In the 19th century commercial retailing and the mass production of goods expanded to serve Europe's growing urban populations. An Art Nouveau 'look', associated with luxury, was publicised through an explosion in advertising and it soon became ubiquitous across the continent. A wide range of Art Nouveau products was marketed to middle-class consumers with fashionable aspirations and disposable incomes.
In London, a single retailer created one of the names by which Art Nouveau became known: stile Liberty. The British department store Liberty & Co., founded by Arthur Lasenby Liberty in 1875, was one of the most successful and influential retailers of Art Nouveau wares.
Following rapid expansion, Liberty became an outlet for many Art Nouveau artists from continental Europe. It commissioned glass, jewellery, furniture, silver and metalwork from its own stable of designers, and its colourful textiles were particularly popular.
Liberty is the chosen resort of the artistic shopper.Oscar Wilde
In the second half of the 19th century, Japan exerted a major influence on European art and culture. After Japanese ports had resumed trade with the West in 1853, an unprecedented volume and variety of Japanese goods arrived from the East. These included porcelain, silks, fans, kimonos and woodblock prints in the Ukiyo-e style, such as the work by Yoshitoshi Tsukioka shown on the left.
The phenomenon known as Japonism had begun and Arthur Liberty was an early adopter, introducing Japanese-inspired artifacts and styles into his firm's product range.
"The desire to possess Japanese objects arose as soon as the International Exhibition of 1862 was open, and it was not long after this time that our merchants began to concern themselves with the introduction of these strange manufactures as articles of commerce." Christopher Dresser
Hamburg-born businessman Siegfried Bing (1838-1905) was an influential figure in the popularisation of Japanese art and Art Nouveau. From the 1870s onwards, he ran an import-export business in Paris and edited the influential monthly journal Le Japon Artistique. In December 1895, Bing opened a gallery called L’Art Nouveau that sold jewellery, paintings, ceramics, stained glass, and furniture from designers including Tiffany, Georges de Feure, Eduard Colonna and Eugène Galliard. Japanese motifs directly inspired works by European artists such as Émile Gallé, whose spectacular dish from 1880 is illustrated here.
Trade exhibitions, especially world trade fairs, were important showcases for Art Nouveau style. The 1900 Exposition Universelle in Paris marked the highpoint of Art Nouveau and promoted France as a major centre of the movement. Millions of visitors and thousands of exhibitors attended the fair.
Just below is some remarkable footage of the Exposition Universelle, compiled from film reels of French cameramen and camera operators working for Thomas Edison.
Exhibition: a type of nineteenth century madness.Gustave Flaubert, Dictionnaire des idées reçues