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Fine Art in Marquetry
ART NOUVEAU (1890 - 1914) AND ART DECO (1910 - 1939)

Contemporaneously with the last years of the European Absolutism -around
1750- changes were transforming the face of Europe and, to a lesser degree,
of North America. If new philosophical trends exalted individual values and
democracy as a form of government, and American and French revolutions
(1776/1789) convulsed the political arena, it happened in a period of big
economic changes. Agriculture, manufacturing, mining, transportation, new
ways of producing goods and services, and technology, had deep influence on
the social and cultural arenas, giving pass to the "Industrial Revolution" that
began about that year in England and spread over Europe and the rest of the
world, lasting until around 1850. The population grew at a pace not seen
before, and a new distribution of wealth favored the development of a fresh
bourgeoisie whose tastes emulated the ones of the prevalent aristocracy,
temporarily disgraced from the political power. Art in general and decorative
arts in particular weren't facing much of a 'revolution' but a continuity of
previous periods. However, changes affected, principally,  the methods of
workmanship by the end of the XVIII century, and the availability of a variety of
woods,  consequently, changed the production of furniture. It is during the XIX
century that was possible to cut 'quantities' of fine veneers. According to
Pierre Ramond, "the alternating 'rising wood' saw appears to have been
invented in 1799 by Maurice Cochot, a cabinet maker in Auxerre" and "only
during the industrial era, around 1865-70, did manufacturers begin to produce
great quantities of sliced veneer" (Ramond, Masterpieces..., Vol.II)
At that time, Queen Victoria was the monarch of the United Kingdom of Great
Britain and Ireland, from 20 June 1837 until her death in January 1901. Around
1890 in her long reign, a new movement convulsed -again- the visual arts. The
Art Nouveau -New Art- lasted until the first world war.
There are no coincidences among the scholars about this period -it seems that
it is very difficult to homogenize the many currents that coexisted- as it had its
own detractors even at its peak. Its creators proclaimed the categories that
soon became internationally adopted as a way of life, more than an art
movement. The love for nature, the identification with the "new", the "modern",
the "change", and the belief that civilization will change through the new art
were some of the
leive motifs of the 'fin de siecle' new style.
A key motivation behind the drive for modernity in the arts was the recognition that the
world was changing, that technical, economic and political developments were
transforming the physical environment." "Stylistically,... (the) Art Nouveau line was
sinuous, tensile abstraction of natural form, that constantly looked as though it were
about to burst out of some invisible force that held it under constraint. Coupled with
self-consciously asymmetric composition and  a certain exoticism, the line lent objects
an explosive elegance." (Paul Greenhalgh in "The Style and the Age", Art Nouveau
Herman Obrist in Germany, Emile Galle in France, Louis Comfort Tiffany in
the United States, Carlo Bugatti in Italy, Antoni Gaudi in Spain and many more
were the designers that embraced the new art style that expanded
internationally and was central in the Industrial Fairs and Exposition
Universelles produced from 1890 until 1908 all over the world. The new
furniture had nature shapes carved in wood and, sometimes, included
marquetry works; mostly, original pieces combined wood, glass, stained glass,
ivory, metals, leather and other exotic materials. By 1910, however, it was
almost out of fashion and its commercial viability was in steep decline.   As
Greenhalgh says, "Art Nouveau was not killed during the First World War. It
had slid from grace already". Anyway, beautiful Art Nouveau pieces are still
admired today.
parts of furniture de fin de siecle
Signed J Canepa,1900
(P.Greenhalgh, Art Nouveau
Rupert Carabin, French, 1896 Table, (P. Greenhalgh,op.cit)
Two works by Louis Majorelle, French, 1900-Cabinet and cabinet detail; desk. Idem
Emile Galle, French. Bed, c.1904 (P.Ramond,
Masterpieces... Vol. II) -  and  "Ombelliferes" (Cow parsley)
cabinet, circa 1900, and its detail.
Metropolitan Museum of Art, NY
Antoni Gaudi, Bench.
Catalonian  c.1903
(P.Greenhalgh, Art Nouveau
1910 - 1939 - ART DECO

Though the term was coined in 1966, art deco 'is the name given to the
modern twenty-century style that came to worldwide prominence in the
inter-wars years and left its mark on nearly every visual medium, from fine art,
architecture and interior design, to fashion an textiles, film and photography'
(Charlotte Benton & Tim Benton, "The Style and the Age"
),including industrial
design, jewelry, as well as the visual arts such as painting and graphic arts. It
was essentially decorative -didn't have the philosophical and political
aspirations of the nouveau style- intensifying linear symmetry and strong
colors, to oppose the flowing organic asymmetric lines of its predecessor. It
embraced influences from many different styles of the early twentieth century,
including neoclassical, constructivism, cubism, modernism and futurism and
drew inspiration from ancient Egyptian and Aztec forms. It represented
elegance, glamour and, essentially,  modernity, as stated by Benton:

