Style in furniture

ing arrive at the conclusion that it was absolutely nonexistent for so long—they kept so completely in subjection that people became accustomed to its absence, and were tempted to regard it in the light of a negligible quantity.

This condition of affairs prevailed from the time of Napoleon the First until about the year 1890, or even somewhat later. Then, at last, indications appeared again, slight, it is true, but none the less definite and unmistakable, that a new spirit, or the old one revived and appearing in a new guise, was at work. Strange and novel creations, bearing no relationship whatever to, and, indeed, differing entirely from, those with which the French had become so accustomed by long usage—in fact until they seemed almost to have become part and parcel of their very existence !—commenced to appear in odd corners of the furnishing showrooms of Paris. As a certain demand for them seemed to have been created, they found their way, by degrees, though somewhat timidly at first, into the shop windows. As a natural result, people commenced to wonder what they were, and whence they came, and to talk about them. They certainly appealed to the taste for novelty inherent in human nature. Then came the 44 craze."

Most of us have from early childhood been taught something to the effect that it is usually undesirable to throw away even dirty water unless there is some certain prospect of obtaining clean to take its place ; and the lesson conveyed in that old adage is one which even would-be creators of new styles may well take to heart. To what source, then, did these artistic protestants, who were responsible for such startling innovations, look for inspiration before getting rid of what they regarded as 44 dirty water," and finally forsaking the wells upon which they had depended for so long ? In considering this point, we must not fail to bear in mind that it is more than probable that every one of the artistic agitators in question had every detail of the historic styles at the "new art" in france 283

his fingers' ends, and would unquestionably have been able to make a comfortable living had he continued in the time-honoured paths of his forefathers- That, however, was just the thing that none of them was content to do. It was their opinion that they had all done this for far too long a period ; so they finally and irrevocably decided that a strenuous effort must be made to strike of? the shackles of time-worn traditions, and break boldly away from long-accepted custom ; apparently agreeing with Carlyle in his pronouncement that " custom doth make dotards of us all."

These artists, therefore, did their best, in the first place, to forget, so far as lay within their power, that such styles as the « Henri-Deux," « Louis-Quinze," " Empire," and all the rest, ever existed. They set out with the fixed determination to originate an entirely new style for themselves. But the artist, I need not say, cannot originate a new style without inspiration from some source or another any more successfully than could the Israelites of old fabricate their full tale of bricks when deprived of the all-essential straw. Inspiration had to be sought for somewhere, and, in their pursuit of it, these founders of the new school went from one extreme to another. For many years, as we have seen, they had been practically " steeped" in Conventionality, working under set conditions which bound them hand-and-foot, so to speak, and permitted little or no lattitude. In fact, to all intents and purposes, their work was ready "cut-and-dried" for them. Recognised forms, no appreciable variation from which was to be tolerated, had to be followed exactly in every particular, no matter however much the artist or craftsmen may have had the inclination to improve upon them. The self-same set of time-honoured details, too, was always ready to hand, to be introduced as occasion might demand—and it generally did demand ; so, practically all that remained to be done was to unite these various elements. But, even in accomplishing that, the exercise of

284 style in furniture little or no ingenuity was demanded ; all had simply to be brought together in such a manner as to constitute one harmonious whole, resembling specific old and familiar models as closely as possible. Those models, it must be noted, were so well known throughout the land, even by the "common people/' that any radical deviation from their lines or details was certain to be detected, as I have indicated, and the chances were that, should any such be discovered, it would meet with but scant favour.

Having, then, determined to abolish this state of things in so far as its existence affected their own work, the designers whose productions we shall presently consider positively refused to be bound any longer by hard-and-fast convention, or be trammelled by custom. Desiring to be allowed an absolutely free hand, to the end that whatever creative faculties they possessed might have full play, uninfluenced by antiquated custom or tradition, they harked back from the well-worn paths they had traversed from their youth up, and returned straight to Nature, in order that they might obtain their ideas fresh, and unsullied by passage through the brains of others—direct from the only true source of all Beauty. Verily, a more desirable course could not be adopted by anybody, nor one calculated to lead to better results, provided always—and here comes the crux of the whole matter—• that Nature be approached in the proper spirit, and that the lessons she has to teach be correctly learned and not misconstrued.

Pitfalls, however, are to be found almost everywhere; even in situations where their presence might be least suspected. That there were many, and dangerous ones, in the road which this little band elected to follow, is made painfully evident by many of the productions which they have given to the world in the course of little over a decade, and by which the success of their undertaking must be estimated.

the "new art" in france 285

But before discussing the quality and character of this work, I must mention the style and title by which it has already been distinguished, and by which it is generally known to-day. Whether the originators of the new movement are themselves responsible for its nomenclature_

" L'Art Nouveau "—it is impossible for me to say with any degree of certainty; but, considering all things, I am inclined to affirm that they are not. The title, whether in French or English, savours somewhat of the up-to-date shopkeeper, anxious to endow his goods with a telling description calculated to attract and arrest attention, and so promote business, and would hardly be included in the vocabulary of the conscientious and enthusiastic artist. In imagination, we can almost hear the satisfied and gleeful chuckle with which an inspiration, so i( happy " from the salesman's standpoint, was hailed when the title was first coined. It is on a par with, and no better nor worse than, the commercial employment, now so painfully common, of the word "art" as an adjective to describe all sorts and conditions of things, the first impetus to the use of which in such an association was given by its novel application, by a certain go-ahead firm, to exceptionally delicate, subtle, and really beautiful shades of colour brought out in dainty textile fabrics some years ago. It has since been " dragged-in " to do service in all manner of unlooked-for associations, being applied to practically everything that can, with, or even without, any possible excuse, be so designated. So-called " art colours"—could any designation be more absurd ?—we have had with us for some few years now, and they seem likely to remain. They are still being merrily retailed at " a-penny-three," while " art pots "—many of them the most fearful and wonderful creations the eye of man has ever beheld—and " art " goodness-knows-what-besides continue to swell the draper's " Special-Bargain-Sale " lists, and fill the souls of ignorant and unwary purchasers with

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