To the mystery person who outbid me on eBay for the antique Art Nouveau perfume bottle with sterling silver overlay; well played my persistent friend. Well played. Okay. You beat me. No hard feelings. I can take the hit. But I swear, at the next good condition circa 1900 Art Nouveau perfume bottle that comes up on eBay, I’ll see you for a rematch! It will be like Ali/Frazier! I will deplete my PayPal account for that thing. I will hit up my mother for cash! I will sell a kidney!! You hear me you greedy bidder you??? Aaargh.
I’m fine, really. Just kidding around. I’ve been trying to get one of those bottles for years now and it’s become my personal Holy Grail. But I accepted a long time ago that when it comes to acquiring things I just don’t have the killer instinct. And we all know, of course, that the biggest disadvantage to lacking a killer instinct is losing out on antique perfume bottles on eBay
But I share this story here to introduce the turn-of-the-century movement known as Art Nouveau. Influencing virtually every aspect of arts and design, Art Nouveau originated in Europe and came into prominence in the late 19th century. It remained fashionable into the early 20th century, until the omnipotent beast known as “Modernism” effectively stomped it out.
The Art Nouveau aesthetic is noted for its elegant forms, curvy lines, and often combines decorative patterns with organic motifs, such as vines, flowers,, leaves, birds, and dragonflies (my favorite). I think it’s the looping, curling lines and swirls which make the style especially appealing among women, since rounded shapes are considered “feminine”. Hence my obsession with the curvy perfume bottle with the silver flower overlay.
Alphonse Mucha was the most famous visual artist of the Art Nouveau era. His popular illustrations are representative of the Art Nouveau “look”. This is Zodiac:
But it wasn’t all prettiness and colors and curves. A genuine philosophy came with the Art Nouveau movement. Instead of continuing the long held belief that “art” was found exclusively in the hallowed halls of museums, galleries, cathedrals, and the opulent homes of the wealthy, Art Nouveau sought to bring art and visual artistic beauty into the everyday life of ordinary people, onto every object no matter how utilitarian its purpose. The mundane was suddenly nice to look at and a pleasure to use. In both Europe and the United States, societies soon saw the appealing Art Nouveau design, with its trademark elements, popping up in everything from furniture, jewelry, textiles, glassware, architecture, and graphic design. The huge wall of separation between fine arts and applied arts was broken down, and people found themselves surrounded by the sumptuous Art Nouveau style in their daily lives – from advertising posters, staircases, picture frames and chairs, to lighting fixtures and eating utensils, to cigarette cases, brooches, and even ladies’ hairbrushes.
This beautiful silver vase, ca. 1896, is a fine example of Art Nouveau style. The designer was Philippe Wolfers, and it appears on the Met Museum Heilbrunn Art History Timeline. See the entire collection at this link: Art Nouveau. And ladies, check out the Lalique pendant!
Because of its widespread popularity throughout Europe and the United States, Art Nouveau brought success to many outstanding designers of the applied and decorative arts. Mucha and Aubrey Beardsley in the graphic arts, Victor Horta and Hector Guimard in architecture, Louis Majorelle in furniture design, and Rene Lalique and New York-based Louis Comfort Tiffany in glasswork. Those are just a few of the many creative talents who prospered during the Art Nouveau period.
Guiding Angel stained glass panel by the Tiffany Glass & Decorating Company, circa 1890:
Art Nouveau. Elegant, sexy, curvy, feminine, and super stylish. What’s not to like? I’m going to conclude this post with a link to an image of my Holy Grail. I just have to find one at a reasonable price. And by reasonable I mean cheap. “Reasonable” is a euphemism for “cheap”, isn’t it?
Art Nouveau Silver Overlay with Irises
The one in the link is exquisite. It’s also $225. No can do. I’ve got, um, utility bills. Dammit! Back to eBay I go. Wish me luck!