Unpredictable. Essentially, the very difference between the symbolic and the metaphoric in art resides in the possibility to guess a meaning behind the iconographic representation. In case of symbolist art the complexity (ethimologically, from Latin complicatio, literally “put several things together”) is due to the fact that the symbol shares a complexity of different (sometimes contradictories) meanings behind a painted scene, behind lines, behind colors.
The work of Linzy Kokoska is incredibly filled by symbolist evocations. She’s a living (yes, living !) artist, born in Nova Scotia but who who traveled trough many countries in Europe and Asia (see Linzy Kokoska visual artist profile on Facebook). Her second name, Kokoska, isn’t definitively invented, but it’s real: we don’t know if she’s relative of the famous Oskar Kokoschka, but we know that the spirit of Austria Felix, an aesthetic where coexist a complexity of artistic developments such as expressionism, decorativism, symbolism and secession, is still alive in this contemporary artist.
Unlike many contemporary artists, she doesn’t depict just abstract or non-figurative scenarios: on the contrary, the natural elements in Kokoska’s paintings are present, but the impression is by far superseded by the expression, the outstanding feeling of the artist is every time able to fully takeover the naturalistic representation. The artist’s own eyes and feelings are overcharged and, consequently, her colors completely supersedes the natural colors of objects, of flowers in this case, transfiguring any spectator own expectation based on his previous sensible experiences:
The internal energy and passion of the artist, her expression is able to takeover the colors of the most colorful natural elements par excellance, the flowers: Looking at the painting, one could be able to perceive the different smell of these flowers, charged of a water and icy scent; the author push the spectator to abandon himself to new sensorial feelings no more related to previous experiences, to feel the smell of a particular color, in a sort of synesthetic approach to the painting. And the same applies to the forms, too:
A further step in the Symbolist direction is performed by Linzy Kokoska combining the perception of natural elements with images and symbols which belong to the incredibly wide universe of this painter’s own sensibility. Again, we are miles away from every Impressionism: natural elements aren’t copied, nor interpreted, but, really, created and transformed in a sort of heraclitean flux. Elements which probably still doesn’t exist per se, that aren’t part of any artist’s previous experience, but that are brought into the painting just after the artist’s own feelings. Quoting Oscar Wilde, the author precedes the Nature, the artist achieves the capability to manage the laws of creation, and she becomes creator of possible worlds where mountains seem to come out from a Russian folk dream, where flowers are growing under the sea under the mysterious forces of a creative Spinozist Nature.
The flow, in the latest painting, which seems to vitalize the flowers, is conceived, by the author, in form of abstract decorative curves and lines. And this represents the major step in the direction of Symbolism. As Henri van de Velde perfectly stated, the lines in decorative or figurative arts, is not just a “beautiful element”, an embellishment which excites the
eye of the spectator. The lines is charged by the energy and the spirituality of the artist who drawn it ! And, definitively, this is the case of Linzy Kokoska, too.
In this painting, she creates a world in which smooth and pastel colors join together with calm lines which seems to be taken out of a Greek dream:
But in this other painting, spirals and light green, thin curves swirl on themselves in perpetuum motu together with strong and very definite colors, a powerful green flow which constitutes the border, a defensive shield of a bigger and delicate mysterious element.
This painting reveals not just that this lucky artist seems to have the key to enter the Alchemist’s Garden of Philosophers: but also that she maintains in herself some unconscious (fin-dè-siécle) Austrian spirit. When, in 1911, Klimt went to Bruxelles to see his own frieze finally installed in the Stoclet Palace, he was probably aware that many of the future guests of the palace would have regarded at this wall painting as a sort of beautiful eye capturer design. The few would have recognized that the colors and graphic elements of that decorations is a key to enter into an outstanding Forest of Symbols:
Linzy Kokoska is an artist who has her own style, who doesn’t follow any other rules than her passionate desire to live for art. What she’s doing right now is definitively Art Nouveau: and not really because she’s conforming to some ancient Master, or because she’s copying one particular style which developed at the turn of the century. She’s doing Art Nouveau in the proper sense of these words, because she’s freely doing an art which is consequence of her freedom and the time in which she’s living. The problem here is that, while she’s actually a young artist, her style seems to have been passed through two centuries, her time so widespread, not aged, but incredibly experienced, so complex and indefinable, so unpredictable, and thus so fascinating.
