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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