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An artistic style that lasted no more than three or four decades, beginning in the 1890's, that drew its aesthetic inspiration from the English painter Aubrey Beardsley [1872-1898]. Beardsley had become famous throughout Europe for his overtly sexual, often ominous black and white prints and paintings that displayed scenes and imagery taken from the world of both fine art and folklore. Pre-Raphaelite women in the pose of a Grecian goddess, the vines of Bacchus grapes intermingling with Celtic tartan designs, the precise discipline of a purely graphic technique set to the task of shaping lush, luxurious, natural shapes- these were the trademark characteristics of Beardsley that inspired other artists and artisans in establishing a 'new art'.
This style was pervasive mainly in the applied arts, such as architecture and drawing, with many industrial designers, interior designers and furniture makers being influenced by this new approach to use of organic shapes and themes, but it also seeped into the fine arts of sculpture and especially drawing. This is a style of soft, rounded shapes and images of growth, vegetation and wildlife, the overall effect is usually erotic and fantastical.
Two general schools of thought can roughly be separated out of this new style
Many commercial artists, printmakers, metal smiths, jewelers, glass blowers and illustrators who were inclined to the style created jarring, asymmetrical lines coupled with smooth flowing organic shapes and images. Of these the most famous is Alfons Mucha, the Czech print-maker, who habitually used pale, creamy colors and effusive circular lines. In architecture it would the unbeatable Antonio Gaudi and the Belgian Victor Horta.
For the second group we may look to the ultra-modern linear compositions of buildings, furniture and decorations of Charles Renee Macintosh, the Scottish designer. The floral and organic motifs are still there, the preoccupation with tall, clean lines and otherworldliness, but here the ebb and flow stops. Macintosh is harsh and definitive, the flowers and vines are stylized into petrifaction. The Art Nouveau features are present, but they have been “dignified” into somberness. The result is exquisitely precise and severe, with the occasional glimpse of a delicate petal design, or the slant of sunlight illuminating a niche of idealized plant motifs.
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