Ernest BUSSIÈRE (modeller)<br />
 KELLER & GUÉRIN, Lunéville (manufacturer)<br/>
<em>Gourd vase</em> (c. 1903) <!-- (view 1 ) --><br />

earthenware<br />
18.8 x 13.3 x 12.5 cm<br />
National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne<br />
Gift of Krystyna Campbell-Pretty AM and Family through the Australian Government's Cultural Gifts Program, 2020<br />
2020.215<br />


The influence of nature


Art Nouveau is a decorative style that thrived  between 1890 and 1914 throughout Europe and the United States. A deliberate attempt to create a new style that took inspiration from the organic forms of the natural world, including flowers, foliage and insects; it was also the style that influenced art and architecture of the early twentieth century.

In recent years a collecting priority for the Decorative Arts Department has been the period of the late nineteenth century through to the outbreak of the First World War, a rich period of artistic ferment that chronicles the beginnings of modernism. This period is defined by the Art Nouveau style that emerged in France and Belgium during the late 1880s and its central European counterpart, Jugendstil, or Youth Style, which emerged around the turn of the twentieth century in the German speaking world. The Gallery has acquired a number of significant works by leading designers from this period, which illustrate the radical changes that took place in artistic thinking and the profound influence Japanese art had on artists at the time.

The Art Nouveau style is widely recognised as the beginnings of modernism due to its self-conscious break with European design styles of the past. The International Exhibition held in Paris in 1900 marked the style’s high point and introduced it to an international audience. Art Nouveau rejected the historicism of much nineteenth-century design and sought to create a modern style that embraced all aspects of life. Growing out of the European Arts and Crafts movements, it drew upon a range of sources for inspiration; in particular, the art of Japan and its reverence for the natural world. The use of sinuous stylised plant and figurative forms was characteristic of the Art Nouveau style in France and Belgium, whereas these curvilinear elements were interpreted with a more formal rectilinear geometry in the Jugendstil design of Vienna, Hungary and centres across Germany.

Much of Art Nouveau’s innovation can be traced to lessons learned from Japanese art. Followers of Art Nouveau believed in the unity of all arts, denying the traditional distinction between the fine arts of painting, sculpture and architecture, and the applied or decorative arts. This reflects a Western understanding of a similar lack of differentiation between fine and applied arts in the Japanese tradition. Art Nouveau, inspired by Japanese art that had been arriving in Europe since the opening up of Japan in the mid-nineteenth century, drew enormous inspiration from nature, emulating shapes, colours and textures from the plant and animal worlds. The most important dealer of Japanese art to emerge in Paris was Siegfried Bing. Born into a wealthy entrepreneurial Hamburg family, Bing arrived in Paris in 1854 to work in the family’s trading business with Japan. At the same time Bing developed his own artistic networks and dealt privately in Japanese works with discerning collectors. Having direct access to artistic networks in Japan, Bing was constantly acquiring works for his own collection which he regularly sold on to private clients and institutions in Europe. In 1878, Bing opened his first shop at age nineteen on rue Chauchat to display his collections and stage exhibitions of Japanese art. He remained a central figure throughout the period and by the mid-1880s was running several shops in Paris, each with their own line of merchandise and catering to both the populist and the more discriminating aspects of the market.

In 1888, Bing established a monthly journal to increase awareness and enthusiasm for Japanese art. Titled Le Japon Artistique (Artistic Japan), Bing commissioned a wide range of artists, writers and commentators to contribute articles on a broad selection of subjects relating to Japanese art, crafts and culture. The magazine came out monthly and remained in production over a four-year period. In his introduction to the first edition of the journal Bing laid out the parameters for the journal and the inspiration behind it stating, ‘The constant guide whose indications he [the Japanese artist] follows is called ‘Nature’; she is his sole, his revered teacher, and her precepts form the inexhaustible source of his inspiration’.1

Paul Follot was a leading Parisian designer of objects, furniture and interiors during the first decades of the twentieth century. His silver-plated tea and coffee service, purchased for the NGV with the support of Peter and Ivanka Canet in 2017, was designed for the German commercial metalware firm F. W. Quist. Throughout his career, Follot’s style was characterised by a sumptuous elegance. The contrast could not have been greater: The German metalworking firm of F. W. Quist was aligned to industrial, serial production and Follot had a predilection for luxurious bespoke design. Nevertheless, the two successfully collaborated in 1902 to produce one of the most celebrated designs of the Art Nouveau period. The service is a formal study in the sinuous lines and organic forms of Art Nouveau. The shapes of the service– with radial lines splaying out from the spouts and handles and erminating in scallop-shaped profiles at their rims and bases – evoke aquatic forms such as fish fins or shells. Equally, the forms bear close resemblance to fennel bulbs. The tray features similarly abstracted plant-like motifs with the radial lines of the handles resolving into a formal cluster of blossoms.

