Essay on Art Nouveau

The beginnings of the New Art (or Art Nouveau) style in Scotland were centred around The Glasgow School of Art. Charles Rennie Mackintosh, one of the most famous Art Nouveau architects was based around Glasgow and by the turn of the century this new art became known as the Glasgow style.

One of the most famous pieces of design done by Mackintosh was of course the Glasgow School of Art. A particular room in the school came to my attention, the library. Mackintosh has an eye for using wood, much inspired from Japanese style. The library is a perfect example of this. The double-height interior of the library looked surprisingly modern. Symbolism was a great aspect of Mackintosh’s designs, particularly in this library. It’s screened gallery supported by vertical timbers, which fluently divide the space and the floor-to-ceiling windows, allowing this dark panelled room to be bathed with light. In symbolic terms I think Mackintosh has made this room, not only look, but feel like a Japanese forest. The tall dark timber supports represent tall dark wood trees and the small lights hanging are in the style of Japanese lanterns, representing small beams of light, edging through the small cracks in the trees. I think this is a fantastic use of light with design.

Another fabulous building designed by Mackintosh was Scotland Street School in 1904. This beautiful Art Nouveau building was remarkable for its cylindrical stair towers and glass design. The twin stairwell towers provide the building with verticality, which contrasts with its otherwise strong horizontal emphasis. Where the use of glass in these towers was outstandingly modern, their conical roofs jumped back to the staircase bays of traditional Scottish domestic architecture. The massive stairwells accommodated a large volume of foot traffic and the enormous windows ensured that the steps were lit with natural light.

The very strictly square glass window design made Scotland Street School look dramatically modern and also resembles another architect’s work. Walter Gropius, architect and designer of the twentieth century, founder and teacher of The Bauhaus, a famous art movement and one of the most famous art changes of the 20th century. Walter Gropius’s “Fagus Factory” has similar features as Mackintosh’s school. The towers of Scotland Street School were a significant precursor to the enclosed glass and metal stairwells designed by Walter Gropius. The Fagus Factory belongs firmly to the Modern Movement. Although, less noticeably, particularly from the ground, perhaps the most innovative things about Scotland Street School are the two stepped banks of horizontal windows which flank each stairwell tower. This arrangement was to become a feature of the Modern Movement and later post-war architecture.

As Mackintosh moved on in life, it was clear to see he has developed his own symbolic way of design. Every home that Mackintosh and his wife Margaret lived in was amazingly redesigned in the interior to suit Mackintosh’s symbolic ways. A lot of exploring and creativity was used throughout the Mackintosh’s married life. Together with Margaret, he developed the distinctive colour schemes of white and grey, pinks and purples, as well as stencilled wall friezes and coloured gaslights. The couple created their distinctive light and dark interiors to represent masculine and feminine. The intense atmosphere of those interiors struck many visitors to the Mackintosh household. To be able to see such fantastic design work, used in a symbolic way is almost a challenge for me. Mackintosh makes this so clear, yet exciting and interesting.

A comparison with Mackintosh was proven hard for me, as I didn’t know where to start. I was told about a famous Spanish architect and designer named Antoni Gaudi, of whom I had never heard of. I researched some of his work, and began to fall in love. He used very much the same aspects of work as Mackintosh. Critics, writers and journalists of the twentieth century often referred to Gaudi as “nothing short of a genius”. He was creator of buildings that can only be described as bizarre, bold, but always utterly beautiful. Gaudi’s dramatic use of colour, material, and form instilled the Catalan city of Barcelona with a unique identity and resulted in some of the twentieth centuries most distinctive yet original architecture. Gaudi was born in Catalan. During his formative years as an architectural student in Barcelona he witnessed the strengthening of the cities nationalist movement, which included both Regionalists and Separatists, and have here developed the fervent Catalan sympathies that characterized his life and career. As much the same as Mackintosh, materials and motifs were used symbolically. Glazed brick is a material both Gaudi and Mackintosh used excessively. Gaudi I feel was a very homely person, and all his inspirations came from things he had seen, places he had been. Whereas Mackintosh’s innovation and imagination was fantastically broad, with a wide aspect of variety and solidity. He simply thought up these beautiful designs and made them a creation to last a lifetime.

Both Gaudi and Mackintosh I feel are spectacular designers and I know their creations will still be as popular as they are in years to come. These two fantastic designers came from the same movement, Art Nouveau; yet, their style was quite unique. Art Nouveau at the turn of the century was represented in the United States as well as Europe. In each country Art Nouveau has it’s own identity and sometimes artists at that time were opposed to each other. In fact beyond these “oppositions” between countries or even artists, we can find numerous common points in each movement. By Art Nouveau I mean all the movements during the period 1894 – 1914.

Art Nouveau artists wanted to get rid of the distinction between major and minor arts. Art Nouveau architecture is seen as a total art every detail, object of/in the building is related to the whole. Other main arts and crafts, things like jewellery, are not related in anyway. With this sentence that I discovered while researching, I have to say, does not refer to Mackintosh. Mackintosh’s innovative design was always related. I don’t know about anyone else, but I could tell a Mackintosh design as soon as I saw it. Mackintosh reflects as a figure ahead of his time, as most of his work has been described as dramatically modern, for the time it was designed. To understand the essence of his work, each of his architectural and interior projects were considered the whole to be a lot more important than the individual pieces. To conclude, I think that Mackintosh was a fantastic and probably the best Art Nouveau architect, and I still like viewing his designs and architecture to this day.
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