Women in Art Nouveau

By Le Carton Voyageur - Musée de la carte postale

AOUT , Souvenir de la Belle Jardinière AOUT , Souvenir de la Belle Jardinière by MUCHA and MUCHALe Carton Voyageur - Musée de la carte postale

From the 1890s to the 1910s, an artistic trend was created and developed that claimed to be a total break with the past. This came at the height of the Belle Époque, a period that encouraged modernity. The trend is known as Art Nouveau. Artists invented a style where the curve was dominant and symmetry no longer existed, instead replaced by a prolific movement that drew inspiration from the world of plants and nature.

Dans le style de Raphaël Kirschner Dans le style de Raphaël Kirschner by KIRCHNER Raphaël and KIRCHNER RaphaëlLe Carton Voyageur - Musée de la carte postale

Everyone's daily lives should be touched by Beauty, through decoration and color. Total art, this sudden trend, powerful yet brief, affects all means of expression in the decorative arts (including furniture, jewelry, everyday objects…) and architecture.
Many similar movements follow around the world. In America there was Tiffany & Co., in Germany Jugendstil, in Austria Sezessionstil, etc.

SALLE EXPOSITION LEFEVRE-UTILE PARIS 1900 SALLE EXPOSITION LEFEVRE-UTILE PARIS 1900 by Aucun and AucunLe Carton Voyageur - Musée de la carte postale

In France, Art Nouveau took on an international dimension at the Paris Universal Exhibition of 1900.
The attending countries put up incredible pavilions and competed with each other for creativity.
It was also a place for illustrators who expressed the motif of the Woman, who is both muse and subject, on the small printed picture that is the postcard.

BENGALINE , PEINTURE EMAIL PERFECTIONNEE BENGALINE , PEINTURE EMAIL PERFECTIONNEE by Aucun and AucunLe Carton Voyageur - Musée de la carte postale

The Orient

Western fantasy of the oriental woman originates from two areas: the Middle East and Japan. During the colonial conquest, an interest developed in all types of exoticism, and western men were fascinated by these dreamlike oriental beauties. Artists began to develop a figure that embodied all the sensualities otherwise forbidden by western bourgeois society.

MIKADO MIKADO by KIRCHNER Raphaël and KIRCHNER RaphaëlLe Carton Voyageur - Musée de la carte postale

Whether they were geishas or odalisques, these beautiful oriental women, muses of a new genre, incited desire more than love.
From 1860, Japanese prints influenced western artists who were seduced by the flat colors, the displaced composition of the subject, and the clear line of the drawing.
Art Nouveau could not escape the influence of this source of graphical and technical inspiration, leading to the mass production of high-quality engravings and lithographs.

LA SCULPTURE LA SCULPTURE by Aucun and AucunLe Carton Voyageur - Musée de la carte postale

The Ancient World

Although it broke with old artistic conventions, Art Nouveau also drew its inspiration from ancient art. This motif of women of antiquity developed through profiles reminiscent of cameos, Roman intaglios, or compositions based on mosaics.

Untitled Untitled by Aucun and AucunLe Carton Voyageur - Musée de la carte postale

Byzantine goddesses and scenes of ancient Greece or Rome populated by young women draped in white were discovered.
The result was a timeless and pure figure often wearing a laurel wreath, added as a finishing touch. Musicians, dancers, and sculptors were an ever recurrent theme from both famous and unknown talented illustrators. Many such postcards were not signed but were produced in very large quantities by Viennese publishers.

Untitled Untitled by Aucun and AucunLe Carton Voyageur - Musée de la carte postale

Some elements, such as these simple medallion profiles, were also available in many variants and used as needed by the publishers.
Here, an antique motif featuring the same young woman could be integrated into many different postcard templates that again use decorative elements from the purest form of Art Nouveau.

Réjane , Propriété exclusive de la Société des CHAUSSURES RAOUL Réjane , Propriété exclusive de la Société des CHAUSSURES RAOUL by LUDVIC and LUDVICLe Carton Voyageur - Musée de la carte postale

Actresses

Illustrators also found inspiration in the Belle Époque's famous figures, including actresses, music-hall singers, and what was referred to at the time as "demi-mondaines" (starving artists). These women became models for posters that showed them on stage or promoting luxury products.

