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Art Nouveau 1890-1914 at the V&A, London

Review by Mark Beesley

If you want to make the most of the Art Nouveau exhibtion currently showing at the V&A, plenty of time and a lot of patience are needed. You have queue to get a ticket, then queue to find out what time your ticket allows you to go in, then wait until that time and then you will probably have to queue in front of the display cases to see the goodies on show. But it's worth it! These big London exhibitions may have become victims of their own popularity, but where else would you be able to see so many great works of applied art together?

When I first became interested in art nouveau, and bought lots of books on it, I found certain 'classic' pieces illustrated in every one, so it was a real treat to see so many of them here in the flesh (or the wood, or glass or silver). The exhibition attempts the difficult task of showing how a lot of different influences and fashions combined to produce this distinctive flowering of applied arts at the end of the 19th century: British arts and crafts movement, Japanese prints, symbolist paintings, islamic tiles and the Fin de Siecle decadence. Then the show focuses on the work produced in eight cities, showing how the different countries developed noticeably different variations on the style, some far removed from the sinuous whiplash curve which art nouveau immediately brings to mind, and which is most pronounced in French and Belgian work - like Hector Guimard's famous Metro stations in Paris. The grid-like, straight line pattern of Charles Rennie Mackintosh's late work in Glasgow, and Joseph Hoffman's in Vienna may come as a surprise and it was a revelation to me to discover that there was a Finnish version of art nouveau, heavily influenced by national folk art and traditional architectual styles.

Never mind the queues, if you are at all interested in art nouveau, don't miss this show, you will probably never again see such important and varied work assembled in one place.

The Art Nouveau exhibition at the Victoria & Albert Museum runs until 30th July, 2000. It is open daily from 10am to 5.30pm (9.30pm on Wednesdays).


Click here to visit the V&A Art Nouveau mini-site