The word Japonisme is maybe one of the most used one when dealing with Art Nouveau illustration and graphic art. It is quite a common known statement the influence the graphic art produced in Japan in XVIII and XIX Centuries upon the turn of the century art, in particular, book illustration and graphic.
The reception of this Far East tradition was every time mitigated by the personal taste and style of the authors.
Gustav Klimt was quite receptive to non-European styles and artistic traditions. In his painting, the influences of Byzantine art is quite recognizable, while in graphic art he looks at Japanese one. in These vignettes designed for the Secession exhibition Catalogue (VII exhibition) and Ver Sacrum (Volume 1) his style is interpreting the Japanese using large black areas combined with a fluent line, developed on the vertical, as several Japanese wall paper productions. Klimt was able to characterize the facial expression with very few thin lines, once again like Japanese drawing technique:
Dealing with Austria, professor Koloman Moser was also involved with graphic design, mostly in relationship with the artists work craft named Wiener Werkstaette. Again the lines are well evidenced. Anyway, Kolo Moser used a mixture between curves and segment, between fluent (Art Nouveau) and segmented and straight (as many Wiener Werkstaette productions) lines, creating a tension between the dynamism of the first, and the static hieratic of the latter. facial expression recalls the Japanese art too, but in Moser’s work Japonism is mitigated by the stylistic researches on the melting between straight and curves:
Once again Austrian Empire, but Hungarian side. Japanese influences are quite evident in Attila Sassy production. He also used large curve areas filled either by black colors or geometric, repetitive patterns. Female bodies, as in his famous “Opium Dream” are also constituted by white large area, which includes only essential lines to distinguish anatomic elements:
Lajos Kozma was an illustrator, architect and interior designer. He was really a prolific author (see http://www.szecesszio.com/?p=701). As an illustrator, he developed a personal style in which the overall composition followed the orthogonal lines, either vertical and horizontal; the lines of the drawing became very thin and spotted, contrasted with marked and filled ones, providing really the distinction between dream and reality, between the perceived and the quintessential lines of characters coming from other world, either dreams or super-human ones. White spaces which fragmented the lines are here stylistic elements too, bringing the spectator to other dimensions, accessible just trough the art:
Hungarian as well, Imre Simay was an illustrator and a sculptor too. As illustrator, he maturated his own black/white style after the shadow/light atmospheres of some Japanese and Chinese artistic production. Simay’s style is characterized by overcharged darkness, in which human characters act as in a mysterious world, hiding mostly of their bodies, providing to the spectator the sensati
on of mystic and sensual worlds:
Use of the lines, revisited by other two European artists. Jan Toorop, Dutch, stressed to its limits the abstraction function of the curve lines, removing at all all the traits from the face, and providing expressivity just using concentric lines. The reclining head of the vignette below, has enough symbolic power to let the spectator perceive the feelings of the female (again, female by lines) character (reclining head, meditative position of the shoulder, open arms from which come a fluids toward above worlds …). Not by hazard, the vignette came after an article of the prophet of line, Henri van de Velde.
