Art Nouveau is the creative expression that defines the design zeitgeist from approximately 1895 to 1915. Developed in France as a response to the overwrought styles of the Victorian Era, the creative output of this time—whether in painting, textile design, jewelry making, sculpture and architecture—was ultimately a rejection of the industrial movement and a call to return to nature.
Though short-lived, the Art Nouveau period illustrates the belief that art should be a part of everyday life, and design was heavily influenced by symbolist paintings, the French women’s rights movement and Japanese art. With industrialization and mass production on the rise, creators of Art Nouveau jewelry gravitated towards more natural motifs with an emphasis on artistry and detail, consistently including themes of flora, fauna and the female form.
La Mer Centerpiece by Francios Raoul Larche, circa 1900. Ophir Gallery
Masters of the movement such as René Lalique and Georges Fouquet, as well as those that followed, opted to showcase an additional level of rebelliousness in their choice of materials, employing more modest materials such as horn, jasper, amber and glass, and advancing intricate enameling techniques to reflect their vision more accurately, thereby putting the emphasis of prestige on the craftsman verses the materials. They also eschewed the use of perfectly round pearls in their work, opting for the visual complexity of baroque pearls in the construction of their work.
Iris and Lotus Candlesticks by Alexandre Clerget, circa 1900. Ophir Gallery.