-Duc is famous and respected for his restorations at Cathédrale Notre Dame de Paris. John Ruskin advocated a holistic approach to the arts and removed the obstacles that existed between artistic disciplines. Even now, he is known as having foreseen the interest in environmentalism and sustainability.

Art evolves from our need to understand, control and organize our lives in order to maximize happiness and improve circumstances. Creativity validates ideas by communicating messages through dynamic, emotional and social images. I believe that idea inflows become creative outflows. In other words, ideas inspire innovation.

Art Nouveau came into being at a time when people were tired of the usual repetitive forms and techniques. They wanted more than “the same old, same old!” Who could blame them? The furniture and paintings from the Renaissance and Gothic periods had run their course. It was time to move on and make a fresh start with something new.

“When love and skill work together, expect a masterpiece.”  John Ruskin

To be continued, with the defining moment, Oscar Wilde & Aubrey Beardsley….

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Cathédrale Notre-Dame de Paris