Adolfo De Karolis (aka De Carolis) is one of the most influencing Italian fin-dè-siécle illustrator. He was the preferred by the Commander-Poet Gabriele d’Annunzio and eventually he was chosen by the Vate to illuminate most of his works. Mainly published for the Edition of Treves brother, the vignettes and illustrations of De Carolis show an indubitable neo-classic inspiration. In any case, his styleis far to be considered eclectic, since even the neo-classic lines and themes are revisited by the special turn of the century taste attitude toward melancholy (decadent) and symbolism (that, in case of De Carolis, presents echoes of pre-Raphaelitism):
Finally, in UK, the one who is considered the master of black/white illustration. An author who dedicated his short live and artistic activity to the monochrome illustration, Aubrey Beardsley. Symbolic and erotic elements, styled using large areas, sometimes huge, of black ink. The Black Cap seems just a large ink spot which gains the shape of a sinuous female figure; The famous “Climax” from the Oscar Wilde’s Salome presents a female figure never before so fatale, where the blood exiting from the Baptist’s head has the flexuous characteristics of the Art Nouveau line.
Lucian’s Strange creatures collect together several grotesque figures who inhabited the author own dreams (or nightmares, perhaps …):
Large black areas and flexuous lines are also characteristic of the maybe most influencing American illustrator, William Bradley. He worked as advertising illustrator for private Companies in the States, and for reviews such as The Inland Printer. The Author was often compared to Beardsley (the figures below were published by the British leading fin-dè-siècle art magazine “The Studio”). Anyway, considering the same subject (the masked woman in Bradley’s “Masked Ball” , and the “Lucian’s Strange Creatures) drawn by Beardsley) the American artist lacks the perverted erotic atmosphere which surrounded the Beardsley’s drawing.
The line for Bradley represented not only a decorative element, but an effective way to suggest the sense of dynamism in his drawings. Again, in “Masked Ball” ideally a curved line begins at the top of the second female character’s cap till the back shoulder, a sort of big “S” which is the ideal join with the complex background, decorated with floral elements (which recall the school of Morris) placed and developed with an S-like movement.
Deutsche Kunst und Dekoration was a leading art magazine in Germany at the turn of the century. An article, on Volume 21, presented the works by Julius Klinger as illustrator. Again, the Japanese influences are quite evident (see first illustration, for example, and the decoration of the vest). Long and sinuous lines remark the luscious character of Klinger’s Femme Fatales, even if, as in many German illustrations (see, for example, illustrations for magazines Pan or Simplicissimus) the female figures are often seen under a sort of ironic perspective. C’est a dire, Une belle dame sans merci, but, maybe, just for fun …
Die Nibelungen. Interpreted by Franz Keim (1840-1918) and illustrated by Carl Otto Czeschka (1878-1960) (Wien; Leipzig: Verlag Gerlach u. Wiedling, 
John Collier is one of those artists who seems having lost their own momentum when they embraced a particular artistic movement or a specific stylistic way. IF the thematic, the historical background, the social aspiration, the style, a certain image of woman which are elements which characterized the Pre-Raphaelite movement could seem outdated in 1900:
One could really wonder if all the above was proposed by an artist still in the late ‘20s. Well, quite surprisingly, this was definitively the case of John Collier:
In due course, Collier became an integral part of the family of Thomas Henry Huxley PC, sometime President of the Royal Society. Collier married two of Huxley’s daughters and was "on terms of intimate friendship" with his son, the writer Leonard Huxley. – from Wikipedia, voice John Collier (painter)
He became quite famous as portrait painter and, due his strict relationships with the English high society, he was commissioned to portrait several members of the good British cultural and political elite. He was able to effectively apply the portrait technique to historical subjects too:
Collier died in 1934. His entry in the Dictionary of National Biography (volume for 1931–40, published 1949) compares his work to that of Frank Hollbecause of its solemnity. This is only true, however, of his many portraits of distinguished old men — his portraits of younger men, women and children, and his so-called "problem pictures", covering scenes of ordinary life, are often very bright and fresh.
His entry in the Dictionary of Art (1996 vol 7, p569), by Geoffrey Ashton, refers to the invisibility of his brush strokes as a "rather unexciting and flat use of paint" but contrasts that with "Collier’s strong and surprising sense of colour" which "created a disconcerting verisimilitude in both mood and appearance".
