The industrial age blasted through the 20th century, sure to displace everything that had been once made by hand or one of a kind. Couture bowed to the sewing machine, woodworking gave way to the lathe and even jewelry became a mass produced commodity. But there was an undercurrent of rebellion forming among designers, makers and patrons of the decorative arts. Some think it was a certain Parisian art dealer, Siegfried Bing of Maison de l'Art Nouveau, who unveiled and promoted a totally new design aesthetic which included all the decorative and industrial arts.
Designers, at the turn-of- the-century intended to rise above machine made mediocrity. They shocked the senses of those accustomed to the drone of the Victorian status quo. Art Nouveau flourished in a world of rapid social change. The “new art” brought design innovations that weren’t derived from any previous art form or period style. It stressed hand fabrication over machine production. The form and beauty of an was deemed more valuable than the intrinsic worth of its materials.
To suit the demands of the design, enamels and glass were often used in preference to gems. Precious stones and metals were viewed as secondary to the selection of materials and finishes for creating objects of virtue. Art glass became a primary element in Nouveau design--the artistry of glass jewels and applied coloring was as much a part of the jewelry rendering as its form and theme.
Even in its day, Art Nouveau jewelry was expensive and avant-garde. Women were timid about wearing it until it was embraced by Sarah Bernhardt, the most adored stage actress of her time. She commissioned jewelry and hair ornaments, causing a fashion fever for the new style.
The new aesthetic resulted in an emancipation of jewelry from being mere status symbols to a high art form. However, just 15 years into the new century, WWI broke out. The demand for munitions production to fuel the war effort broke off the love affair with Art Nouveau and brought the Machine Age soundly into place. Though it thrived for just a brief slice of time, Art Nouveau had become established as a celebrated and influential design movement.
It reminds me of short seasons of tremendous personal growth that have shaped my art as a jewelry designer, my life and perspectives. What are your some of your most deeply loved treasures? Is there an art style or subject or endeavor that makes your life especially more joyous, more complete? Please post a comment below...