“I have always striven to fix beauty in wood, stone, glass or pottery, in oil or watercolour by using whatever seemed fittest for the expression of beauty, that has been my creed.”
Louis Comfort Tiffany’s declaration of such eternal truths seems unfashionable in the current age of mobile technology and social media. However, these are the very sensibilities that drive the purchase of thousands of books, calendars, journals and prints, nurturing a market for gifts that thrives still at the heart of our retail environment. Novels may have fled to the internet but beautiful gift books, art calendars and luxury notebooks continue to sell in high streets, garden centres and local shops throughout the UK.
Crafting Bold Curves
The art in which Flame Tree specialises ranges from the arts and crafts movement of the late nineteenth century through the curvilinear joys of art nouveau to the bold characters of art deco in the 1930s. Out of the dark Victorian landscapes, from the gloomy worlds of Dickens, Wilkie Collins and Thomas Hardy, as industrialisation released independent thinking and mass production into society, leapt the muscular mediaevalism of William Morris, Edward Burne Jones and friends. They swept away the studied classicism of the elite and brought the colour and verve of nature into daily objects, into the chairs, and wall-hangings, the tables and the wallpapers.
La Belle Époque
This was a period in Europe, particularly France, where art nouveau flourished. Its inspiration was the flora of the natural world, the rhythmic patterns of nature and in its optimism and confidence it was a worthy successor to Morris & Co, particularly because it was a phenomenon of popular culture, manifested in the posters, champagne bottles, the chocolate and biscuit boxes and advertisements of the time. New print technology had brought colour and mechanical speed to an art form that could now reach out to a mass market. In music too composers such as Erik Satie, Debussy and Ravel experimented with free forms of atonality to produce beautiful tunes that could be appreciated by anyone who cared to listen, not just a musically elite.
The End of Innocence
The First World War shattered the subtle illusions weaved by art nouveau and its disciples, Mucha, Klimt, Mackintosh and Toulouse-Lautrec. However, the art that did survive became art deco and built upon the freedoms gained by technology; but it came with a hint of knowingness, a strong undercurrent of cynicism fuelled by the dirty betrayals of war. The middle classes had began to flex their muscles, as did the working classes with organised unions and mutual societies, so Western culture began to change ever more rapidly. The elegant lines of art nouveau were long replaced by the powerful strokes of Erté, Tamara de Lempicka et al and soon the blind arrogance of the second world war broke irrevocably across an already weary world. The wave of modernism that had swept in at the turn of the century became, with the likes of Jackson Pollock and Mark Rothko, apocalyptic and distorted as the balance of economic and cultural power shifted decisively from Europe to America, bringing different sensibilities.
And yet, Beauty remains. In spite of the brutality of our daily lives, the pettiness of the power that corrupts once elevated to high office, still we respond to the subtle tranquility of good and beautiful art: the colour and the form, the gentle curves and breathtaking life in the work of Mucha or Erte, Tiffany or Klimt, perpetuated now in the form of art calendars, gift books, foiled notebooks and posters. Somehow the beautiful artworks have survived the savagery of modernism and its reflection of a splintered society. These are the beautiful items that now breath rich and subtle flavours into the hands of those whose birthdays, anniversaries and celebrations, demand a gift. Transcending and commercial, this is the art of fine gifts.
This autumn Flame Tree publishes a wide range of art calendars (including Erte, Mucha, Art Nouveau Posters, V&A, Tate and RA calendars), reprints of our bestselling gift books on Art Nouveau, Art Deco and Mucha, and a wide range of gorgeous foiled notebooks featuring art from these belle époques.
Links and recommendations
Alphonse Mucha: http://www.muchafoundation.org
Louis Comfort Tiffany: http://www.metmuseum.org/toah/hd/tiff/hd_tiff.htm
Tamara de Lempicka: http://www.delempicka.org
Art and Literature in early 20th Century: http://thesefantasticworlds.com
Nick Wells/Publisher Flame Tree Publishing 20/08/13