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Antiques & Collecting: The Arts and Crafts Movement - Art Nouveau

PUBLISHED: 16:12 06 July 2009 | UPDATED: 15:39 20 February 2013

A Minton earthenware stickstand in the Art Nouveau style. Value £1,700-£2,000

A Minton earthenware stickstand in the Art Nouveau style. Value £1,700-£2,000

In the latter years of Queen Victoria's reign a number of Guilds and Societies were formed with the purpose of reviving interest in the craftsmanship of earlier times and developing greater co-operation between the various crafts.

The Arts and Crafts Exhibition Society arranged a series of exhibitions between 1888, when it was formed, and 1899 which illustrated the many contrasting tendencies of the age. The activities of these groups have become known as the Arts and Crafts Movement.

One of these was the Art Nouveau style. This is above all a 'look', a visual style so distinctive as to be instantly recognizable. Popular from around 1880 until the outbreak of the First World War, it was part of an end-of-century reaction to Western industrial age ethics. Although its roots are to be found in Britain, it swept across Europe as the fashion style of the era. Unlike the positive style of Art Deco, it is difficult to define.

In Britain two members of the Pre-Raphaelite movement, Edward Burne-Jones and Gabriel Rossetti, made lavish use of the image of the maiden to convey purity and innocence: this image was also attractive to exponents of Art Nouveau as it expresses the language of love and poetry. Intertwining serpents and foliage were other common motifs.

At the same time and at the other end of the spectrum, a rectangular and geometric formal style was introduced by Scottish architect Charles Rennie Mackintosh. Opinions differ as to whether this falls within Art Nouveau, but as the Glasgow School had such a great impact on developments in Europe it would be difficult to separate them entirely.

The popularity of Art Nouveau was largely spread through three retail outlets: Liberty in London; Tiffany in New York, which opened in 1878; and from 1895 Samuel Bing's Maison de l'art Nouveau in Paris - which gave the movement its name. Well-known manufacturers and artists adapted the style for use in just about every material ranging from pewter to ceramics but once all the possibilities had been exhausted it came to a natural conclusion. Art Nouveau was 'rediscovered' in the late 1960s. In later years it has been collected by many well-known personalities, including Elton John and Michael Caine;

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