Cycles Perfecta

Art Nouveau, “New Art”, initially began in Europe and the United States during the latter part of the nineteenth century. The movement aimed to unite the varying design movements that had resulted from the Industrial World, and combine the many different fields of art into a uniform style. This style was characterized by calligraphic line drawing, organic linear movements, flat color, and decorative patterns. Additionally, it focused on interaction and had a goal of creating an impression on viewers. Many artists helped to shape this movement; however, it has been said that the movement was “…started entirely by the work of Alphonse Mucha before inspiring others to follow a similar style with in their own work…” (“Alphonse Mucha – Artist Biography with Portfolio of Prints, Posters and Paintings”).

Alphonse Mucha (1890 – 1939), a Czech illustrator working out of Paris, helped to shape Art Nouveau with his signature style. Featuring elongated figures, muted colors, and arabesque patterns, his work is easily recognizable from other artists who worked during this movement. Mucha focused on young women as his subjects, often sexualizing them by displaying their beauty – a task that was not often done in this time period. In 1902, Mucha used his signature style and favorite subject to create an advertisement poster for a “Cycles Perfecta” (Figure 1), a British bicycle company.

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The poster features a young woman with windblown hair draped atop a bicycle. At the top of the design, “Cycles Perfecta” is advertised in display text. The poster shows many indications that it is from the Art Nouveau movement. To begin, the lines are very calligraphic, using a bold black ink to outline each shape. Although bold, the lines do manage to remain organic – showing each curve of the woman and the cycle how they would appear three-dimensionally. The hair of the cycle model almost looks three-dimensional, creating a decorative pattern that takes up a majority of the space.

When looking at this poster, it is clear that Mucha understood not only artistic principles of Art Nouveau, but also the mental principles. Rather than selling an object (the cycle, in this case), posters in this period aimed to sell an impression. In “Cycles Perfecta”, “… he is barely showing a piece of the bicycle-not enough to tell one brand from another, anyway-but as to the pleasure of riding…” (Rennert/Weill, p. 294). Rather than making the cycle the main subject, the artist focuses on the woman’s interaction with the cycle, aiming to sell the adoration of the bike. This emotional approach was often taken in advertising posters during Art Nouveau and remains an approach to this day. Not only did Art Nouveau greatly shape design, but it also introduced methods of advertising not seen before the Industrial Revolution.

 

References
“Alphonse Mucha – Artist Biography with Portfolio of Prints, Posters and Paintings.” Alphonse Mucha Paintings & Biography. N.p., n.d. Web. 29 Sept. 2016

Rennert, Jack, and Alain Weill. Alphonse Mucha: The Complete Posters and Panels. Boston, MA: G.K. Hall, 1984. Print.

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Gustav Klimt: Beyond the Female Form

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Klimt with His Cat

Gustav Klimt (1862–1918) was perhaps the most influential Austrian artist around 1900, but his legacy is often left only partly examined. Klimt is revered for his sensual and elegantly decorated depictions of the female form, but another genre also captured his interest: landscapes.

Klimt was a founding member of the Vienna Secession, a group formed in 1897 that sought to break from the binds of conservative organizations that dominated the Austrian art scene. The Vienna Secession believed that these prevailing organizations had become out of touch with the modern styles and art theories that had been circulating throughout Europe at the time. Klimt and his like-minded colleagues explored new aesthetic strategies not rooted in historicism but rather aimed at creating new styles that more aptly interpreted modern, industrial society. This mentality was characteristic of the broader movement of Art Nouveau.

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The Kiss

Many of Gustav Klimt’s most remembered and celebrated works are those depicting women, particularly his “Golden Phase,” a period of paintings in which he employed delicate, gold leafing. Klimt is quoted saying, “There is no self-portrait of myself. I am not interested in my own person—more in other people, females.” In fact, the female muse became somewhat of an obsession of his. Klimt was prolific in his paintings and sketches of women. His sketches reveal nude female models in a host of erotic positions, often portrayed as objects of purely sexual interest. His paintings offer a more stylized, and masked expression of this sexuality. These paintings highlight a central female figure, usually enveloped in a highly ornamented drapery of collaged shapes and colors. Almost all sense of depth is lost, with the figure and her surroundings flattened into a single plane of interlocking forms.

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The Hope II

But Klimt’s interest was not solely devoted to painting women. Beginning in the early 1890s, Klimt began taking annual summer trips to the shores of the Attersee Lake in upper Austria. It was here where Klimt developed a strong side interest in landscape painting, ultimately creating a body of work whose quantity and quality closely rivals that of his female portrait paintings. While Klimt’s landscape works stylistically draw more from impressionism and pointillism, much of the same detailed patterning and reduction of forms that characterize his paintings of women, is also evident in these more natural scenes. Klimt skillfully flattens the immense depth of the landscapes into a single surface of color, while intense flecks of paint create highly textured forms, reminiscent of the ornamented dress of his female figures. Often, this style distills the scene to a mood rather than an accurate depiction of the landscape.

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Unterach on lake Attersee

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Forester’s House in Weissenbach I

The two somewhat disparate genres that commanded Gustav Klimt’s interest, portraits and landscapes, were united by his unique approach to space and his aesthetic technique of ornamentation. While his female portrait paintings have garnered much of contemporary attention, Klimt’s landscapes reveal his love of the outdoors and offer an alternative view of the artist, a view worth taking.

 

Works Cited

Eskilson, Stephen. Graphic Design: A New History. 2nd ed. New Haven: Yale University Press, 2012.

Klimt Museum. Accessed September 29, 2016. http://klimt.com/.
“Gustav Klimt Biography.” Gustav Klimt – The Complete Works. Accessed September 29, 2016. http://www.klimtgallery.org/biography.html.
Leopold Museum. Accessed September 29, 2016. http://www.leopoldmuseum.org/en.