EVCS | Angela Hesson ‘Dangerous Ornament: The Feminine Form in Art Nouveau’

Angela Hesson

Dangerous Ornament: The Feminine Form in Art Nouveau

The decorative arts of the fin-de-siècle were populated by a feminized pantheon of transient, metamorphic figures and forms delicately suspended in moments of transformation. From pin trays to paper knives to poster advertisements, Art Nouveau refashioned the most controversial subjects of Decadence and Aestheticism within the most accessible and domesticated media. While the changing role of women in the literature and so-called fine art of the period has been subject to continued scholarly investigation, the decorative arts have been excluded from the majority of critical accounts, alluded to perfunctorily as reference points for nineteenth-century misogyny or female objectification. This paper will argue, by contrast, that Art Nouveau’s celebration of the limitlessly transforming feminine form may be productively read within the context of early feminism, the renewal of interest in such figures as the Androgyne and Femme Fatale, and the emergence of the New Woman. It seems anomalous that these icons of dissonance, much of whose appeal lay in their detachment from the mundane realms of the practical and the everyday, should have been designed and produced not for the avant-garde space of the gallery, but for the comparative conventionality of the bourgeois home. This paper will explore the manner in which the fin-de-siècle obsession with feminine transformation manifested across the broad spectrum of decorative arts, effectively and insidiously subverting established links between femininity, domesticity and ornament.

Dr Angela Hesson is Curatorial Assistant at the Johnston Collection.

Date: Monday 19 Nov 2012, 6:30pm

Venue: Jim Potter Room, Old Physics Building, University of Melbourne, Parkville campus.

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All Welcome

Drinks and nibbles provided for the seminar: gold coin donation appreciated.

The EVCS is brought to you by the Melbourne Art Network with the support of the Art History Programs at the University of Melbourne and at La Trobe University.