cover image ART NOUVEAU: The French Aesthetic

ART NOUVEAU: The French Aesthetic

Victor Arwas, . . Andreas Papadakis, $150 (500pp) ISBN 978-1-901092-37-0

Erotically festooned cheroot holders; Guimard doorways and Métro shelters; carved and painted ivory figures with bared poitrines; a gracefully curving carved wood "sellette"; a silver-gilt plaque de cou of plique à jour enamel—these are just a few of the items produced during what was a scandalous era for design, emerging from deep within a bourgeois culture that would soon tear itself apart. British art catalogue publisher Papadakis here presents the latest from Arwas (Art Nouveau from Mackintosh to Liberty: The Birth of a Style), seemingly a dec-arts titan across the pond. His enormous book clocks in at 740 illustrations (700 in color), and arrives in a cardboard slipcase that fails to do justice to its contents: a gilt bust of a female figure shot against a plain black background (reproduced on the dust jacket as well) doesn't generate excitement or curiosity. The book itself is another story, however, giving readers a judicious and leisurely tour through the French Art Nouveau movement, which, Arwas notes, was based on natural forms, and thus began in the provinces and suburbs, before its Parisian apotheosis during the 1890s. A page of greenish hair combs made of horn with silver appliqués look ready to be deployed in languid tresses. An Emile Gallé wheel carved marquetry Narcissus vase faces two other luminous floral glass pieces. Excellent examples of tooled leather binding, stoneware, silver and of course lithographs by Alphonse Mucha and many others round things out. Lots of similar volumes exist, but Arwas's firm, non-pedantic collector's style will appeal to those who easily tire of scholarship—and can afford the asking price. (Dec.)