Historical Lab 3: Art Nouveau & Decoration, Riga, 20 October 2006
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Jānis KRASTIŇŠ, Professor at the Riga Technical University, Faculty of Architecture

Miss Riga and the Symphony in Stone
Riga, the capital city of Latvia is a real Art Nouveau Metropolis. A number of Art Nouveau façades display sometimes lavish adornment. However, ornaments do not define the essence of this style. It lies in its creative methodology – how to make the useful beautiful. At the same time, especially at the early stage of the development of the style, rich decoration still remained as an aesthetic ideal. Female motifs are among most extensively used decorations, depicting a special spirit of glorifying beauty. A whole series of Art Nouveau buildings in Riga boast impressive compositions of smiling, laughing or crying women’s masks or sculptures.The paper analyses creative work of architects active in Riga and artists producing sculptural decorations for buildings at the beginning of 20th century. Among them architects Konstantīns Pēkšēns, Eižens Laube, Aleksandrs Vanags, Jānis Alksnis, Heinrich Scheel and Friedrich Scheffel, civil engineer Mikhail Eisenstein, as well as sculptors August Volz, “Otto & Wassil” and “Lotze & Stoll” should be mentioned. One of the most decoratively expressive building having at the same time highly tectonic and logically structured architectural finish of the façade is that at Smilšu iela 2 (1901, architect Konstantīns Pēkšēns). The woman’s herm under the bay window once was acknowledged as Miss Riga among the city’s stone ladies. The highlight of decorativeness of Art Nouveau in Riga is Alberta iela, lined by five apartment houses constructed in 1903–1906 according to the projects by civil engineer Mikhail Eisenstein. It is like a lavish exhibition of all possible means of visual expression of the style, using patterns that were well-known throughout Europe. Building at Alberta iela 13 literally dazzle with richness of ornamentation, wherein traditional historical elements are interwoven with various combinations of Art Nouveau motifs. Art Nouveau in Riga is rather restrain and sober, exaggerated decorations generally are not characteristic feature. Rational trends, such as “Perpendicular Art Nouveau”, prevail. Nevertheless, buildings usually are rich enough in their decorative finish, which with the development of the style became more and more integrated into the basic architectural form. One of the most peculiar trends of Riga’s Art Nouveau architecture is National Romanticism, an attempt of Latvian architects to establish a national style based on local building traditions. It was not a parochial reproduction of vernacular patterns but rather a highly imaginative approach linked with the interpretation of ethnographical and folk art elements. Art Nouveau buildings are pieces of art where every detail is subordinated to the basic idea. The whole central area of the city centre of Riga is a Wold Heritage site due to the Art Nouveau buildings forming a harmonious symphony in stone.

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Juliet KINCHIN, Senior Lecturer and Honorary Reader, University of Glasgow

‘Dear Green Place’ or ‘murky simmering Tophet’? Reconciling nature, industry and modernity in Glasgow Style decoration
The very name ‘Glasgow’ derives from the ancient Gallic Glaschu, meaning ‘Dear Green Place’, yet for Thomas Carlyle writing in the 1840s, this northerly British city was rapidly becoming "a murky simmering Tophet, of copperas fumes, cotton-fuzz, gin riot, wrath and toil, created by a Demon, governed by a Demon". In this popular and persistent vision of industrial Glasgow, the seething, godless, grimy city was pitted against Nature. The task facing Charles Rennie Mackintosh and his Glasgow contemporaries, therefore, was to rediscover the ‘Dear Green Place’ through developing a decorative language that would both tap into a primeval, mythological past – the world of the river god Clutha and Saint Enoch – and reconcile Nature with the forces of modernity focussed on the city. Such a symbolic return to origins and preoccupation with organic imagery was being enacted in centres worldwide, but this paper aims to explore the particular sources and meanings of these decorative themes in the context of Glasgow. Studies of Mackintosh as a Pioneer of International Modernism have tended to focus on the structural, architectonic aspects of his oeuvre, but more recent studies relating to the feminine and Symbolist dimensions of the Glasgow Style emphasise the crucial significance of decoration in this relatively austere manifestation of the New Art.

