Exhibitions were essential showcases for Art Nouveau, particularly the world trade fairs – a “form of 19th century madness”, according to Gustave Flaubert. Artistic colonies sprung up in Europe, inspired by the Arts & Crafts movement. Organizations providing a commercial hub for artists and designers included the Wiener Werkstätte (from 1903) in Austria led by Joseph Hoffman and Koloman Moser and the Vereinigte Werkstätten für Kunst im Handwerk in Munich (from 1897), to which Hermann Obrist, Richard Riemerschmid, Bruno Paul and Peter Behrens were attached. Architect designers were also hired by firms to inject a fashionable spirit into everyday wares. In London, a key retailer created one of the names by which Art Nouveau became known, stile Liberty.
Exhibitions and Fairs
The Paris Exposition Universelle 1900 marked the high point of Art Nouveau and promoted France as a centre of the movement. Millions of visitors and thousands of exhibitors attended the fair, from the 15th April to the 12th November 1900. Siegfried Bing, who ran the gallery Maison de L’Art Nouveau, showed interiors by Édouard Colonna, Georges de Feure and Eugène Gaillard. Loïe Fuller twirled in her own pavilion, designed by French architect Henri Sauvage. Visitors arrived via the Paris Metro, with entrances designed by Hector Guimard, and the curvaceous Pavilion Bleu by Belgian architect Gustave Serrurier-Bovy. For the 1902 fair in Turin, Raimondo D’Aronco integrated Secession, Eastern and Byzantine decorative elements into the main pavilion.
Retail and Commerce
The London retailer Liberty & Co (which also operated in Paris from 1889 until 1931) was one of the most successful retailers of Art Nouveau to affluent, aspirational, middle-class customers. Arthur Lasenby Liberty (1843-1917) opened his first shop in 1875, importing oriental textiles, ceramics and other wares. Following continuous expansion, Liberty became an outlet for many Art Nouveau artists from continental Europe. It also commissioned textiles, glass, jewellery, furniture, silver and metalwork from its own stable of designers. The Tudric and Cymric Celtic-revival ranges produced by Archibald Knox and Rex Silver (they were anonymous at the time) incorporated enamels and materials such as turquoise and mother of pearl. Many different items could be bought in the same style, from clocks to muffin dishes.
Artistic Colonies and Collectives
Grand Duke Ernst Ludwig von Hessen, a grandson of Queen Victoria, was the patron to the Darmstadt Artists’ Colony in Mathildenhöhe in Germany. Founded in 1889, it aimed to combine art, architecture and artisanal production. Von Hessen invited seven artists, including Hans Christiansen, Joseph Maria Olbrich, and Peter Behrens, to form a community where they would work, live and teach. Most of the houses were built by Olbrich, but were individually designed. The houses were part of the first exhibition in 1901, which resulted in a financial loss. After this, several artists left, including Christiansen. The First World War separated Von Hessen from three of his sisters in Russia (he was the brother of Tsarina Alexandra) and brought an end to the venture.