Paul FOLLOT (designer)<br />
 F. W. QUIST METALLWARENFABRIK, Esslingen am Neckar (manufacturer)<br/>
<em>Tea and coffee service</em> (c. 1902) {designed} <!-- (view 1) --><br />

silver-plated brass<br />
(a) 16.5 x 27.9 x 12.1 cm (teapot) (b) 18.9 x 30.5 x 12.7 cm (coffee pot) (c) 10.2 x 15.2 x 8.9 cm (creamer) (d-e) 12.6 x 14.9 x 8.9 cm (overall) (sugar box) (f) 4.0 x 61.6 x 42.6 cm (tray)<br />
National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne<br />
Purchased with funds donated by Peter and Ivanka Canet, 2017<br />
2017.1023.a-f<br />


Deeply illustrative of the Art Nouveau style, Gourd vase, c. 1903, an earthenware vase by sculptor Ernest Bussière, generously gifted to the Gallery in 2020 by Krystyna Campbell Pretty AM and Family through the Australian Government’s Cultural Gifts Program, represents a gourd fruit in the later stages of decay. Highly organic in form, the vase reveals Bussière’s profound interest in nature. Such fascination for nature was one of the key inspirations of the Art Nouveau style of which Bussière was a major exponent in the ceramic medium. The vase is glazed in a range of subtle, naturalistic tones that are highlighted by an iridescent mauve glaze down the throat of the vase. Bussière was renowned for his soft, unctuous glazes, their subtle, velvety sheen giving the gourd an almost furry appearance to its surface.

Ernest BUSSI&Egrave;RE (modeller)<br />
 KELLER & GU&Eacute;RIN, Lun&eacute;ville (manufacturer)<br/>
<em>Gourd vase</em> (c. 1903) <!-- (view 1 ) --><br />

earthenware<br />
18.8 x 13.3 x 12.5 cm<br />
National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne<br />
Gift of Krystyna Campbell-Pretty AM and Family through the Australian Government's Cultural Gifts Program, 2020<br />
2020.215<br />


The overtly organic form of the Gooseneck vase, c. 1900, with its tendril-like elongated neck takes its inspiration from Persian rosewater sprinklers of the sixteenth century. A number of leading Art Nouveau designers, including Christopher Dresser and Louis Comfort Tiffany, produced versions of this design and the Loetz Witwe manufactory specialised in producing iridescent, organic glass vases around the turn of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. The glassworks was noted for its brilliant design and rich, iridised colour schemes. During the early twentieth century, the firm’s designers were particularly influenced by their contact with the progressive Viennese Secession artists, including Josef Hoffmann, Koloman Moser and those associated with the Wiener Werkstätte. The vase was generously supported by Sue Harlow and Merv Keehn in 2019.

<em>Gooseneck vase</em> (c. 1900) <!-- (full view) --><br />

glass<br />
25.4 x 10.6 cm diameter<br />
National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne<br />
Purchased with funds donated by Merv Keehn and Sue Harlow, 2019<br />
2019.208<br />


Around the turn of the century in Vienna, Austrian artist Koloman Moser was emerging as a pioneer of modern design. A founding member of the Vienna Secession, a radical group of young artists who split off in protest from the academic art scene, Moser trained in painting and later graphic design, keen to pursue his interest in the decorative arts and to develop a more hands-on approach to design. In 1900 Moser collaborated with the publisher Martin Gerlach to produce the Flächenschmuck (Surface decoration) series, the third volume in Gerlach’s design series Die Quelle (The Source), a compendium intended as a design reference for all areas of craft production.

Moser’s clothbound portfolio of thirty loose colour lithograph plates entered the Collection in 2017 with funds donated by Dr Philip Williams AM and Elizabeth Williams, and comprises repeat-pattern motifs of plant, animal and human forms. Each plate was designed in a palette of just two or three colours and only five colourways were employed across the whole series, the designs playing with the duality of pattern and colour. The origins of Moser’s design work owed much to Japanese woodblock printing and katagami (textile-dyeing stencils). The reverse of each plate is printed with a further thirty designs in grey and white.

