Art Noveau, Jugendstil, Modern Style, Secession…all these terms are used to describe what was then new and last comprehensive style which emerged at the end of the 19th century. It is a stylistic vortex embracing eclectic influences from which a brand new concept arose – on one hand, there is metal construction but on the other hand, there is an inspiration by nature and its soft curves. This contrast influenced both everyday life and artistic styles, be it architecture, sculpture, painting, fashion, handicrafts or decorative art. Later on it progressed into cubism and modern art as such. Czech Secession was concentrated mainly in Prague.
The period from the last half of the 19th century to the beginning of the 20th century was full of hustle and bustle. There were technical developments that turned everything upside-down. On one hand the advancements proved to be of a significant help as they lightened peoples’ workload. On the other hand they caused civil disturbances (strikes, redundancies …). Additionally, everything that was happening was influenced by strong patriotism and increasing desire to enhance the Czech position within Austria-Hungary. This was the time of many salons where personalities of Czech social life discussed questions of Czech learning, Czech language, prints and book propagation. Educated middle-classes followed all the news and discussed Czech issues with great interest in coffee houses. The atmosphere was thickening as tension rose; this tension became an omen of significant events to come… Desire to have their National Theatre was becoming more apparent and Czechs’ self-confidence was becoming stronger. However, no one suspected at this point that the First World War was only around the corner…
So, on one hand, there were serious discussions with political and public questions being discussed. On the other hand, people were amusing themselves and having good times. For the first time pubs with special entertainment programs were open as well as cabarets and burlesque night clubs (U Rozvařilů or U Medvídků). They were a favourite meeting and entertainment point for the wider public and, amongst others, the comedian and singer Josef Šváb – Malostranský became famous there. There were also open-air theatres such as an open-air theatre around Národní třída (Ve Pštrosce) or at Smíchov. We shouldn’t forget the numerous inventions such as daguerrotypie from which photography and later the first movies stemmed. Developments in the train and road transport system were endless as the turn of the century became a foretoken of the modern twentieth century.
Aesthetics weren’t left behind either. Art Noveau architecture was developing (one of the most famous Art Noveau buildings is the Eiffel Tower). The style also influenced fashion and fine arts where dominated by ornamentation, decoration and often inspired by Japanese calligraphy.
Fine and Sculptural Art
The period brought a gush of artistic styles and novelties, such as the impressionists (Claude Monet, August Renoir, Edgar Degas and Czech Antonín Slavíček). There was also painter Henri de Toulouse–Lautrec who was first to outline portraits and other forms on his paintings with a thick black line. Art Noveau painter Alfons Mucha was famous all around Europe which is partially thanks to Sarah Bernhardt who preferred him among others. Currently his paintings are on display for example in Alfons Mucha Museum in Prague 1 and the possibility of displaying his Slavic Epic (series of paintings, describing history of Slavic people) is being discussed. Art lovers should also visit Austria, Czech’s neighbour, to see paintings of Gustav Klimt. From sculptural art let’s us remember Jan Hus monument from Ladislav Šaloun which stands at Old Town Square or Julius Zeyer monument in Chotkovy sady. We shouldn’t also forget the outstanding sculptor František Bílek.
Decorativeness was displayed not only on facades but also in house interiors. They were decorated with stucco, paintings and details such as ironwork decoration on doors, windows or stained glass. The major inspiration was nature, waves, curves and flowers and leaves… Let’s name Antoni Gaudí who designed the curvaceous buildings in Spain and the unfinished Sagrada Familia. In the Czech Republic it was Antonín Balšánek, Dušan Jurkovič and Jan Kotěra. Many school buildings were also influenced by the style as well as hotels (hotel Europe on Wenceslas Square), shopping centres, blocks of flats, villas and sculptures in parks. Apartment interiors were fitted with new items and those who wanted to be “in” might purchase for example a Tiffani lamp. In Prague two significant buildings arose, the Main Station with its famous coffee house from architect Josef Fanta and the Municipal House designed by Antonína Balšánek and Osvald Polívka. Both of them are rich in decoration. Prague was also influenced by the Jubilee exhibition in 1891 when the Industrial Palace in the exhibition area was built, as was the Petřín Tower that was supposed to be a small copy of Eiffel Tower.
After the romantic period poets and writers turned to darker and more mysterious sides of humanity. That gave rise to other movements such as Symbolism and Decadence, the main representatives of whose were Otokar Březina or Jiří Karásek.
Art Noveau Women
In Biedermeier and Romanticism women were obliged to squeeze into corsets and crinolines, later on panniers or side hoops to extend the width of the skirts at the back, became the fashion. In the Art Noveau period ladies already wore suits. Whereas in present days it’s quite common to see jackets and miniskirts or trouser suits, at that time ladies were obliged to were long flyaway skirts. Shoes were allowed to stick out and their appearance also changed, from flat to higher lace-ups with small heels. Shortly before the appearance of suits there was a period of richly decorated dresses with bodice and long sleeves that were called “ham” sleeves as their shape resembled ham on the bone (wide at the upper part), there was no cleavage but had a decorative stand-up collar instead, lace and expensive materials such as brocade, taffeta etc were used. Hats and bonnets were richly decorated, very often with feathers. Other accessories included muffs and gloves. Evening gowns had low cleavages and hair styles included wavy hair worn up sometimes decorated with clasps or string of beads. Jewellery was inspired by natural shapes, bracelets often were shaped as snakes or lianas (creeping vines). Elaborately entwined metal was seen on rings, bracelets, necklaces or earrings and was often combined with precious stones and pearls. Furthermore there were fur collars, fans, parasols and handbags on long straps. A big novelty was the swimming dress. Let’s say that it wasn’t very sexy and was accompanied by black stockings. However, it was progress. After 1900 female fashion changed dramatically and dresses in kimono style and heads covered with turbans came into fashion. When going for a walk women wore close-fitting, simple costumes accompanied with big hats. But this is already a new, modern epoch.
Art Noveau Men
Naturally men’s fashion changed as well. Tail coats with top hats were replaced by suits composed of shirts, trousers and jackets in both lighter and darker colours. Later on they had patterns such as stripes and in summer were accompanied with straw hats. However, top hats were still worn on public occasions. By the way, it was 19th century that coined the term dandy – a person that was uniquely different because of his opinions, behaviour and style of dressing. On of the most famous dandies of his time Charles Baudelaire, who belonged in the so called poète maudit set.