At the turn of the twentieth century, many progressive artists and designers in Europe experienced a growing imperative to create a new visual language which broke away from the styles of the past and expressed something quintessentially modern. They wished to create a new art for new times. The result was the Art Nouveau (literally, “New Art”) movement. Georges de Feure was a leading French artist and designer working in these avant garde circles. He became the designer for Siegfried Bing’s Parisian gallery of modern art and design, La Maison de l’Art Nouveau, the institution which gave Art Nouveau style its name. Bing’s Art Nouveau pavilion at the Paris World Fair of 1900 featured a number of complete domestic interiors, including a boudoir and dressing room designed by de Feure. These interiors were considered by many to be the outstanding exhibits of the fair.
The National Gallery of Victoria is hoping to acquire a dressing table which is of the same model created by de Feure for 1900 Paris World Fair and was manufactured around the time of the original displays. The form of the dressing table features the organic-inspired, whiplash curved lines which are a signature of French Art Nouveau furniture. This will be the first work by Georges de Feure to enter the Collection and will make an outstanding addition to our holdings of Art Nouveau design. Assistant Curator, International Decorative Arts, Matthew Martin, tells us about the importance of this acquisition.
How much Art Nouveau furniture does the NGV currently have in the Collection?
Whilst the NGV has rich holdings of furniture in the closely-related, but slightly later, Viennese Secessionist style, there are currently no examples of French Art Nouveau furniture in the Collection.
How important is the Art Nouveau movement in relation to the development of Modern furniture?
Originating in Belgium and France, the Art Nouveau style represents the first self-consciously modern design style. Art Nouveau designers set out to create a new style which made a clear break with the past and reflected the needs of a modern person living in a modern world. It was also the design style where the debate about the relative merits of handcraft and machine production reached a critical juncture, paving the way for industrial design, a foundation of twentieth century modernism.
Are examples of Art Nouveau furniture design easily found in Australia?
European Art Nouveau furniture is rare in Australian public collections, with only a handful of works across the country.
How important is this acquisition for the NGV Collection?
The absence of a fine example of Art Nouveau furniture is a major gap in the NGV Collection and impairs our ability to tell the story of the development of modern design in the twentieth century. This dressing table will rectify this omission and allow us to better represent this extraordinary moment in design history.
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