LEFEVRE-UTILE , BISCUITS LU RECOMMANDES LEFEVRE-UTILE , BISCUITS LU RECOMMANDES by Aucun and AucunLe Carton Voyageur - Musée de la carte postale

The "Divine" Sarah Bernhardt was so seduced by the designs of an unknown young Czech illustrator for instance that she hired him on a six-year contract. This illustrator was Alphonse Mucha, who went on to produce the posters for numerous plays, such as Gismonda, La Dame aux Camélias, La Princesse Lointaine, etc. Through this, he played his part in constructing the myth that surrounded the actress.

Liane de Pougy Liane de Pougy by REUTLINGERLe Carton Voyageur - Musée de la carte postale

In order to become known, these fame-hungry women also had their portraits taken by well-established photographers such as Leopold Reutlinger.
These extremely popular shots were published in magazines and, of course, in the form of postcards, making Liane de Pougy, Cléo de Mérode, and Polaire household names.

Untitled Untitled by AucunLe Carton Voyageur - Musée de la carte postale

Advertising

The end of the 19th century saw a veritable explosion in the number of public posters displayed on the walls of towns and cities, and even in small hamlets. Advertising occupied every inch of space, near marketplaces, on fences, and even on churches. Many illustrations in the illustrated press were used to promote consumer products (Maggi, Byrrh, Meunier chocolate), new means of transport (Chemins de fer de l’Ouest railway company), as well as concert cafes and theater plays.

MOET ET CHANDON , CHAMPAGNE MOET ET CHANDON , CHAMPAGNE by MUCHA and MUCHALe Carton Voyageur - Musée de la carte postale

Advertising by the "poster masters" was also available on postcards. No matter the product or subject being advertised, women were central. Whether portrayed as flighty and carefree or as a person to be glorified, the image of the woman encouraged housewives to spend their money.

COLLECTION JOB , AFFICHE 1898 - MUCHA COLLECTION JOB , AFFICHE 1898 - MUCHA by MUCHA and MUCHALe Carton Voyageur - Musée de la carte postale

Competitions were organized by the JOB cigarette paper factory from 1895 and by the alcohol brand Byrrh from 1903.
Many famous painters and poster illustrators took up the challenge and the winners saw their works published in the form of posters, of course, as well as on calendars, and in series of postcards.

Carte rehaussée de doré Carte rehaussée de doré (1901-11-22) by Aucun and AucunLe Carton Voyageur - Musée de la carte postale

Nature

Art Nouveau made use of curved lines as well as plant and floral elements found in architecture and furniture. These styles have been named "naturalistic" or "floral" as a result of this natural inspiration. Women depicted in this style were enhanced by winding stems and blossoming flowers that mingled with the often asymmetrical or displaced composition.

FEMMES MODERNES FEMMES MODERNES by MUCHA and MUCHALe Carton Voyageur - Musée de la carte postale

The abundance of lush hair is enhanced by the dramatic patterns simplified as flexible lines, characteristic of the flicked hairstyle.
Famous names developed theories about these decorative images, including decorative artist Eugène Grasset who offered courses on decorative composition before publishing "La Plante et ses applications ornementales" (The plant and its decorative uses). This was aimed at combating "The anemia which reigns over the ruins of the imitation of the past," and offered more than 150 designs to be used and reinterpreted.

L'orgueil L'orgueil by ROBERT LucienLe Carton Voyageur - Musée de la carte postale

The Caricature

The Art Nouveau woman was an ideal dreamed up by her creators, but she could also be a caricature. Curves, counter-curves, and symbols of Art Nouveau, were prevalent in creating outline of the female figure, to the point where her body was an "S" shape. The corset projected her chest forward, her waist was pulled in tightly, and her pose artificially exaggerated the buttocks.

