Sunday, 17 June 2012

German Jugendstil and Italian Art Nouveau

When art nouveau arrived in Germany it was also called Jugendstil (Youth Style) after a new magazine, Jugend (Youth). German Art nouveau had strong British and French influences and retained strong links to traditional academic art as well. The Germans had interest in medieval letterforms and it was continued side by side with art nouveau motifs. During the Jugend’s first year its circulation climbed to 30 000 copies per week and the magazine soon attracted the readership of 200 000 per week. Art nouveau ornaments and illustrations were virtually on every editorial page. Full double page illustrations, horizontal illustrations across the top page and decorative art nouveau designs brought rich variety to a format that was about half visual material and half text. One unprecedented editorial policy was to allow each weeks cover designer to design a masthead to go with the cover design.

Peter Behrens’s along with Otto Eckmann became widely known for large multicolor wood block prints inspired by French art nouveau and Japanese prints. In addition to five color illustrations and numerous decorative borders for Jugend, Eckmann designed Jewelry, objects, furniture, woman’s fashion and typefaces, one of which he called Eckmannschirft. Eckmann also explored the application of Jugendstil ornament to the graphic design and product needs of industry.

Otto Eckmann, Jugend cover, 1896.
 Jugendstil graphics often blended curvilinear stylization with traditional realism.   

The Klingspor Foundry was the first German type foundry to commission new fonts from artists. When they founded Eckmannschrift in 1900 it thrust this small regional foundry into international prominence. Drawn with a brush instead of a pen, Eckmannschrift was a conscious attempt to revitalize typography by combining medieval with roman.

Peter Behrens experimented with ornaments and vignettes of abstract design. The primary German contribution was not Jugendstil, but the innovations that developed in reaction to it after the turn of the century. Architects and designers, including Peter Behrens, became influenced by ideals of the Art and Crafts movement rid of its medieval affections. Designers moved rapidly from the floral phase of art nouveau towards a more geometric and objective approach. This accompanied a shift from swirling organic line and form to a geometric ordering of space.

Peter Behrens, The Kiss, 1898.
This six-color woodcut, controversial for its androgynous imagery,
was first reproduced in Pan magazine.
Italy was not influenced that much by Art nouveau. Italian posters were characterized by sensuous, exuberance and elegance rivaling that of the “Age of Beauty” in France. The Milan Firm of Gilulio Ricordi, previously known for publishing opera librettos, produced most of the masterpieces of Italian poster design. The director, Adolfo Hohenstein, was seen as the father of poster design in Italy, just as Grasset was the father of poster design in Paris. Working under him was the best poster artists including Leopoldo Metlicovitz , Giovanni Mataloni and Marcello Dudovich.
Marcello was an eclectic designer who eventually arrived at a unique colorful style. He preferred elegant subjects presented it in flat areas of color. He was a popular designer for the fashionable Mele department store in Naples.

Herbert Read once suggested that the life of any art movement is like that of a flower. A full bloom follows a mere budding in the hands of a small number of innovators. Then the process of decay begins as the influence becomes defused and distorted in the hands of imitators who understand merely the stylistic manifestations of the movement and not the motivations that drive it.

After the turn of the century this was the fate of art nouveau.  Early art nouveau objects and furniture became one of a kind but then it fell victim to mass production. These items weren’t collectable items anymore. It was just another set of furniture or another painting. There was nothing unique to it. Lesser talents copied the style while many innovators moved on in different directions and art nouveau slowly declined and vanished in the ashes of World War 1.

American Art Nouveau

British and French graphic art soon joined forces to invade America. In 1889, and again in 1891 and 1892 Harper’s Magazine commissioned covers from Eugene Grasset. These first presentations of a new approach to graphic design were literally imported, for Grasset’s designs were printed in Paris and shipped by boat to New York. The visual poster was adopted by the American publishing industry and colorful placards began to appear at newsstands advertising new books and major magazines, including Harpers, Scribner’s and Century.

Louis Rhead studied in England and Paris before immigrating to America in 1883. After eight years in New York as an illustrator, he returned to Europe for 3 years and adopted Grasset’s style. Upon his return to America, a prolific flow of posters, magazine covers and illustrations enabled him to join the self- taught American William H. Bradley as one of the two major American practitioners of art nouveau inspired graphic design and illustration.

While Rhead adopted the French poster as his model, the energetic and enormously talented Will Bradley was inspired by English sources. Bradley apprenticed for the Iron Agitator newspaper, at McNally as an engraver and then finally became a typographic designer at the Knight & Leonard printing company when he was nineteen. He became a hungry student of magazines and library books. By 1890, his Arts and Crafts inspired pen and ink illustrations were attracting regular commissions.