The Dictionary of Portrait Painters in Britain up to 1920 (1997) describes his portraits as "painterly works with a fresh use of light and colour".
One could think, after having read the above introduction, that we are facing quite a traditional artist, who couldn’t move out from strict stylistic rules and genres (the Pre-Raphaelite way of painting), devoted to the elegant portraits of very traditional society as per in England at the turn of the century and before the First World War.
Definitively, there’s something more with Collier. Let’s go further with his portrait of Lilith.
Here the subject came after the reading of the Dante Gabriel Rossetti’s poem entitled Eden’s Bower (1868):
It was Lilith the wife of Adam:
(Eden bower’s in flower.)
Not a drop of her blood was human,
But she was made like a soft sweet woman.
Between the two paintings which depicted the poem (the Collier’s own and the Dante Gabriel Rossetti painting after his own verses), could be noticed how the style of Collier significantly differs from the Rossetti Pre-Raphaelite taste. The Lilith of Rossetti was depicted in form of a seductive woman, where the tonal accent resides on the red of the lips, of the hairs and of the flowers. The figure of the woman herself was represented as she was a frivol young lady seeking for a rich entitled gentlemen to be seduced by her beauty and luscious attitude. The frivol temperament of the character is also charged by the detail of the mirror (a typical woman toilette’s accessory) and the face expression, which looks like the one of a concubine who relies just on his fatal body rather than on her fascinating nor intelligent expression.
Luscious, evil, but also with a sinister fascinating light in her eyes: the Collier’s Lilith far beyond the posh puppy depicted by Rossetti. Lilith here is the classical femme fatale: colors are darkened, with evident dark yellow of the flesh (which recalls somewhat late Renaissance nudes). Lilith finally is painted adorned by the Snake, the very symbolic element associated with the Mesopotamia Goddess. She’s enjoying the contact with the morbid skin of the Snake, and she seems to completely rely upon her fascinating attitude, which could bound every man at her fee
t with the same luscious strength of the snake.
Collier’s female figure, then, is far from being a posh baby à là Rossetti: she’s really a Goddess, with elements far from the traditional figure of Mary Mother of God, but which seem much more related to the Femme Fatale iconography of the Symbolist paintings at the turn of the Century. Lilith here looks much more like the same character painted by Franz von Stuck rather than a Pre-Raphaelite nun or Madonna-like weak female. She’s a female who is really in charge, just like Venus in respect of Tannhauser (as in another Collier painting). Again, the theme goes beyond the Reinassance or English mythology of the Pre-Raphaelite, and recalls directly one of the most influencing artist at the turn of the Century, the initiator of the GesamtKunstwerk idea, Richard Wagner.
Woman Goddess, woman with the double aspect of passionate mother and passionate lover, the tenderness of the mother, the seductive evil of the animal passions:
The clothes are red, the sight fierce, the woman is able to relate herself with the under-terrain forces. The woman is a medium, just like a Priestess of Delphi.
This is the strange case of John Collier, himself too suspended between the idyllic sleepy atmosphere à là Burne-Jones & Rossetti, and the New Art which was possible, at the turn of the Century, just having proudly discover and depicted the real complexity of the Eternal Feminine.
Simbolismo è apertura: e non al significato, come lo è l’allegoria.
Il simbolo non apre la porta all’irruzione del significato ma, in vece, esso dischiude inaudite potenzialità di interpretazione da parte del percepiente.
Il Simbolo è faticoso, e non solamente per chi lo concepisce, lo accarezza, ed infine lo mostra: ma il pericolo è il mostrato, e la fatica diviene titanica da parte di chi, impattato da esso, se ne voglia nutrire. Il simbolo, negli occhi del percepiente, conflagra come un enorme mare imbizzarrito: esso rende nervosi e mantiene svegli, irrequieti come lo sono gli assidui bevitori di caffè.
La linea simmetrica è calmante perché si riflette, non lascia spazi a novità od a sposizionamenti. Ciò che è simmetrico è commensurabile, intuibile, ricostruibile senza sforzo da parte del percepiente.
