Between about 1890 and the outbreak of the First World War, an artistic movement developed and spread all over Europe and even in the United States. It was called Art Nouveau (New Art) in French and Jugendstihl (Youth Style) in German. In Austria, and especially in Vienna, it flourished as the Secession movement. Artists like Gustav Klimt, along with designers and architects, wanted to “secede” from the stodgy academic past. The emphasis was on flowing natural forms, and sometimes on simple but elegant geometrics.
In Budapest, I visited the Magyar Secession Haza, known in English guidebooks as the House of Art Nouveau. I wouldn’t exactly call it a museum; nothing is really labelled or explained. It’s just an authentic house from the Secession Era, built in 1903, and stuffed from top to bottom with objects a well-to-do but not aristocratic family would own during the time period. It’s a place to wander and to conjure up the people who lived with these objects.
Old photographs of ordinary people bring the past to life. Women pose coquettishly with flowered hats and elaborate bouquets.
Who was this child? Why the festive feather in his cap? Was this perhaps a photo taken just before he graduated to long pants?
New production methods made elaborate (if not always tasteful) objects available to the middle classes. What is the object above? A candle holder? A four-foot-tall candy dish? Hard to say, but it graced someone’s parlor.
The figurine above would never be shown in a serious museum of decorative arts. But I can see its appeal to the person who brought it home a century ago, during one of the rare periods of peace in Hungary. This lady seems to celebrate youth, freedom and the sheer joy of life. The Art Nouveau movement also celebrated the right of ordinary people to own things they considered beautiful, whether they served a useful purpose or not.
The website of the House of Art Nouveau is at http://www.magyarszecessziohaza.hu/mainen.php