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Sara HAMM, Art Historian, Jugendstilverein Bad Nauheim

The Watertower as Decor – Exceeding Generic Concepts in Art Nouveau
„…Architecture no longer needed the ornament, it became an ornament.” Why do the life reformers, the architects of Art Nouveau take such a particular interest in water towers? The high rising towers are striking structures, form landmarks and contribute excellently to the formation of a city’s identity. Visible over a long distance they can be stylistic models. At the beginning of the twentieth century it is still a young building genre. An adequate form must still be found. In addition – as overground witnesses of modern water conduits – the towers stand for progress and a better quality of life. The Art Nouveau water towers become “bodies of expression”, which in their compactness contain relations to modern forms and the demand for good design. What becomes evident is the attempt to aestheticize and stylize the technical-functional genre and nevertheless also display the function of the buildings, even if in a symbolic language. The water towers obtain a symbolic valence in connection with the development of city’s identity. Categories like those of a striking and modern formal appearance, the emphasis on technical progress, as well as the possibility to rise above everyday life in a symbolic way by climbing up the towers set standards.

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Carina KAPLAN, Regione Lombardia

Style Liberty in Lombardy: decorative motions, designers, performers and technics
Liberty shows in Lombardy in a wide variety of subjects, which represent quite a full view of the themes and the practical issues that the new style puts both to designers and realizers, as well as the ideal and material attempts to deal with them. The experiences space out from remarkable examples where decorative motions are deeply involved with the general language of the buildings, to more unassuming ones. Excellence is shown in exclusive city palaces as Palazzo Castiglione, Casa Campanini, ex Villa Faccanoni and Villa Berri Meregalli in Milan, or out of town villas, asVilla Bernasconi in Cernobbio, Villa Cirla and villa Poletti in Lanzo d’Intelvi and Villa Faccanoni in Sarnico. Nevertheless really high quality is also shown in bourgeoisie architectures, such as story buildings or city and vacation houses with yards. Also petit bourgeoisie and even popular architectures are quite frequent in cities as Milano, where intire quarters were constructed during this period. The new style fulfills newborn mass tourism demands: magnificent or small hotels and substructures, as the Grand Hotel Campo dei Fiori a Varese, the Casinò Kursal at San Pellegrino Terme, cableways and lake docksas well as new industrial architectures such as the hydroelectric power station of Trezzo d’Adda. One of the main aspects of the material culture that gave impulse to the developement of liberty style was the existence in Lombardy of a net of artisans and budding industries, able enough to deal with the creativity showed by the designers. The developement of industry, and in a particular way the rising of cement industry, influenced deeply the constructive methods. The local production of relief ornamentations in modelled cement and a well-established tradition in grought-iron lead up to superb works. Modelled cement contributed in diffusing a huge repertoire of architural details -due to its lower cost, if compaired to natural stone element’s production- and solved lots of decorative issues within affordable budgets. By the other hand, its avalilability encouraged a superficial ormanentation, perhaps ordinary, but yet democratic enough to satisfy the common taste of a range of users, looking for modern and pleasant appearance housing at accessible costs.

Document PDF (in Italian)


Teresa-M. SALA, Art Historian, Universitat de Barcelona

Modernista Interiors
Like a promenade, the main intention of this lecture is to reveal private interiors and examples of public spaces in the period of Modernisme in Catalunya (1880-1910). Several fascinating buildings were planned by architects with an important team of collaborators specialised in Arts and Crafts. We cannot examine fully the architecture of Modernisme, but we can describe the kind of work they did and consider the different styles they employed in the most representative genres. Among the topics we will look at are: the evolution of private architecture by Antoni Gaudí, from the first house, Casa Vicens (1883-1888), to Casa Milà, aka La Pedrera (1906-1912); a singular palace he did for the Güell family (1886-1889), a multi-family building for Calvet (1898-1899) and the renovation of Casa Batlló (1904-1906). After that, we will explain examples of the specific language of Lluís Domènech i Montaner: the International Hotel and the Cafè-Restaurant for the International Fair of Barcelona (1888); Casa Lleó Morera and Casa Navàs (c.1902-1904); the Palau de la Música Catalana (1908) and Hospital de Sant Pau (St Paul). Finally, we will look at the architecture of Josep Puig i Cadafalch, from Casa Martí (1895-96) to Casa Amatller (1898-1900). Some of these interiors were decorated with original ornaments, all done in conjunction with artisans or manufacturers like Gaspar Homar, Joan Busquets, Casas Bardés (furniture and wood applications), Lluís Bru (mosaics), Eusebi Arnau (sculpture), Juyol (plaster), Escofet (flooring), Maragliano (mosaics), etc. The guiding thought for the decorative variety of the Modernisme was the ideal of the Gesamtkunstwerk. We can see influences of the past (the history of Catalunya and revival of Gothic), the inspiration of nature and the important influence of Japanese art in the various manifestations of Art nouveau, the art at the crossroads. We want to examine all of this, from the details to a broad overview.