Koloman MOSER (designer)<br/>
<em>Masks, wallpaper</em> 1901 <!-- (recto) --><br />
<em>(Masken, Tapete)</em><br />
plate 20 from the <i>Fl&auml;chenschmuck (Surface decoration) </i> series, published in <i>Die Quelle (The source),</i> Verlag M. Gerlach, Vienna and Leipzig, 1901&ndash;02<br />
colour lithograph<br />
22.5 x 27.4 cm (image) 25.0 x 29.5 cm (sheet)<br />
National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne<br />
Purchased with funds donated by Dr Philip Williams AM and Elizabeth Williams, 2017<br />
2017.1024.20<br />


Each of the thirty colour designs is given a title and a suggested use, the text forming its own graphic treatment over the design. The Flächenschmuck patterns represented all areas of Moser’s practice, including wrapping papers, endpapers of books, wallpapers, wall textiles, tapestries, floor coverings, upholstery fabrics and printed silks. These mesmerising flat-pattern designs from the early years of Moser’s career represent some of his most free-thinking, conceptual and exciting artistic expressions.

Koloman Moser went on to become a professor at the Vienna School of Art and Design where he taught decorative drawing, design and painting. Jutta Sika was one of Moser’s students and in 1901–02 the pair collaborated on a tea and coffee service for which Sika produced several distinctive decorative schemes that adorned the innovative ceramic forms created by Moser. Sika’s bold and original ceramic decorations in Coffee service, 1901–02, purchased with funds donated by NGV Supporters of Decorative Arts in 2018, show the clear influence of Japanese graphic design, especially textile stencils (katagami) that were employed by Koloman Moser and Austrian architect and designer Josef Hoffmann to teach their students the principles of flat pattern design. Sika was a founding member of Wiener Kunst im Hause (Viennese Art in the Home), a group established in 1901 whose members, including a number of significant women designers, were drawn from the Vienna School of Art and Design. This group was regarded as a precursor to the Wiener Werkstätte (Vienna Workshops), in part for its emphasis on creating unified interiors that embodied the ideal of the Gesamtkunstwerk or ‘total work of art’, a key tenet of the Wiener Werkstätte. Sika was a skilled designer of ceramics and glass, and also designed women’s fashion for a number of progressive firms including accessories for Emilie Flöge’s Schwestern Flöge salon, Flöge being Gustav Klimt’s lifelong companion and one of the most successful fashion stylists and designers in early twentieth-century Vienna.

Australian Art Nouveau: Elza Josephson
Elza JOSEPHSON (decorator)<br />
 ROSENTHAL PORCELAIN (manufacturer)<br/>
<em>Vase</em> 1914 <!-- (full view) --><br />

porcelain<br />
24.5 x 12.0 cm diameter<br />
National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne<br />
Purchased with funds donated by&#8239;Merv&#8239;Keehn and&#8239;Sue Harlow, 2021<br />
2021.65<br />


A rare Australian Art Nouveau vase has recently entered the NGV Collection. Purchased through the generosity of supporters Merv Keehn and Sue Harlow, the vase is a distinctive piece by ceramic decorator and china painter Elza Josephson. Josephson worked as a painter, writer and illustrator; however, it is her relatively short but active career as a ceramic decorator in Sydney, from 1910 to 1916, for which she is best known. Her early training was at the Julian Ashton Art School, Sydney, around 1910, and between 1914 and 1916 she was a regular exhibitor with the Society of Arts and Crafts of NSW. Josephson established a studio in Randwick, Sydney, where she also taught and fired the work of other china painters. Her technique, which typically made use of ceramic blanks (undecorated manufactured ceramics) by commercial porcelain manufacturers, including the German company Rosenthal Porcelain, involved the design being applied using overglaze enamels with the piece then going through a subsequent firing process.
This vase is deftly painted with a highly stylised design of black cats playing among bulrushes and taunting a mouse in the process. Using a reduced palette of greens and black, the design reveals influences from Japanese art, as seen in the graphic depiction of the cats through flat blocks of colour that are boldly intersected by the reeds. Equally, the frontal depiction of one of the cats as it approaches through the reeds is highly unusual, as is the ambiguous perspective of the scene sitting somewhere between ground and eye level with the cats, as if we as the viewer are in the bulrushes and unable to see the horizon line. Japanese art was a key influence on Australian artists of the early twentieth century; including several female printmakers and illustrators, and the distinctive characteristics of the Japanese woodblock tradition can be seen in the decoration on this vase, which is a striking, bold example of Art Nouveau design.

Amanda Dunsmore is NGV Senior Curator, International Decorative Arts and Antiquities.

This article was commissioned for NGV Magazine, Issue 25 Nov–Dec 2020.



Siegfried Bing, ‘Introduction’, Artistic Japan, vol. 1, May 1888, Sampson Low, Marston, Searle & Rivington, London, n.p