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U.S.-bound London exhibit celebrates Art Nouveau

(CNN) -- What once caused narrowed stares is now opening eyes. The finest in Art Nouveau, the sensuous style that turned heads when it began flourishing in the early 1890s, is on display in London and soon is heading to the United States.

Theophile Steinlen's 1896 color lithograph "Cabaret du chat noir"  

"Art Nouveau 1890-1914," billed as the largest exhibit of Art Nouveau since the groundbreaking movement's heyday, runs through July 30 at the Victoria and Albert Museum in London. Then it moves across the Atlantic to the National Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C., where it will be on display from October 8 through January 28.

The retrospective includes 400 paintings, sculptures, ceramic pieces, glass works, items of furniture and architectural renderings drawn from collections in Europe and North America.

One of the most popular items on view is an actual entrance to a Paris Metro subway station, press assistant William Matthews said Thursday.

"It's a very, very popular exhibition, regularly drawing capacity crowds," Matthews said. He suggested that its appeal lies in the public's familiarity with Art Nouveau and the diversity of the collection.

Among the artists, architects, sculptors and designers featured are Aubrey Beardsley, Louis Comfort Tiffany, Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec, Antoni Gaudi, Charles Rennie Mackintosh, Alphonse Mucha, Emile Galle and Rene Lalique.

The Art Nouveau style is characterized by richly decorative elements, curving lines and an emphasis on the organic -- art that favored symbolism and sexuality over utility and function. When they were produced, some designs shocked the straight-laced sensibilities of the day.


The term, which means "new art," is named after a Paris gallery, Maison de l'Art Nouveau. The movement was also known by other names, includingJugendstil in Germany andstile floreale in Italy.

The exhibition has three parts. "The Creation of Meaning" looks at historical styles that influenced and led to Art Nouveau, including Gothic and Rococo. "Nature" addresses artists' prominent use of such organic images as plants and sea life as inspiration.

The third section, "The Metropolis and the Designer," examines designers from eight cities, including Gustav Klimt in Vienna and Tiffany in New York.

Accompanying the exhibition is a book from V&A Publications called "Art Nouveau 1890-1914," edited by curator Paul Greenhalgh. Also available are "Essential Art Nouveau" by Greenhalgh and "Art Nouveau and the Erotic" by assistant curator Ghislaine Wood.

Since the exhibition opened in the spring, it has drawn 150,000 visitors, Matthews said.

Given the public interest as the London shows draws to a close, the Victoria and Albert is strongly encouraging visitors to book their tickets in advance, either by phone or online. (44-207 942-2000 or

Victoria and Albert Museum
Gustav Klimt Gallery
Rene Lalique
Aubrey Beardsley
Alphonse Mucha Museum
Louis Comfort Tiffany

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