Reflecting the profound cultural development in western societies, late 19th century artistic experiments into renewing historicism affected architecture in particular - just as in the decorative arts, Art Nouveau took inspiration from forms found in the natural world.
In France, Hector Guimard went beyond Viollet-le-Duc’s Gothic organicism to develop an innovative idiom, seen in his first great work, the Castel Béranger (1898).
But, more often, the forms in Art Nouveau were combined with other references: regionalist (in the work of Marin, Graf and Breffendille), Louis XV (Brandon, Jaussely, and Bouwens van der Boijen), antiquity (Hermant and Hornecker) or oriental (Binet).
The 1900 Universal Exhibition (Sébille and Pille) gave little space to the sinuous lines of Art Nouveau.
These heterogeneous experiments, in which drawing played such a fundamental role, were to liberate the decoration of the structure, breaking with classical architectural theory based on the Orders, and would open the way to the 20th century.
Art Nouveau, named “Jugendstil” in Germany and Austria, gave precedence to the evocation of nature. In Vienna, the crucible of this renewal was at the Académie des Beaux-Arts in the studio of Otto Wagner.
He was an architect and close to the artists who founded the Secession, including Josef Hoffmann, his most famous pupil. Following his example, the architects Emil Hoppe, Marcel Kammerer and Otto Schonthal, also trained by Wagner and some of whose important drawings are in the Musée d’Orsay, initially turned to naturalistic forms, but in the capital of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, these shapes were constrained by a classical symmetry, a legacy of the sobriety of the Biedermeier era (Vojsick Villa).
This legacy influenced a new geometric ornamental idiom (Fischer Palace).
In contrast, certain designs were inspired by Viennese baroque (designs for the Schönbrunn Palace).
Through their diversity, these experiments, in which drawing played such a fundamental role, were to liberate the decoration of the structure, breaking with classical architectural theory based on the Orders, and would open the way to the 20th century.
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Street lighting was an important feature of the modern 19th century city.
Paris is famous for its gas lamps and candelabra, which became a subject of study for architects.
In 1879, Edison invented the incandescent lamp, which brought the energy of the future to street lighting. The universal exhibitions became the showcase for electricity, as at the 1889 exhibition with Jules Bourdais’ “Sun Column”.
The climax was the Eiffel tower, equipped with two projectors, each radiating a beam of light.
The dream of being able to light up the entire city from just one building was achieved at the 1900 Universal Exhibition with Eugène Hénard's Palace of Electricity. This controlled the lighting day and night throughout the exhibition.
Written accounts at the time described “the wonderland of light” created by thousands of coloured glass lamps all over the building. These also illuminated the reception areas inside.
The “Fairy of Electricity” was the symbol of this celebration, and electricity found its greatest moment in the International Exhibition of Art and Technology in 1937 with Raoul Dufy in particular.