The Acceptance of Art Nouveau in England
The thesis is contained within seven chapters plus an introduction and conclusion. Where it is considered appropriate the thesis draws upon sociological and historical work.
The opening chapter explores the general historiography of Art Nouveau with particular reference to English acceptance and participation in the style. The chapter proceeds in showing how the literature in general has shifted to see it invernacular/nationalist terms. From this it is suggested that it is now appropriate to explore the acceptance of Art Nouvea in England within the country’s cultural heritage.
The perception of an English Art Nouveau is considered first from contemporary sources and following on from this the changes in perception post 1945. Three basic questions are considered:
1) in what ways has general exploration of Art Nouveau changed over the years?
2) Did contemporaneous commentators make any suggestions of an English Art Nouveau?
3) How has the English contribution to Art Nouveau been seen within the secondary literature?
Three Case Studies of English Art Nouveau
Following the general exploration three detailed examples will be considered. The three were detailed in separate chapters within the Pevsner/Richards Anti Rationalist where they were considered to have variable affiliation to Art Nouveau. The three examples are:
* The Compton Mortuary Chapel, Guildford;
* Great Warley Church, Essex;
* The Black Friar Public House, London.
Major definitions of Art Nouveau are applied to each in turn in order to tease out and determine what distinguishes English work from that found on the continent and in Scotland. In particular, the question of relationship of English arts and crafts and English Art Nouveau will be addressed.
Chapter three considers a possible area of Art Nouveau production – the English ceramics industry 1895-1914. Two major questions will be explored within the chapter. From an examination of archives and primary sources, what was the reception towards the ‘new art’ and what do they tell us about the acceptance of Art Nouveau in England? What was the attitude of the trade paper of the ceramicsi ndustry (The Pottery and Glass Trades Gazette) towards the ‘new art’.
Questions of Modernity and Decadence at the Fin deSiecle
References to the modern/’new age’ /traditional values/decadence arise within the ceramics chapter. These are now explored in relation to the questions of an English Art Nouveau and are seen within issues presented by Greenhalgh (V&A Art Nouveau 2000) in the opening chapter. What is in fact understood by the concept modernity? How has the concept been explored and how appropriate is it as an explanation for Art Nouveau?
The question of decadence will be seen to impact directly on class, gender and taste. To what extent did the French derived decadent movements affect English consciousness in the 1980s? In particular, what was the impact of the Wilde Trials and Nordau’s Degeneration? And how far were such events consequential in developing attitudes towards the acceptance of Art Nouveau in England?
A Question of Taste
The question of taste is seen as central to the thesis. How far theoretical concepts provide insights will be examined. Gender and class will be seen to provide additional insights. Were the reacknowledged ‘gate keepers’ of taste at the time? Were there accepted models of taste? Was emulation significant? Was there an accepted (legitimate) role for those in the hierarchy of institutionalised aesthetic bureaucracies? What in fact was the taste at the time? Are there useful insights to be found within the decorative arts press at the time in their attitudes towards taste? Do they assist in an understanding of the consciousness of the time?
A Question of Class and Gender
Did social and economic change at the Fin de Siecle effect gender relations? The concept of ‘The New Woman’, did this impact on male perceptions? What were the attitudes and meanings given to objects that shaped the English bourgeois male? How did these come about? Was there an underlying conservatism that precluded and acceptance of the ‘new art’? What is the relevance of contemporary concepts of emulation and conspicuous consumption?
The 1900 Donaldson Bequest
The Donaldson bequest of ‘new art’ furniture to the Victoria & Albert Museum in 1910 is examined in-depth from the archives together with contemporary and secondary sources. Questions raised include, how far may it be seen as a microcosm of English acceptance of Art Nouveau?