Emile Galle and Louis Majorelle and the Art Nouveau Movement
Art Nouveau is best defined as a style in the visual arts that came to the fore in a number of European and North American cities in the early 1890s, and remained a force to be reckoned with until the end of the first decade of the twentieth century, when it faded quite speedily from view. The style emerged as a revolutionary style of art, existing as a form of protest against so-called academic art institutions and from the intense activity of a collection of movements, manufacturers, public institutions, publishing houses, individual artists, entrepreneurs and patrons. Its main areas of activity were in the decorative arts, though it affected all forms of visual culture.
The defining characteristic of Art Nouveau -- the factor that made it into an intellectually and socially cohesive force -- was modernity. It was the first deliberate, internationally based attempt to transform visual culture through a commitment to the idea of the modern. In a world that was being voraciously modernized, it was inevitable that artists and designers would attempt to modernize culture; so that it could remain relevant to the people it was created for. It was intended to be a style for the age; we now recognize it as the style of the age.
As with all major stylistic developments in the history of art, such as the Gothic, the Baroque or neo-Classicism, the Art Nouveau style was diverse. Every national centre added their own inflections and interpretations to the whole, and within each centre different individuals and groups created variety and conflict at a local level. All styles are enriched by the circumstances in which they are made. Underlying this variety, however, were outlooks and ideas held in common that gave the style its cohesiveness as well as its international significance.
There are several types of sources that Art Nouveau designers looked towards to achieve their respective modern "looks." The first and most important was nature. Animals, plants and landscape formations dominate a large number of the movements that constitute Art Nouveau. After this, most schools experimented with certain previous historical styles, twisting and re-arranging them to make them visually and symbolically appropriate to the modern age. Art Nouveau designers did not use historical forms simply to evoke the past or to imbue their designs with a veneer of respectability. Rather, they tended to re-interpret history, using it to their own ends.
Key historical styles were various forms of Classicism, the Baroque, Rococo and Biedermeier styles, the Gothic Revival, Viking, Celtic and Folk Art. Designers were also heavily reliant on historical styles from outside Europe. The art of Japan and the Islamic nations were by far the most important sources here, followed by China. Some countries made use of the cultures they controlled through imperial conquest. Central African art, for example, affected various Belgian designers, and Indonesian patterns were important in Holland. Finally, the various forms of Symbolist art, including literature, were vitally important for the development of Art Nouveau. French Symbolism was especially significant for the imbuing of a sense of mystery and psychic depth to objects and images.
Art Nouveau was an extremely eclectic style: that is to say, both the look of the objects and the meanings they convey were achieved through the combination of many other styles and ideas. These would be deliberately brought together to create a certain effect. Many Art Nouveau objects are deceptively simple, their simplicity masking a complicated combination of visual ideas from wildly diverse places. Often, several of the historical styles would be mixed together and then shrouded with natural forms and symbolist meanings. It was a complicated style for a complicated age, when many contrary forces were forced to live together: the old and the new, the city and the country, science and religion, the individual and the community, the local and the cosmopolitan.
The men and women who created Art Nouveau believed that all the arts should work in tandem, that if the objects of everyday existence contained poetry, then the mass of people might partake of poetry. It was a radical attempt to decorate the world so as to give it more meaning. As such, it set the agenda for many of the modern movements which followed it.
Two important artists, Emile Galle and Louis Majorelle, both furniture designers, greatly influenced both the industry of furniture making, and the movement of Art Nouveau.
Emile Galle lived from 1846 until 1904. He is regarded as not only the most important and famous artist of the school of Nancy, but he was also a bright manufacturer. He helped in his father's glass company as soon as 1867, and replaced him in 1877 as director. In 1885, he founded a wood workshop and in 1894, a crystal firm in Nancy.
A man ahead of his time, Galle mixed a lot of influences but always created something new and different, something mysterious that belonged only to him. Among the influences we can find in his work, there was a tremendous emphasis placed on literature and nature. Most of his vases have a poetic verse carved or sealed in them. In each case, the lyrics were related to the object design or owner. Adapting his work to the personality of the owner is a common feature for Art Nouveau artists. The natural influence was the result of his love for the outdoors, and he could often be found collecting and studying plants at his free time.
He enjoyed experimenting with the materials he used in his work. His materials were of the highest quality which allowed him to experiment with his technique, often playing with the transparency of the glass and to create new visual or sensitive effects. He patented several new processes for glass work.
Galle became famous at the 1889 universal exhibition in Paris when he won a "grand prix." While winning the distinction, the exhibition did not satisfy him. He felt that the exhibition should reflect the future, and that his exhibition did not succeed in doing so, comparing it to a general antique shop. His work was not displayed all together. Instead, it was spread throughout five different area of the exhibition.
In 1901, he created the ecole de Nancy (the school of Nancy) in an attempt to gather others around him who would not only appreciate his style, but who yearned to learn it in order to resist the influences of Paris and Germany. This school gathered artists, industrialists and teachers. In 1904, he died of leukemia, but the school of Nancy lived on until 1909.
Louis Majorelle was another undisputed leader among French Art Nouveau furniture designers. He was well-known for his use -- and transformation -- of Rococo style. Like Emile Galle, Majorelle was from Nancy, a city in eastern France noted for the rococo elegance of its fine central square, La Place Stanislas, and for a tradition of luxury crafts. When he first took over the family business in 1879, Majorelle designed furniture that was close to his eighteenth-century models. Soon he began, partly under the influence of Galle, to abstract and exaggerate forms, and by the mid-1890s he was creating furniture in a fully Art Nouveau style.
Majorelle originally studied art at the ecole des Beaux-Arts in Paris but had to return home after his father's untimely death to take over his father's business in Nancy which specialized in period furniture. Like many Nancy artists of the time his first designs had strong Rococo influences before he adopted the Art Nouveau style in 1897-98 under the influence of Emile Galle. Though he made use of plant forms like Galle in constructing and designing furniture his designs were more plastic. He is know for his use of wrought…