Letters of Art nouveau

23/10/2020 > 21/03/2021

The Allard Pierson Museum in Amsterdam is currently showing ‘Letters of Art Nouveau’, an exhibition on the new letter shapes created during the Belle Epoque that dominated public space and commercial printing.

Graphic experiments seem limitless, resulting in extravagantly ornate letters. The most famous influence comes from Japanese calligraphy, as revealed by the pointed paintbrush style. The new letter shapes spread rapidly, in part owing to international catalogues of types made for painters and lithographers. Such works contain complete alphabets to be copied, as well as practical applications that a craftsman could easily adapt. Some of these usually loose-leaf publications are printed in up to twelve colours and are now considered among the highlights of 19th-century chromolithography.

Printers work with lead type blocks and wooden capitals and have to keep up with design innovation in order to compete with lithographers. That is why Art Nouveau artists like Otto Eckmann, Eugène Grasset and George Auriol are commissioned to create contemporary type designs. They are often presented to printers in luxury catalogues of types. The exhibition presents a generous selection of these mostly French, German and Dutch type specimens and catalogues.

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