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Fin-de-siècle Decadentism

By determining the gradual breaking down of the borders between art and life, this process of the aestheticization of reality, however, also contributed to the development of a refined and elitist cultural tendency, whose leading personalities envisioned the detachment from the ugliness that could be seen in everyday life through extreme experiences, such as those described in 1884 by Joris-Karl Huysmans in his novel À rebours, whose main character De Eissentes is described as: “[...] sapped by disillusionment, depressed by hypochondria and weighed down by spleen, he had been reduced to such a state of nervous sensitivity that the sight of a disagreeable person or thing was deeply impressed upon his mind and it took several days even to begin removing the imprint”.1 The main character in the story, after having tried out within his castle the most bizarre and

sophisticated experiences vis-à-vis decadent taste, saw to creating for himself, in a hermitage just outside of Paris, “[...] for his own personal pleasure and not to astonish other people [...] a peaceful and unique abode specially designed to meet the needs of the solitary life he intended to lead”.2 And it was precisely in this eccentric ivory tower that his attention was focused in an even more maniacal way on the preciousness of some of the unique and rare objects such as the volume he always kept with him of Edgar Allan Poe’s The Adventures of Gordon Pym, bound in sea-calf leather and bearing a seagull water-mark on every page, or else the paintings by Gustave Moreau, “evocative works which would transport him to some unfamiliar world, point the way to new possibilities, and shake up his nervous system by means of erudite fantasies, complicated nightmares, suave and sinister visions”.3

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Fin-de-siècle Decadentism

By determining the gradual breaking down of the borders between art and life, this process of the aestheticization of reality, however, also contributed to the development of a refined and elitist cultural tendency, whose leading personalities envisioned the detachment from the ugliness that could be seen in everyday life through extreme experiences, such as those described in 1884 by Joris-Karl Huysmans in his novel À rebours, whose main character De Eissentes is described as: “[...] sapped by disillusionment, depressed by hypochondria and weighed down by spleen, he had been reduced to such a state of nervous sensitivity that the sight of a disagreeable person or thing was deeply impressed upon his mind and it took several days even to begin removing the imprint”.1 The main character in the story, after having tried out within his castle the most bizarre and

sophisticated experiences vis-à-vis decadent taste, saw to creating for himself, in a hermitage just outside of Paris, “[...] for his own personal pleasure and not to astonish other people [...] a peaceful and unique abode specially designed to meet the needs of the solitary life he intended to lead”.2 And it was precisely in this eccentric ivory tower that his attention was focused in an even more maniacal way on the preciousness of some of the unique and rare objects such as the volume he always kept with him of Edgar Allan Poe’s The Adventures of Gordon Pym, bound in sea-calf leather and bearing a seagull water-mark on every page, or else the paintings by Gustave Moreau, “evocative works which would transport him to some unfamiliar world, point the way to new possibilities, and shake up his nervous system by means of erudite fantasies, complicated nightmares, suave and sinister visions”.3

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LEFT Eugène Samuel Grasset Apparitions, gold brooch, cloisonné enamel, ivory and topaz cabochons, Maison Vever, 1900, Musée d’Orsay, Paris. The apparition of the supernatural in the everyday represented one of the chief inspirational motifs of Symbolist culture. Henri Doucet 4 Z’Arts 18 Mai 1906, colour prints, 1906, Wolfsoniana, Fondazione regionale per la Cultura e lo Spettacolo, Genoa. The first 4 Z’Arts ball took place on 23 April 1892 based on an idea by Henri Guillaume who had also coined its name. These extravagant and transgressive masked balls, organized by the students of the École des Beaux-Arts in Paris, caused quite a stir at the time, as witnessed, after the ball organized in 1893 at the Moulin Rouge, by the trial against Guillaume accused of indecency. Each edition of the 4 Z’Arts, whose greatest attraction consisted in the return to school of its pupils in masks, was dedicated to a theme that evoked long-past eras and exotic atmospheres. The theme of the 1906 ball, which took place in the Wagram room, was a cruel and mysterious India, with its temples, monstrous idols, priests and courtesans.