In early 1894, Bradley became aware of Beardsley’s work, which led him towards flat shapes and stylized contour. At the beginning of this year Bradley’s work for the Inland Printer and the Chap Book ignited art nouveau in America. His distractors dismissed him as “The American Beardsley”. However, Bradley used Beardsley’s style as a stepping-stone to fresh graphic techniques, visual unity of type and image that moved beyond imitation. He made innovative use of photomechanical techniques to produce repeated, overlapping and reversed images.

Will Bradley, covers for the Inland Printer, 1894 – 1895.
Bradley’s graphic vocabulary ranged from delicate contour line for an overall light effect,
 complex full-tone drawing, and reduction of the image to black and white silhouette masses.

Will Bradley, poster for The Chap Book, 1895.
Repetition of the figure in a smaller size, overlapping the larger figure,
enabled Bradley to create a complex set of visual relationships.

Bradley was inventive in his approach to typographic design and ignored all the prevailing rules and conventions. Type became a design element to be squeezed into a narrow column or letters spaced so that lines of many and few letters became the same length and formed a rectangle. Inspired by Kelmscott press, Bradley established the Wayside Press after moving from Chicago to Springfield, Massachusetts, later in 1894. He produced books and advertisements and began publishing an art and literary periodical, called Bradley: His book, in 1896. Both the magazine and the press were critical and financial successes, but the rigors and many roles involved in running them, such as being the editor, designer, illustrator, and press manager, threatened Bradley’s health. In 1898, he sold Wayside Press to the University Press in Cambridge and accepted a position there.

Will Bradley, poster for Bradley: His Book, 1898.
Medieval romanticism, Arts and Crafts - inspired patterns, and art
nouveau are meshed into a compressed frontal image.

During an 1895 visit to the Boston public library, Bradley studied its collection of small, crudely printed books from colonial New England called chapbooks; named so after the travelling peddlers known as chapmen who sold them. The vitality of these works, with their Caslon types, wide letter spacing, mix of roman, italic, and all capital types, sturdy woodcuts, and plain rules, inspired the beginnings of a new direction in graphic arts that became known as the chapbook style.

After the turn of the century Bradley became a consultant to the American Type Founders, designing typefaces and ornaments. He wrote and designed their series of twelve little books, The American Chapbook. A growing passion for type design and layout led Bradley to become art editor of Collier’s magazine in 1907. During the last decades of his career, he made significant contributions to the evolution of 20th century editorial design.

Ethel Reed was the first American woman to achieve national prominence as a graphic designer and illustrator. Her career was very short, but she was a well-known book illustrator and poster designer. She created posters and illustrations for Boston publishers. He career ended abruptly after she travelled to England and produced her last poster in London in 1898.

Ethel Reed, Poster for the Book Folly Orsaintliness, 1895,
IN an imaginative use of three-colour printing, the wide face with
 red lips glows against an otherwise black and orange poster.

Edward Penfield was an art director for Harper and Brothers publications. He enjoyed a reputation rivaling Bradley’s and Rheads. His monthly series of posters for Harper’s magazine were directed towards the wealthy society, frequently depicting them reading or carrying an issue of the magazine. His first poster for Harper’s was designed for the January 1894 issue and featured a naturalistic watercolor illustration showing a sophisticated young man purchasing a subscription. In the course of that year, Penfield evolved towards his more mature style of contour drawings with flat plains of color. By eliminating the background he forced the viewers to focus on the figure and the lettering. Penfield drew with a vigorous fluid line and his flat color plains were often supplemented by a masterly stipple technique. In a humorous 1894 poster for the July issue of Harper’s, a young lady is so preoccupied by her reading that she lights a string of fireworks without even looking at them; the absorbing enjoyment of reading Harper’s is conveyed. In 1897, he did a similar thing where people on a train were all reading the Harpers including the conductor. This campaign was widely successful and competitive publications commissioned imitative designs like William Carqueville, who was somewhat of a copycat as he created similar posters for the Lippincott’s magazine.  

Edward Penfield, Poster for Harpers, 1894.
Figurative letterforms and dramatic sense of expectation the
moment before the fireworks begin create a whimsical concept.

Will Carqueville, poster for Lippincott’s, 1895.
Both the style and concept of Penfield’s poster from the preceding
 Fourth of July are imitated.    

