Tag Archives: Art Nouveau

Art Nouveau Vikings at Frederiksborg 

Frederiksborg Castle in Hillerod, Denmark houses tons of fine historic art, but one of my favorite pieces is pretty humble: it occupies a long lower-level hallway leading to the exit.

From 1883-1886, Lorenz Frolich painted a commissioned piece: a 37-meter frieze depicting the Danish conquest of large chunks of England. It was to be a Danish counterpart to the embroidered Bayeux Tapestry, which documented the Norman Conquest of England in 1066. The style of the frieze was from the very early years of Art Nouveau,  also known as Jugendstihl, also known as Skonvirke in Denmark.

The Danish Vikings began sailing their shallow-depth longboats across the sea and up the rivers of England in the late 700s. Before that, they had only ventured as far as the Baltic countries on their raids. The trouble was, the Baltics were almost as poor in resources as Scandinavia. Pickings were slim. But England had rich soil where Danish settlers could grow much more food than in their own rocky soil. English monasteries were crammed with gold and silver candleholders, crosses and chalices.

Raiding was wearying work, but somebody had to do it, right?


After a couple of centuries of striking fear into the hearts of the Brits, and much bloody axe-swinging, the Dane Swein Forkbeard was crowned King of England in 1013.

When Swein died, his son Canute the Great took the crown, and in due course Swein’s grandsons Harold Harfoot and Hardecnut had their turns at ruling the rich land of England. The printed information at Frederiksborg skips over the period when the Danes lost their grip on power in 1042 after the death of Hardecnut. But we’re informed that 1066 was all about the Danes: the Normans were direct descendants of the Danish Vikings who had conquered the part of France that became Normandy.


The Frederiksborg frieze is at pains to depict the conquering Vikings as reasonable, law-abiding fellows willing to sit in orderly rows and debate issues like gentlemen.


There’s also emphasis on their domestic qualities. And it’s true: they were fine farmers and they had domesticated animals.

Travis Fimmel as Ragnar Lothbrok, photo from review in “Variety,” Feb. 21, 2014

 

All the qualities of the Vikings are on display in the History Channel’s TV series “The Vikings.” I’m anxiously awaiting the 5th season. A disclaimer: yes, I know the show is full of appalling violence. Don’t even ask me what a Blood Eagle is. But for the first time, I begin to understand the Vikings, their world view, and the elaborate mythology that guided their behavior.

The series tells the story of Ragnar Lothbrok, an early Viking of song and legend, and his descendants, who eventually became the Normans of 1066 fame. Following the time-honored traditions of TV showrunners everywhere, real events are compressed and characters invented. But historical research is said to be quite accurate as far as clothing, houses, community organization, laws, and religion.

Travis Fimmel, pictured above, plays Ragnar. He is a former Calvin Klein model, but he has real acting chops to go along with his fierce blue eyes and intimidating tattoos. I’ll watch him do anything, from his early daring voyage to pillage Lindisfarne monastery, through adultery and divorce, and right on into the murderous madness of his old age.

Katheryn Winnick and Travis Fimmel in “The Vikings,” photo from review in “The Telegraph,” May 3, 2014

 

Another big selling point of “The Vikings,” for me, is the depiction of strong women. Lagertha is Ragnar’s brave and loyal wife, a formidable “shieldmaiden.” Even after their messy separation after he takes up with a tall, graceful, ladylike beauty, Lagertha graciously returns again and again to bash heads alongside Ragnar and their sons. Axe, sword and shield in hand, she’s ready save Ragnar’s bacon when he finds himself in trouble. What a woman!


I like the kinder, gentler version of the Vikings depicted in Frolich’s frieze paintings. But I’ll take my Vikings at their fiercest, too.

Join me next time for more explorations in the art and history of Europe, Scandinavia and the British Isles!

Jugendstil in Helsinki


The island of Katajanokka, just outside the center of Helsinki, might have more Jugendstil buildings per square mile than anyplace else on earth.


It seems that in the early 1900s, when industrialization was drawing rural Finns into Helsinki, there must have been a building boom.


Builders must have raced to create castles for the common people: fanciful and beautiful apartment buildings with turrets, towers, interesting windows, and beautiful decorative elements.


We stayed in one of them, and I’d have cheerfully stayed longer. I could see myself living in beautiful, friendly Helsinki. The city is known for its style. Now I see why!

Helsinki Jugendstil Doorways


For some reason, I expected Helsinki to be a  rough-around-the edges modern industrial city. Instead I found a city full of delightful architecture, much of it dating from the early 1900s. This was the heyday of the worldwide Jugendstil or Art Nouveau movement.


I’m stopping constantly to snap a picture of yet another inviting, witty doorway. I’m loving Helsinki!

More Art Nouveau in Hungary

My apologies to those who received a post with no content.  I was trying to re-blog a post on “How to Travel in Winter” from one of my favorite travel blogs, “Picnic at the Cathedral.”  I’ll try again!

I’m just getting around to sorting my many photos of my first trip to Hungary, this past December. One of my favorite stops was the House of Art Nouveau in Budapest.  As I explained in a recent post, it’s not so much a museum as a collection of stuff that ordinary people owned, used and loved. Hungary enjoyed one of its few periods of peace and relative prosperity between about 1890 and the outbreak of the First World War.

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Furniture styles at the beginning of the period were staunchly conservative, even a little stuffy.  I’m not an expert, but I might call the bedroom set above a version of the “Biedermeier” style popular with the new middle classes of central Europe between about 1815 and 1850.

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The cozy dining nook above sits next to an Art Nouveau stained glass window original to the house. It looks ready for a cozy chat and a nice cup of coffee.

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Later in the period, the height of fashion was for furniture with fanciful flowing lines, like this dressing table.

I’ve seen much finer examples of Art Nouveau in the design museums of Paris and Vienna, but I love the common touch of the everyday pieces haphazardly crammed into Budapest’s House of Art Nouveau.

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And there’s a cafe, perfect for a quick meal while dreaming of the past.  The smiling waitress asked with great interest where we were from.  She thanked us profusely for coming to her country!  This friendliness is just one of the reasons why I love Hungary.

Art Nouveau in Hungary

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.

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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.

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Old photographs of ordinary people bring the past to life. Women pose coquettishly with flowered hats and elaborate bouquets.

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Who was this child?  Why the festive feather in his cap? Was this perhaps a photo taken just before he graduated to long pants?

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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.

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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

 

 

Accessories Make the Outfit

The Art Nouveau movement featured so prominently in the Paris 1900 Exhibit was expressed in the smallest details of daily life.  I saw several beautiful examples of decorative combs to be worn in women’s hair.

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Natural forms were everywhere, but developed into the most sophisticated designs.

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One of these combs would be just the thing to anchor an artistically tousled chignon.

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My favorite item, though, was a short fitted jacket in linen and cotton. It was made special with elaborate assymmetrical embroidery and all manner of fine needlework details. In 1900, women had all kinds of new freedoms.  I can see a fashionable woman grabbing this jacket and tossing it on over a simple skirt, on her way out the door with plans to cross Paris on the newly-opened Metro subway. I’d have cheerfully taken this jacket home right out of the display case.  I think it would look great with jeans.

Join me next time for more explorations in the art and history of Europe!