A Mirror in the Art Nouveau style. 9 1/2 inches long (mirror 5 1/4 inches in diameter). Material: the mirror back is copper with traces of silver plating; the handle still has its silver plating. Although found in a Madison Avenue, New York, antique store in the late 1960s, it could have been made in England, Germany, France, or the United States.
Although for more than three decades I have admired and even collected Art Nouveau, Arts and Crafts, and Liberty-style objects, some of which are pictured here in the Victorian Web, I never understood the development of the Arts and Crafts and Liberty styles to be reactions to the sensuousness of European Art Nouveau until I came upon Mervyn Levy's explanation. According to him, "both Arthur Liberty and Archibald Knox were hostile to the voluptuousness of Continental Art Nouveau, with its powerful strain of decadent sexuality. Streams of hair moving in great swirling masses around the swooning faces of girls, or cascading in torrents about their undulating bodies, were distressing to the British taste."
Although Levy forcefully argues that in the characteristic works of Liberty & Co. "the erotic image was banished" and the "human form . . . was almost entirely absent," the central emphasis of both Arts and Crafts and Liberty work appears to be what he terms its radical simplication of "decorative content" and its sharp turn toward abstraction, often influenced by rediscovered "Celtic jewellery of the ninth and tenth centuries that had been excavated in the nineteenth century" (Levy, p. 32). This emphasis upon abstract form, Levy suggestively argues, also prepared the ground for Picasso's cubism.
Levy, Mervyn. Liberty Style, The Classic Years, 1798-1910. New York: Abrams, 1986.
Last modified November 1999