Organic, sinuous lines and floral motifs are hallmarks of Art Nouveau, whether in architecture, furniture or fashion.
Architects such as Victor Horta crafted these “whiplash” lines in the lavish mansions he designed in Brussels in the early 1890s. Artist Alphone Mucha had a similar impact with paintings and murals in Prague.
This highly romanticized view of nature continued into the 20th century, interpreted in different ways. For example, architect Charles Rennie Mackintosh showed a more geometric approach to his designs and furniture, with a Japanese influence.
Art Nouveau saw times of favor, such as the late 1960s and 1970s, when the hippie movement responded to artists such as English illustrator Aubrey Beardsley. And the Biba store has invigorated the fashion scene with its flowing chiffon dresses.
As with most periods of design, there has been a resurgence of interest in Art Nouveau. Some fans, like Susan Capel, who established Belle Epoque Fine Art in Sydney in 2005, initially wanted to find furniture that complemented her Federation-style home.
“The initial attraction was its sense of craftsmanship, of the handmade”, explains Leigh Capel, the son of Susan, director of the company.
The Belle Epoque provided many Art Nouveau pieces for Baz Luhrmann’s period film The Great Gatsby.
Among the pieces currently on display at the gallery is an 1890s oak coat rack with inset cabinet doors with heart designs. Unbranded, in designer terms, this piece is priced at $2450.
Another coat rack, also in oak, is dated 1895 and was acquired by Susan Capel of Glasgow. Featuring an embossed copper panel depicting stylized flowers, it can be purchased for $2250.