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Glorious German Art Nouveau

Today, searching for more Art Nouveau for inspiration, I had the good fortune to stumble upon the excellent blog of artist John Coulthart, which is called {feuilleton}.

John posted a link to an archive of scanned copies of the German Jugend Magazine, which dates from the late 19th and early twentieth century. It is the source of the German expression for Art Nouveau: Jugendstil, or “youth style”.

Here’s a rather romantic cover for the magazine, dating from 1899 when Róisín Dubh is set.
Jugend Magazine, Sept 30 1899
Many of the other covers are full of beautiful stylised images of contemporary life in Germany in the 1890s, including a lot of pictures of women with big hats and smiles, and several of them show women riding bicycles.

This is really pleasing to me because the heroine of our comic, Róisín Sheridan, is an ardent cyclist. People today don’t realise how important the invention and popularity of the bicycle was to women’s ability to move about more freely. It also impacted upon clothing, and aided the movement toward less restrictive outfits for women. Over time this all contributed to changing the perception of women and their place in the public world.

In 1896, American suffragist Susan B Anthony said:

“I think (bicycling) has done more to emancipate women than anything else in the world. It gives women a feeling of freedom and self-reliance.”

Róisín is very much a New Woman, a product of a liberal upbringing and indulgent parents, and of course this all brings with it a certain friction when Róisín attempts to assert her independence.

It’s one thing to agree over the dinner table in polite company that suffrage for women is a noble concept, it’s an entirely different thing when women like Róisín, who were brought up to expect a better place in the world, start to seek free expression and self determination.

Inspiration

Stephen and I have been having a great discussion on email about ideas for the cover of the graphic novel. Since the story kicks off at 1899 I thought it would be great if we could have a nod towards the marvellous fin de siècle movement, and in particular Art Nouveau.

I sent him images from artists like Aubrey Beardsley and Alphonse Mucha, and he replied with work by Arthur Rackham and Irish artist Harry Clarke.

Ligeia by Harry Clarke

I was delighted to be reminded of Harry Clarke’s fantastic artwork, in particular his illustrations of Edgar Allan Poe‘s stories in the collection Tales of Mystery and Imagination.

The pieces were familiar, and stirred a faded childhood memory of me reading a copy of the book and loving the artwork. I’m pretty sure it was at the guest house my family used to stay in during our annual holiday. Being Ireland, the weather was often inclement, and there was a small library of musty books for when a storm kept us from the beach or the playground. I would curl up by a window seat, the rain hammering against the big window with the Atlantic roaring in the distance, and read Grimm’s fairy tales and Poe’s horror stories.

My abiding interest in weird and scary fiction was firmly established by these experiences, and even then I valued the way the artist could illuminate a passage from a story and give it an extra dimension within my imagination.

Clarke is a artist whose work still seems utterly modern, despite a century of changes. I’ve been fortunate to see some of his stained glass work, and they are outstanding. He is one of Ireland’s great artists.