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Neus PEREGRINA, Curator of the Museu de Terrassa, Museu de Terrassa

Modernista decorative arts in Terrassa
The decorative arts are those which decorate and complete the architecture. They have been often relegated to a secondary issue in the Catalan modernisme not only for their documentation but also their study. Within the Terrassa’s modernisme we point to the following decorative arts: glass, pottery, mosaic, pavements, cabinet works, locksmith, plastering and decorative painting. Local craftsmen worked in Terrassa (carpenters and cabinet makers, locksmiths, plastering and painters decorators) as well as foreigners, who the most of them came from Barcelona (these worked on stained glasses, mosaic, pavements –paviments hidràulics- and decorative pottery). Both, local and foreigner craftsmen used to collaborate with the main architects of teh city: Muncunill, Coll i Bacardí, M. Vinyals and Pascual i Carretero. It can be distinguished two tendences in the local decorative arts: craftsmen who collaborated with LL. Muncunill and followed his designs representing an austere style, and craftsmen inspired by Alexandre de Riquer –who brought the modernisme to Terrassa- representing a more colourist and diverse style.

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Silvija GROSA, Senior Lecturer, Department of History of Art, Riga Academy of Arts

Motifs of Art Nouveau Décor in Riga and Their Sources
One of the most important issues in regard to the motifs of Art Nouveau architectural décor in Riga concerns its sources; so one has to take up the strategy of studying Art Nouveau and the formal conditions of using established Art Nouveau motifs as well as reasons of why this décor includes a wide spectrum of elements whose iconographical and stylistic character reaches beyond the scope of Art Nouveau. Historicism had played major role in the architectural décor of Riga, as in many other peripheral centres. The evolution towards Art Nouveau often happened through the process of reinterpretation of various neo-style motifs. Even if there were no significant informational obstacles in the assimilation of the new style, architectural décor in Riga retained an influential element of traditionalism fostered by the conservative society and popular ideas of social prestige largely conditioned by the specific social and political situation in Riga. The very same reasons caused an early return to neo-classical motifs and subjects reflecting some kind of patriarchal ideas during the late Art Nouveau period and flourishing of National Romanticism. The main thematic groups of Riga Art Nouveau architectural décor include typical stylistic elements, like motifs of nature, anthropomorphic décor, hybrid creatures and abstract décor as well as distinctive linear approach and musical motifs. But alongside these characteristic Art Nouveau motifs there are elements whose origin is related to the late 19th century – early 20th century “neo-paganism”, sometimes attempting to glorify ancient cultures, like Ancient Egyptian, Assyrian or Maya art examples. A wide group of motifs testify to the interest in hermeneutics, theosophy as well as in rather freely interpreted ideas of Rosicrucians and Freemasonry. Interest in emblematic and heraldic motifs was inherited from the 19th century, retaining its significance throughout the period under scrutiny. Compositions and images derived from Symbolism as a European artistic trend backed by belated Romantics or adherents of the classical tradition were still popular at the turn of the 20th century. Particular motifs found in the décor of the most famous historicist buildings (like Paris Opera) were still much in use. These elements were taken from the publications of the 2nd half of the 19th century, for example, from F.S. Meyer’s lexicon of ornament as well as Vienna publisher Martin Gerlach’s compiled edition Alegorien und Embleme; its first issues appeared already in 1882 and had a great success throughout Europe, including Riga. Contemporary academic salon-type art should be regarded as one of the most important regional sources of decorative art, like several works by German masters of decoration, regarded as authorities in the early 20th century but almost forgotten today (Otto Rieth, Ernst Hottenroth etc.). The issue of sources is closely related to the attitude towards the notion and praxis of imitation specific to the period’s architectural décor. Its roots are found in historicism, touching upon the question of local migration of decorative motifs, repeating and reinterpreting a particular motif from one building to another; the motif possibly seemed luckily found or simply eye-catching to the client.

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