Science and The Art Nouveau – Part Two

Arts & Crafts Hand-Tooled Brass-Framed Mirror with Climbing Ivy Motif

“The God-given natural forms of leaves and flowers must be more perfect and beautiful than any invention of man.” – Augustus Pugin (1812-1852)

With great strides being made in the advancement of scientific knowledge, botany was much-studied and better-understood.  Although the compound microscope was a Renaissance invention (thank Galileo), it was not until the 1830’s – 1860’s that scientists began to understand “Cell Theory”—that is, the concept that big, complex organisms are made-up of little cells which multiply by dividing.  Plants were good, straight-forward organisms in which to study the structure and behavior of cells.

As Plant Sciences advanced, there was a “blossoming” of collectors—professional as well as amateur—who would gather, preserve, and mount all manner of botanical specimens. Plants were now viewed as primordial and fascinating.  And the Art Nouveau Movement took full-advantage of this interest.  Emile Gallé, the master glassmaker, once studied botany in Germany—and had worked as a scientific illustrator.  William Morris used botanical elements in nearly all of his wall papers.  And many Art Nouveau, Arts & Crafts, or Secessionist objets (like the American Arts & Crafts Ivy Motif Mirror, above) could be found decorated with some sort of stylized botanica.

More "Science and the Art Nouveau" tomorrow.


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