Fin-de-siècle Decadentism

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LEFT Eugène Samuel Grasset Apparitions, gold brooch, cloisonné enamel, ivory and topaz cabochons, Maison Vever, 1900, Musée d’Orsay, Paris. The apparition of the supernatural in the everyday represented one of the chief inspirational motifs of Symbolist culture. Henri Doucet 4 Z’Arts 18 Mai 1906, colour prints, 1906, Wolfsoniana, Fondazione regionale per la Cultura e lo Spettacolo, Genoa. The first 4 Z’Arts ball took place on 23 April 1892 based on an idea by Henri Guillaume who had also coined its name. These extravagant and transgressive masked balls, organized by the students of the École des Beaux-Arts in Paris, caused quite a stir at the time, as witnessed, after the ball organized in 1893 at the Moulin Rouge, by the trial against Guillaume accused of indecency. Each edition of the 4 Z’Arts, whose greatest attraction consisted in the return to school of its pupils in masks, was dedicated to a theme that evoked long-past eras and exotic atmospheres. The theme of the 1906 ball, which took place in the Wagram room, was a cruel and mysterious India, with its temples, monstrous idols, priests and courtesans.

Fin-de-siècle Decadentism

25


Gaspar Homar i Mezquida decorative detail of a piece of furniture for a lawyers’ office, oak, 1912, Wolfsoniana, Fondazione regionale per la Cultura e lo Spettacolo, Genoa. The furniture painted by Homar always features recurring floral and plant motifs drawn from the Catalan culture and tradition. The artist’s frequent use of the sunflower is a case in point.

Émile Gallé Christmas. Winter Flora, cabinetvetrine, variety of inlaid woods, 1889, Musée d’Orsay, Paris. Famous for his glasswork characterized by organic forms and allusions to Symbolist poetry, Gallé also expressed his personal interpretation of the natural world in his furniture and interior decor designs.

Louis Majorelle Orchid night table, mahogany, gilt bronze, rosewood, 1905-1909, Musée d’Orsay, Paris.

Hector Guimard wall panel, ca. 1897, Musée d’Orsay, Paris. Interior decor for the Castel Béranger in rue La Fontane, executed by the Schubert maison of Paris.

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Art Nouveau between Modernism and Romantic Nationalism

The Forms of Nature

63


Gaspar Homar i Mezquida decorative detail of a piece of furniture for a lawyers’ office, oak, 1912, Wolfsoniana, Fondazione regionale per la Cultura e lo Spettacolo, Genoa. The furniture painted by Homar always features recurring floral and plant motifs drawn from the Catalan culture and tradition. The artist’s frequent use of the sunflower is a case in point.

Émile Gallé Christmas. Winter Flora, cabinetvetrine, variety of inlaid woods, 1889, Musée d’Orsay, Paris. Famous for his glasswork characterized by organic forms and allusions to Symbolist poetry, Gallé also expressed his personal interpretation of the natural world in his furniture and interior decor designs.

Louis Majorelle Orchid night table, mahogany, gilt bronze, rosewood, 1905-1909, Musée d’Orsay, Paris.

Hector Guimard wall panel, ca. 1897, Musée d’Orsay, Paris. Interior decor for the Castel Béranger in rue La Fontane, executed by the Schubert maison of Paris.

62

Art Nouveau between Modernism and Romantic Nationalism

The Forms of Nature

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Butterfly Vase, Atelier of Émile Gallé, watercolour, undated, Musée d’Orsay, Paris. LEFT Antonin Daum Dragonfly and Buttercup Vase, 1904, Musée des Beaux-Arts, Nancy.

The Forms of Nature

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Butterfly Vase, Atelier of Émile Gallé, watercolour, undated, Musée d’Orsay, Paris. LEFT Antonin Daum Dragonfly and Buttercup Vase, 1904, Musée des Beaux-Arts, Nancy.

The Forms of Nature

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Art Nouveau  

Analyses the international roots of the movement that revolutionised the modern conception of the artistic object - Art Nouveau.

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