Je pense dès que je vois de si jolie cocottes, , Que mon vétérinaire est une fameuse moule, Je pense dès que je vois de si jolie cocottes, , Que mon vétérinaire est une fameuse moule, by SAGER X. and SAGER X.Le Carton Voyageur - Musée de la carte postale

The diktats of the female press resulted in the appearance of the figure of the seductive and charming Parisian female.
Love is never far away, nor is money…Illustrators depicted the sweet creatures as young hens while men became sheep, roosters, or pigs.

Avant , Maintenant Avant , Maintenant by BENED and BENEDLe Carton Voyageur - Musée de la carte postale

The caricaturists loved reproducing the changes in fashion that eventually ditched the curved line in favor of the straight line of Art Deco, without the constraint on female bodies disappearing.
Although the waistlines became higher and corsets disappeared, skirts became tighter, hindering walking, while hats increased in size, providing a subject that was gold to illustrators.

Untitled Untitled by MUCHA and MUCHALe Carton Voyageur - Musée de la carte postale

The "Collection des Cent" (Collection of One Hundred)

Described as "the most beautiful of the most beautiful" the "collection des cent" (collection of one hundred) published in the 1900s was a series that postcard collectors still dream of today. It emerged thanks to the efforts of industrial colorist E. Gréningaire, friend to a very large number of Art Nouveau artists. It offers a wide overview of illustration and graphic trends of that time. Originally intended to be published every two weeks with 10 cards per pack, it actually featured 98 different postcards from 92 illustrators and not 100.

Il s'agit de la n°45 de la 'Collection des Cent' : la jeune fille à la balustrade Il s'agit de la n°45 de la 'Collection des Cent' : la jeune fille à la balustrade by HERAN and HERANLe Carton Voyageur - Musée de la carte postale

The subjects presented vary considerably and weren't just original designs. Pre-existing posters and menus were also reproduced in postcard format.
Many artists featured in the "Collection des Cent" also took part in the "Salon des Cent" exhibition. This was an innovative art exhibition venue created in 1894 where people could purchase prints and drawings. That is possible where the collection name originates.

DESTINARE DESTINARE by GREGOIRE and GREGOIRELe Carton Voyageur - Musée de la carte postale

For many young artists, the democratization of the Art Nouveau movement was ushered in with the revival of printmaking as a means of expression, combined with technical innovations. That meant high-quality items at low cost, providing much more than the production of works destined for bourgeois interiors.

Amateurs et Collectionneurs Amateurs et CollectionneursLe Carton Voyageur - Musée de la carte postale

This fashion, supported by posters placed on walls along streets, also found a welcome place of expression in the postcard.
The father of modern poster making Leonetto Cappiello is certain of one thing: "Not only do I find this fashion of image matching attractive, I also find it interesting because it can be a very useful way of depicting art if we know how to take advantage of it. "
From this point of view, it was quite natural to see many illustrators and poster makers reproducing the image of the archetypal women on postcards.

Untitled Untitled by Aucun and AucunLe Carton Voyageur - Musée de la carte postale

As an object and muse, the Art Nouveau woman existed only in the eyes of the artists and not through herself. Even following emancipation, the illustrators placed her in a series of highly aesthetic representations that said nothing about the change in women's status at the dawn of the new century.

La Veuve joyeuse : S'il ne fallait que des waltzers pour la conquête du mond !! ... , La Vedova allegra : Se bastassero i waltzer per conquistare il mondo... ! La Veuve joyeuse : S'il ne fallait que des waltzers pour la conquête du mond !! ... , La Vedova allegra : Se bastassero i waltzer per conquistare il mondo... ! by VENEZIANI G.C.Le Carton Voyageur - Musée de la carte postale

Even with a certain simplification of style that lead to the use of stripped back designs and geometric lines, it was only the decline of the "Noodle Style" and its replacement by Art Deco that saw the emergence of a more autonomous and free female figure. Here too, postcards helped promote social evolution and modernization.

Credits: Story

Thanks to:
The town of Baud
Le Carton Voyageur - Postcard Museum

Credits: All media
The story featured may in some cases have been created by an independent third party and may not always represent the views of the institutions, listed below, who have supplied the content.
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