English Art Nouveau

In England, the art nouveau movement was more concerned with graphic design and illustration rather than architecture and product design like in France. Its additional sources of inspiration were the Gothic art and the Victorian painting. The April 1893 introductory issue of The Studio was a strong momentum towards an international style as this issue reproduced the work of Aubrey Beardsley. An early issue of The Studio also included work by Walter Crane and furniture and textiles produced by the Liberty and Company store. Walter Crane was a very early innovator in the application of Japanese ornamental pattern and Eastern interpretations to the design of surface pattern. But when he first attempted to bring the style to life, it was too early for it to take flight and so the movement only ignited a decade later.

Aubrey Beardsley, first cover for The Studio, 1893.
Beardsley’s career was launched when editor C. Lewis Hine featured
 his work on this cover and reproduced eleven of his illustrations in the inaugural issue.
Aubrey Beardsley was the "enfant terrible" of art nouveau with his striking pen line, vibrant black and white work and shockingly exotic imagery. He was a very strange cult figure and intensely prolific for only five years seeing as he died at a very young age due to tuberculosis. He became famous at the age of twenty when his illustrations of the new additions of Marlory’s Morte d’ Arthur began to appear in monthly installments, augmenting a strong Kelmscott influence with strange and imaginative distortions of the human figure and powerful black shapes. “The Black Spots” referred to the composition of dominant black forms Japanese block prints and William Morris were synthesized into a new idiom. 

Aubrey Beardsley, full page illustration, Mort d’Arthur, 1893.
This image shows Beardsley’s emerging ability to compose contour line,
 textured areas, and black and white shapes into powerful compositions.
The contrast between geometric and organic shapes
reflects the influence of the Japanese print.
Beardsley’s unique line was reproduced using the process of photo engraving. This process was used exactly for the reason that it retained complete fidelity to the original art. Morris was so angry to see Beardsley’s addition of Morte d’ Arthur that he considered legal action. To Morris’s mind he vulgarized the design ideas of the Kelmscott style. He said that he replaced the formal, naturalistic borders with more stylized flat patterns. Walter Crane actually liked Beardsley’s Morte d’ Authur. He claimed that Beardsley had mixed the medieval spirit of Morris with a weird “Japanese-like spirit of deviltry and the grotesque” and Crane thought it fit only for the opium den. Despite Morris’s anger, Beardsley’s work enjoyed very enthusiastic responses. Beardsley’s work resulted in many commissions and he was named the art commissioner of The Yellow Book, which was a magazine that had bright yellow covers that became the symbol of something new and outrageous.

In 1894 Oscar Wilde’s Salome received widespread notoriety for the obvious erotic sensuality of Beardsley’s illustrations. Society was shocked by the celebration of evil, which reached its peak in Beardsley’s work for an edition of Aristophanes’ Lysistrata. Banned by English censors, it was widely circulated on the Continent.
In the last few years of his life, the flat patterns that Beardsley used to draw were yielded to a more naturalistic tonal quality. Dotted contours softened the decisive line of his earlier work. Even as he waned toward a tragically early death, Beardsley’s lightning influence penetrated the design and illustration of Europe and North America.

Aubrey Beardsley, illustration for Oscar Wilde’s Salomé, 1894.
John the Baptist and Salomé, who was given his head on a
platter by Herod after her dance, are remarkable symbolic figures.
The dynamic interplay between positive and negative shapes
has seldom been equaled.
Beardsley’s leading rival was Charles Ricketts who maintained a lifelong collaboration with his close friend Charles Shannon. Ricketts began as a wood engraver and received training as a compositor. Therefore his work was based on a thorough understanding of print production. While Beardsley tend to approach his work as illustrations to be inserted between pages of typography, Ricketts approached the book as a total entity, focusing on a harmony of the parts: binding, end sheets, title page, typography, ornaments and illustrations. After working as an engraver and designer for several printing firms, he established his own firm and studio.

In 1893 Ricketts first total book design appeared and in the following year he produced the masterly design for Oscar Wilde’s exotic and perplexing poem The Sphinx. He usually rejected the density of Kelmscott design. His page layout was lighter, his ornaments and bindings more open and geometric and his designs have a vivid luminosity. The complex, intertwining ornament of Celtic design and the flat, stylized figures painted on Greek Vases, which he studied in the British Museum, were major inspirations. From them, Rickett and Beardsley learnt how to indicate figures and clothing with minimal lines and flat shapes with no tonal modulation. In 1896 Ricketts launched the Vail press. He did not own the press neither did he do his own printing. He sent his printing to be printed at a firm where they met his exact requirements regarding typesetting and presswork.

Charles Ricketts, title page for the Sphinx, 1894.
Ricketts’s unconventional title page dominated by and illustration is
placed on the left rather than the right. The text is set in all capitals.