Book plate of W. Porter Truesdell, 1903, Alexandre de Riquer i Inglada, Museu Nacional d'Art de Catalunya, CC BY-NC-ND
L'Art Gothique by Louis Gonse, 1900, Eugène Grasset, Museum Für Kunst und Gewerbe Hamburg, CC0
L'Art Gothique by Louis Gonse, 1900, Eugène Grasset, Museum Für Kunst und Gewerbe Hamburg, CC0

The second half of the 19th century saw an explosion in printed media such as newspapers, novels, gazettes, caricatures, prints and illustrated books. The sinuous lines and nature-inspired motifs of Art Nouveau appeared frequently on book covers and in ex libris bookplates.

Magazines and journals covering artistic and decorative trends were launched across Europe and included Llibre d'Horas, Ver Sacrum, The Savoy, La Plume, Dekorative Kunst and Jugend. The latter was a popular, trend-setting cultural weekly published by Georg Hirth which gave the Jugendstil movement its name. Within a slim format of twenty pages or fewer, Jugend covered fashionable clothes, literature and featured the artwork of Hugo Hoppner (Fido), Emil Hansen (Nolde), Ernst Barlach and Peter Behrens.

Andromeda, draft for title page of Jugend, 1898, Hans Christiansen, Museumsberg Flensberg, Public Domain Mark
Andromeda, draft for title page of Jugend, 1898, Hans Christiansen, Museumsberg Flensberg, Public Domain Mark

The versatile German artist and illustrator Hans Christiansen (1866-1945) produced vivid cover designs with distinctive hand-lettered fonts. Born in Flensburg, Christiansen moved to Paris in 1895 to study at the Académie Julian and was a member of the Darmstadt Artists’ Colony until 1902. As well as graphic work, he designed wallpaper patterns, tapestries, ceramics and glass windows.

'I take my work as an artist as general as possible: I want to paint a portrait but can also design a piece of furniture; I draw cartoons but also wallpapers, posters; I design stained glass windows but also occasionally a screen.' Hans Christiansen

Isolde, 1898, Aubrey Vincent Beardsley, Jugendstilsenteret, Public Domain Mark
Isolde, 1898, Aubrey Vincent Beardsley, Jugendstilsenteret, Public Domain Mark

In England, Aubrey Beardsley (1872-1898) was an important figure in Victorian illustration and the Aesthetic movement. Born in the English seaside town of Brighton, Beardsley moved to Paris in 1892 after encouragement from Edward Burne-Jones (1833-1898). Beardsley's reputation was established by an illustration of Salome holding the head of John the Baptist, published in the first edition of The Studio.

Beardsley’s erotically-charged pen and ink illustrations typified fin de siècle decadence and became associated with the progressive arts quarterly The Yellow Book. That association ended following the trial and imprisonment of Oscar Wilde in 1895, which affected all those in his circle. Beardsley’s career was tragically cut short by his death from tuberculosis, aged just 25.

Poster for student ball, winter term 1894-1895, Jules Chéret, Bibliothèque nationale de France, Public Domain Mark
Poster for student ball, winter term 1894-1895, Jules Chéret, Bibliothèque nationale de France, Public Domain Mark

Posters and advertising became a dominant means of mass communication throughout Europe at the end of the 19th century. The newly developed three-stone lithography process made dazzling colours available and advertising became a popular medium for many artists, including Leonetto Cappiello (1875-1942) and Alfred Choubrac (1853-1902).

In France, the Belle Époque was epitomised by the posters of Henri Toulouse-Lautrec (1864-1901) and Jules Chéret (1836-1932), both of whom were influenced by Japanese Ukiyo-e prints. Chéret was a painter and lithographer who became celebrated as a master of Belle Époque poster art.

Explore Chéret's work further on this Pinterest board.