Differente il caso di linea mancante di simmetria, ovvero senza possibilità alcuna di essere totalmente com-presa (considerata completamente, nel totale insieme di ogni sua possibile declinazione).
La riconoscete: è proprio questa, la linea Art Nouveau. Simbolica nella sua astratta fuga dal rappresentato, svincolata da ogni naturalismo rappresentativo, nella quale non vi è presente alcun residuo di significato. La linea Art Nouveau non costituisce alcun segno, non fotografa e non cita, è antinarrativa, è metastorica, non descrive, non si conforma, come fosse un delicato abito di seta, alle forme del corpo che avviluppa. Non c’è alcun corpo descritto da quei tratti sinuosi, e la loro femminea delicatezza è prodromo di una altrettanto femminea ferocia guerriera.
La linea Art Nouveau è quanto di meno platonico possa esservici nell’arte: essa non è copia di copia, poiché non è copia di alcunché. In essa non troviamo le rappresentazioni naturali, ma percepiamo le forze intrinseche che generano quelle forme. La linea Art Nouveau possiede in sè la forza dell’artista che le ha tracciate, l’energia creatrice che fa di esse un’arte che si ri-genera, e non imita, un’arte del dirsi sempre nuova, e non già del detto (o scritto) su tavole colossali, su tavole di pietra eterna. E’ un eternamente, e non un eterno.
E, dunque, ci vuole una forza folle per sostenere l’impatto estetico con quell’a intensa energia simbolica. Di più. L’opera rigenerativa che il simbolo astratto e non-formato della Linea Art Nouveau necessita di uno sguardo che non solamente la contempli, ma che ne sappia cogliere l’energia per lasciar continuare quei flutti arricciati nelle imprevedibili direzioni e movimenti del sinuoso tratto. Uno spettatore che non aspetti, ma che sappia coinvolgersi in quelle linee, che se ne lasci trasportare, oltre, eccitare ed esaltare.
Linee fitomorfe, che ingabbiano e stritolano come serpenti chi non abbia l’ardire e la conoscenza di comprendere che l’energia che ha dato origine a quella linea è costituita dal medesimo elàn vitale dell’essere umano che ancor abbia volontà di godere, di godere del bello. Come scriveva D’Annunzio:
La sua bellezza non mi stanca mai: mi suggerisce sempre un sogno
Continuare quelle sinuose linee senza mai completarle, poiché la forza che ne ha scaturito il getto è potenza vitale, una vita eraclitea, rinvigorita nella continuata presenza.
La linea Art Nouveau davvero mal si adatta a spettatori parvenu o critici di mestiere: essa evoca terribili forze oscure, agghiaccianti come urla di Erinni, sinuose e fascinose come sguardo di Atena. Queste linee così pericolosamente femminili sono baci rubati dalle bocche dei Risvegliati e degli Esteti …
Exactly 101 years after its inauguration, the building which hosted the thermal SPA named Hungaria Bath (Furdő in Hungarian) is now in fully reconstruction. works are not finished yet, but we could at least see the façade own frieze in its original color, cleaned by 100 years of dusk and smog.
The building was designed by architect Emil Agoston. Actually the very part of the building itself is lost, and the restoration will completely reconstruct the vast missing part of the architecture. Anyway, the frieze on the front survived the 100 decadence of the building. The work, due to sculpture Krisztian Sandor, is now cleaned and finally shows the original aspect, with the outstanding colors (as per the Hungarian tradition, due to eosin ceramics) of the “Hungarian Furdo” name:
The restoration unveiled even an unattended results (at least, to me): one of the two mermaids is realy, well, not at all a mermaid rather a triton!
At this point (November 2009) the works are not finished but this restoration seems promising. We are looking forward to see the Hungaria Furdo back, 100 years later.
