Jūlijs Straume (1874–1970). Pattern sketch for a decorative fabric Peacocks. Detail. 1906. Paper, tempera. Collection of the Latvian National Museum of Art. Photo: Normunds Brasliņš
RIGA.- The exhibition Art Nouveau. Its Beginnings, Influences and Original Nature dedicated to Latvia’s Centenary is on view at the Art Museum Riga Bourse in Riga (Doma laukums 6) from 4 May to 5 August 2018.
Within the landscape of global art, Latvia has written an enduring story with its brilliant examples of Art Nouveau. By highlighting the Art Nouveau heritage, the Latvian National Museum of Art wants to show Riga’s special place in the European cultural palette at the end of the 19th century and at the beginning of the 20th century, at a time when Latvian national consciousness was forming.
The rapid rise of the Baltics’ biggest metropolis, Riga at the turn of the century inspired the fantasies of architects, who developed the idea of Art Nouveau through the design of richly decorated façades, colourful interiors and overall aesthetic harmony. In addition to architecture, which is the most well-known part of the artistic heritage of this period, vivid examples of Art Nouveau are also found in applied arts, graphic art of books and magazines, and painting. It should be noted that the Art Nouveau epoch in Latvia was not just a moment before the birth of the state, but also the time when the formation of national professional art took place and the new style became one of the catalysts for the modernization of artistic expression.
Georges Fouquet (1862–1957). Orchid brooch. France. 1898–1901. Gold, ruby, pearl, enamel. Anderson Collection of Art Nouveau, Sainsbury Centre of Visual Arts, University of East Anglia, UK. Publicity photo
The exhibition is a meeting of various national schools, with the objective of allowing the viewer to identify their similarities, influences and differences. Although the Art Nouveau style of Riga is undeniably peculiar, its features are closely related to the processes in other countries. The exposition is also a story of the most notable manifestations of Art Nouveau in Europe, visualising these through painting, graphic art, sculpture and decorative applied arts. It traces the roots, beginnings and flourishing of this style, and offers a clearer understanding of the original nature of Art Nouveau in Latvia, which are exemplified in comparison with the oeuvre of the greatest Art Nouveau metropolises – Paris, London, Brussels and other most vibrant cities of Europe.
In terms of time, all that separates us from the age of Art Nouveau is just over a century, and the volume of material available is enormous, as a result of which this exhibition is merely a tiny angle within a much greater whole. Highlighted therein, alongside Latvia’s contribution, are those countries and sources of inspiration that helped the style to evolve and develop in our region. It is the story of France and Japonism, Louis Majorelle’s, Hector Guimard’s and Émile Gallé’s refined forms of dishes and vessels, furniture and architectural details, Belgium and Congo style, floral motifs in the patterns of William Morris and Walter Crane in Great Britain, Faberge’s sophistication in Russia, as well as Art Nouveau period art in Germany, Austria, Czech Republic, Denmark, Sweden, Netherlands, and Switzerland.
The works on show have retained their aesthetic merits in the modern world, delighting the demanding contemporary spectator with their elegant forms. Moreover, the exhibition is an attempt to clear the playing field of sentimentality, neo-romantic exaggerations and sensuality, returning instead to the primordial tale of the harmony, plasticity and synthesis combined with functionality. From harsh, simplistic games of geometric shapes and volumes, to supple plant motifs that break down any symmetry – all of this is Art Nouveau.
Loetz Witwe Company. Rosewater sprinkler and Vase. Bohemia, Czech Republic. Ca. 1900. Glass, silver. Anderson Collection of Art Nouveau, Sainsbury Centre of Visual Arts, University of East Anglia, UK. Publicity photo