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Monday, May 31, 2010

Art Nouveau

Earlier tonight I was digging around in my parents' extensive book collection and happily found myself distracted by a wonderful book on Art Nouveau from 1959. It opens with a quote by Wilde, and goes on to mention the influence of Blake and The Book of Kells on the development of the Nouveau style ... of course, I'm in love.

Some great, rare photos inside (though sadly all in b&w), but nary a mention of Mucha or Privat-Livemont except in the index. In hindsight it seems impossible that either man could be ignored, especially Mucha who's so often heralded as the founder of the movement. (Privat-Livemont, unfortunately, lives today mostly via Absinthe Robette posters in college dorm rooms.)

Horta and Van de Velde, who get virtually no press these days, take up most of the pages, and for good reason. Toulouse-Lautrec, Klimt, and Gaugin also get a fair amount of coverage. But much of what we modern consumers think of as Nouveau is nowhere to be found. Was there, perhaps, a Mucha backlash 50 years ago? An idea that his instantly recognizable aesthetic choices were overrated, and didn't fully encapsulate the organic nature of the style he created?

Regardless of any limited perspective he might have had, Mucha was an unbelievable talent. I was lucky enough to see a few original Muchas up close at Skywalker Ranch last week, and his level of detail is simply astonishing; it's truly unbelievable that anyone could brush him off as merely repetitive or a one trick pony. So what's the deal, 1950's?

Mucha's "Primrose" and "Feather"

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