Seize the Stem! Art Nouveau in Europe

In the late 1890s, French architect Hector Guimard—now best known for his sprouting, organic designs for the Paris Metro—coined the phrase “Reject the flower, seize the stem!” In this seminar, we will explore Art Nouveau, the “the new style” often epitomized by the tendril form, in its various stylistic manifestations and cultural meanings across Europe from the fin de siècle through the first years of the twentieth century. In addition to investigating the ways in which plant and animal forms served as inspirations for this self-consciously modern approach to architectural structure, the design of objects, and surface decoration, we will examine the social contexts within which the new style(s) developed, as well as larger historiographical and methodological questions regarding Art Nouveau’s place and meaning as a reform movement within the history of design. Class sessions will address issues specific to regional expressions of the style—mainly in Belgium, France, Germany, Austria, Italy, and Spain—as well as more thematic concerns and influences, including the rise of nationalism, new interest in local ethnography and the vernacular, the burgeoning of consumer capitalism, new developments in biological and psychological science, the Gesamtkunstwerk (total-artwork) and theatricality in design, as well as backlashes against and critiques of Art Nouveau’s so-called “whiplash curve” in both period and current scholarship. 3 credits.