Art nouveau artists were rebels. They used clean, simple lines and light, reflective colors to depict natural, organic scenes as a backlash against the heavy-handed opulence of the Victorian era. The art nouveau movement began in 1890 and experienced a heyday until about 1915. Popular in the United States and Europe, the art nouveau style bled over into all aspects of art and design from painting to architecture and sculpture. Art nouveau sculptures are three-dimensional embodiments of the style and principles that govern the artistic movement.
Like other sculptures, art nouveau sculptures can be made from a variety of materials. Clay, stone, metal, fibers and wood are all seen in art nouveau statues, both from the original period and as a modern homage to one of many influential art movements. The choice of medium depends solely upon the artist's individual preference. During the nouveau art periods, the inclusion of sparkling, shimmery or opalescent materials such as mother of pearl, glass and mica was common.
There were several notable three-dimensional artists operating during the art nouveau period. Julien Causse was a French artist who worked with mixed media to create striking art nouveau sculptures that captured the artistic spirit of the movement. Together with artist Ernest Leveille, Julien Causse created La Fee des Glasses, or “The Snow Queen.” The sculpture depicts a girl made of metal wire atop a chunk of ice made from cracked glass. Many of the sculptures created by Julien Causse are in private collections.
Jean Dampt, another French artist of the art nouveau period, worked with wood, glass and metal to create artwork, sculpture, and jewelry that captured the nouveau period. Although some of his sculptures were purely decorative in form, others were practical. Furniture pieces created by Dampt were works of art as much as they were functional items. Some of his works are in private collections, and the Musee d'Orsay in Paris also has an entire collection of sculptures, paintings and practical items created by Dampt.
Art nouveau sculptures, like other works of art from the period, were created largely for commercial sale. One of the defining changes of the art nouveau period was the blending of form and function. Sculpture from the period was made to be displayed but also to be used for a purpose. Since many sculptures from the art nouveau period also had a functional role to play, extant pieces are rarely exhibited alongside display-only art and those that are may exhibit prominent wear and tear from past use.