Alsace-Lorraine Feature

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Nancy 1900

History has a curious way of having similar events take place at the same time in different places. The creation of the Art Nouveau movement is one such event. Simultaneously emerging from Pre-Raphaelite, High Victorian, and the Arts and Crafts movement in England, it was also a synthesis of the Jugenstil (Youth style) movement in Germany; the Skonvirke movement in Denmark; the Mloda Polska (Young Poland) style in Poland; Secessionism in Vienna; Modernism in Spain centered in Barcelona and the wild organic architectural flourishes of Gaudi; and the florid poster art of Alfons Mucha in Prague. Its fluid, undulating organic forms drawn from nature, seaweed forms, grasses, flowers, birds, and insects also drew inspiration from Symbolism and Japanese woodcuts.

One of its founding centers was Nancy, which at the time was drawing the wealthy French bourgeoisie of Alsace, recently invaded by Germany, who refused to become German. Proud of their opulence, they had sublime houses built that were entirely furnished, from simple vases and wrought-iron beds to bathtubs in the shape of lily pads, all in the pure Art Nouveau style. Glassmaker Emile Gallé (1846–1904) was the engine that drove Nancy's Art Nouveau movement, calling on artists to resist the imperialism of Paris, follow examples in nature (not those of Greece or Rome), and use a variety of techniques and materials. All of Nancy paid homage to his style.

Everywhere stylized flowers became the preferred motif. The tree and its leaves, and plants with their flowers, were modified, folded and curled to the artist's demand. Among the main Art Nouveau emblems figure the lily, the iris, morning glory, bracken fern, poppies, peacocks, birds that feed on flowers, ivy, dragonflies, butterflies, and anything that evokes the immense poetry of the seasons. It reveals a world that is as fragile as it is precious.

By giving an artistic quality to manufactured objects, the creators of the École de Nancy accomplished a dream that had been growing since the romantic generation of Victorian England of making an alliance between art and industry. This was a major advance on the bourgeois bad taste for mass-produced imitations inspired by styles of the past. Nancy's great strength was in this collaboration of art and industry.

Among the École de Nancy's most outstanding contributors was Émile Gallé, who worked primarily in glass inventing new, patented techniques, and who brought luxury craftsmanship to a whole range of everyday products, thus reestablishing the link between the ordinary and the exceptional. As a meeting point for the hopes and interests of artists, intellectuals, industrials, and merchants, the École de Nancy was a thoroughly global phenomenon. From Chicago to Turin, Munich to Brussels, and on to London, the industries of Nancy went on to conquer the world.

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