Sensual Modernity: L'Art Nouveau from Paris to Nancy with Rebecca Cavanaugh

Sensual Modernity: L'Art Nouveau from Paris to Nancy with Rebecca Cavanaugh


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L’Art Nouveau, an international movement that defined the decorative arts at the turn of the twentieth century, existed in a variety of manifestations throughout Europe, the United States, and beyond. From the Weiner Werkstätte in Vienna to the Jugendstil in Prague to the Glasgow School in Scotland, there are Art Nouveau representations to discover all over. But the most iconic expression of the style – the iteration most widely recognized as Art Nouveau today – is the version that developed in France and Belgium, characterized by the so-called whiplash curve and sensual, feminine forms derived from nature and the world of dreams. This seminar will explore France in relation to L'Art Nouveau.

Inspired by influences from Japanese woodblock prints to William Morris’s Arts and Crafts Movement in Britain, decorative artists and architects in France developed a unique style that responded directly to the hectic, masculine industrialism of the 19th century by offering a new, softer expression of modernity. We’ll discuss how L’Art Nouveau centered around two main cities: Paris and Nancy. Pioneering the style in Paris was the architect and all-around design visionary Hector Guimard, who is most well-known for his exuberant, vegetal entrances to the Paris metro system. Along with figures like the Czech decorative artist Alphonse Mucha and the jeweler Réné Lalique, he brought a sense of wonder and fantasy to the visual landscape of the capital. We’ll learn how to the east in the city of Nancy, artists such as the furniture designer Louis Majorelle and glassmaker/cabinetmaker Emile Gallé developed the Nancy School, defined by a more naturalistic vocabulary of flora and fauna. These and other expressions of the “new art” were on display at the Universal Exposition of 1900 in Paris, where the style reached its apex, earning it the contemporary label “Style 1900”.

Led by an expert on French decorative arts, Rebecca Cavanaugh, this interactive seminar will explore key works and important sites that epitomize Art Nouveau in France. Designed to inform curiosity as well as future travels, participants will come away with an increased familiarity with and admiration for this dynamic style that defined the dawn of the 20th century.

Rebecca earned her MA in History of Decorative Arts and Design from Parsons The New School for Design and the Smithsonian's Cooper-Hewitt National Design Museum in New York. She moved to Paris in 2007 to pursue research in 20th century French design and has been leading walks with Context Travel ever since. She is a part-time faculty member at Parsons Paris and works as a freelance translator specializing in art and design texts for major museums and publishing houses. She is also a jazz vocalist, performing in renowned venues in Paris and around France.

This conversation is not suitable for children under age 16

90 minutes, including a 30 minute Q&A.

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