In these days, in the rooms of the Applied Art Museum of Budapest, takes place a very interesting exhibition related to the szecesszio style manufacture during the turn of the century. Furniture, jewels, objects, mainly property of the museum itself, are exhibited. More information could be found here:
To celebrate the event, szecesszio.com published in digital format two outstanding and rare documents. They refer to the VERY first exhibition, held in April 1898 dedicated to the turn-of-the-century Art Nouveau, right in the same rooms of the Applied Art Museum.
The first document, is the complete reportage (the “cover story”) that the monthly magazine “Magyar Iparmuveszet “ dedicated to that event. It contains several pictures, some of them with beautiful poster by the Czech artist Alphonse Mucha:
The second document, is a rare exemplar of the exhibition full catalogue. It is part of my personal collection and now fully digitized:
The document itself represents an invaluable resource for the historian of art. The 1898 exhibition represented the very first time Hungary kept in touch with Art Nouveau international style, either considering furniture, interior design and poster/graphic design. For that reason, the pieces exhibited and their style, were the primary source of inspiration for the birth of szecesszio in Hungary, the Hungarian National variant of the international Art Nouveau/Jugendstil style.
The very goal of the Lechner’s work was not exactly the development of the art nouveau style in Hungary.No doubt that the Lechner style was influencing as far the development of a national way to the art fin-de-siècle is concerned. But this influence was a corollary beside the Lechner’s goal to define a real Hungarian formal artistic language.
A very interesting evidence of these researches, is the so called Blue Church in Bratislava, actually capital city of the Republic of Slovakia but at the time (1907) of the church building, part of the Austrian-Hungarian Empire.
The Church of St. Elisabeth (Slovak: Kostol svätej Alžbety, Hungarian: Szent Erzsébet templom), commonly known as Blue Church (Modrý kostolík, Kék templom), is an Hungarian Secessionist (Jugendstil) Catholic church located in the eastern part of the Old Town in Bratislava, Slovakia. It is consecrated to Elisabeth of Hungary, daughter of Andrew II, who grew up in the Pressburg Castle (pozsonyi vár). It is called "Blue Church" because of the colour of its façade, mosaics, majolicas and blue-glazed roof.
The structure of this catholic church is a single nave architecture solution. Beside the church itself is also present a grammar school, work of Lechner, with the typical lines and rounded forms characteristic of the Lechner’s own style:
This building is actually under reconstruction: if the façade is completed yet (see pictures above), the courtyard is being reconstructed nowadays:
Back to the church, it is characterized by a tall 36.8 meter high cylindrical church tower. At first, a cupola was planned, but was never constructed; instead, a barrel vault was built, topped by a hip roof. The roof is covered with glazed bricks with decoration, for the purpose of parting. The church was originally painted with pastel pale yellow color and, at a later time, painted in the nowadays famous blue/pale blue color. A recent restoration of the building charged more the blue tones:
The entire façade as well as the tower is decorated by geometric and linear stylized elements. The lines of the small windows and portals are also designed with curve lines:
Quite interesting the church represents something unique in the development of Lechner’s own style. The geometric Hungarian patterns which heavily characterized about the totality of previous Lechner works were, in the Bratislava church, noticeably mitigated; the floral decorations are completely absent here; the traditional Lechner lines of the roof is in case of the St. Elisabeth Church realized in a smother way, lines and curves being much more morbid than in other building of the architect, with rounded structural elements on the façade which contribute to a general curvilinear and morbid aesthetic feelings.
Oriental and Hungarian traditional artistic patterns, which constitute one of the very typical aspect of Lechner’s own aesthetic, in this building were mitigated by typical rounded lines which are characteristic of the European Art Nouveau. Linear ornament characterizes every part of the building, instead of Lechner’s classic This is probably the most Art nouveau styled work of Lechner.
The interior is richly decorated with altarpieces. On the altar there is an illustration of St. Elisabeth, depicted giving out abilities to the beggars and poor. On the top of the main entrance door there is a mosaic, too, painted in the typical style of Gödöllő school.