During this period, the figure of the "artist-decorator" was introduced in
Europe, as well as the industrial designer. The manufacture of any kind of
objects, from cars and furniture to jewels and clothes, and the invention of
new devices and newer materials, gave new incentives to 'decorate' almost
everything, included personal items. Probably the artists weren't the only ones
to lead the
Deco movement; the industrialists interested in making business
grow took also an important part of the responsibilities of being 'founders'.
Long away were the times of gilded pieces of furniture with floral motives and
inlaid of marquetry images, made exclusively for the upper classes. The
process of mass production had already started and intensified all over the
globe. The industrials commissioned from decorators, artists and designers;
many incorporated this professionals to the enterprises. The industrial
fairs/exhibitions were not anymore in fashion, being replaced by the Salons
and Pavilions of Art Deco that attracted thousands of visitors searching for
modernity. Unfortunately, decorators, architects, designers, artists and
industry moguls didn't think about the duration of the Art Nouveau compared
to the length of the 'Louises' or the Regency Styles. If they had, they would
have realized that any reaction against the past wouldn't last longer without
being criticized, especially after consumers had the chance and freedom to
enjoy the 'buyer' power. Soon, Art Deco was found too heavy and aggressive
in its forms and gave space to a more modern movements. Anyway,it had its
legacy in the field of industrial design.
"From the nouveau riche 'frapper' her Parisian apartment to the struggling
farmer in the American Midwest leafing through mail order catalogues for new
equipment, hope lay in novelty. Never was fantasy so functionally necessary
for survival, whether to industry or the individual.  
As revolutions in transportation and communication opened the world, not only
the wealthy traveller but also to the reader of popular magazines or the
cinema-goer in Bombay or Budapest, Manhattan or Morecambe, Shanghai or
Singapore, the forms of this dream coalesced in Art Deco. (Benton and
Benton, "The Style and the Age" in Art Deco, 2003)
Ruhlmann, French, Corner Cabinet,
ca.1926  Console and its detail, and
Cabinet  ca.1910/1930 Metropolitan
Museum of Art Collections, NY
Fortunato Depero -Italian 1927 -
Tray advertising Campari- DACS
F.Johnson - Cupboard- British
1926 - 1927-  Victoria and Albert
Museum - London
"Etagere"  Eugene Shoenc,
American, ca 1929
Eloquent  design for furniture in the
Art Deco period.
Louis Comfort Tiffany,
American, Screen,  
1910,  wood, leather,
Metropolitan Museum
of Art
Zig Zag Stool, Gerrit
RietVeld, Dutch, 1930;  
Frieze design, French,
anonymous; Panel
design, French,
anonymous, both
Metropolitan Museum of
Art, NY
Two interesting designs for  cabinet -
Serrurier Bovy, Dutch, 1899, Belgian-  and
Secretaire- Carlo Bugatti, Italian, ca1895.
Metropolitan Museum of Art, NY
Armchair, Louis Comfort Tiffany, American, ca. 1891/
 "The use of micromosaic marquetry-an unusual
feature-along the arms and seat rail supports the attribution to
Tiffany, who displayed furniture exemplifying this Indian-inspired
technique at the Columbian Exposition in 1893. He described
the ornament as 'patterns . . . made of thousands of squares of
natural wood, one sixteenth-of-an-inch in size, of different
colors, and each individual square surrounded by a minute line
of metal.' " Description of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, NY. ,
the piece is on display in Gallery 743.  
After the Deco Period and the Second War the world en general and, in
particular, the arts, began a transformation that was unthinkable in the past.
The description of the numerous schools, tendencies, styles and/or movements
that appeared in the last sixty five years or so, is a theme reserved to History of
Art or, perhaps, to History of
Contemporary Art. If these changes constitute a
very complex phenomenon that, for that reason sometimes becomes hardly
comprehensibly, it has the great advantage of being the product of the maturity
of humankind in order to accept, respect, and promote diversity like never had
done earlier in history. Art never gives us a definitive concept, but just a
reflection of human ’s concerns at a given time. Therefore, knowing more about
art does not only lead to enjoy a beautiful piece, but to learn more about
mankind, and about ourselves too.
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Joseph Hoffman - Austrian- Chest
for photographs, c.1902
(P.Greenhalgh, Art Nouveau