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29 October 2014

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Exhibition: The Anderson Collection

By Martin Barber
The Anderson Collection of art nouveau is regarded as one of the most exquisite private collections in Britain. See it at the Sainsbury Centre For Visual Arts until Sunday, 17 June, 2007 - watch our exhibition report.

Rosewater sprinkler c. 1900 - Loetz (detail)
Rosewater sprinkler, Loetz (detail)

The Anderson Collection of art nouveau is one of the most comprehensive in the UK and features more than 200 pieces of work.

video Watch: The Anderson Collection of Art Nouveau >
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The collection was given to the University of East Anglia (UEA) in the late 1970s by Sir Colin and Lady Anderson, a couple who were among the first British collectors to be seriously interested in art nouveau.

From 1960, for just over a decade, they hunted for objects in galleries, auctions, junk shops and bric-a-brac stalls.

"The Andersons were always engaged with modern art, but for some reason they got really bitten by the bug of art nouveau," said Amanda Geitner, head of collections at the Sainsbury Centre.

"They collected from magnificent high value pieces, right through to the machine-made, mass-produced trinkets that the style was applied for in the early years of the 20th century," she added.

The collection includes jewellery, furniture, glassware and metalwork - featuring the fluid organic lines and whiplash curves that characterised European styles in the last years of the 19th century.

The popularity of art nouveau

Art nouveau is the name the British applied to a range of styles that flourished across Europe and America from 1890.

Brooch, 1898-1901 by Georges Fouquet (detail)
Brooch by Georges Fouquet (detail)

Reaching a zenith of popularity in 1900, the style pretty much went out of production by 1914.

It is a genre full of contradictions.

"The style is characterised by an interest in new materials and new modes of production," said Geitner.

"It's characterised by a regional flavour – we go to Paris to see their fabulous Metro stations, to Prague to see the work of Mucha, down to Barcelona to see Gaudi and in each of these regional centres we see a different representation of art nouveau.

"It had many influences. The art nouveau women are particularly interesting.

"There's this emphasis not only on the natural form, but also the female form – often quite seductive, sensual and revealed," she added.

Art nouveau in an urban setting

Although the art nouveau style was based around botanical and natural motifs, it was essentially urban - adorning homes, buildings, streets and cities throughout Europe, including Norwich.

The Royal Arcade, created by George Skipper (1856-1948), is a gem of art nouveau style used in architecture.

Skipper's office, just round the corner from the arcade and now part of Jarrolds Department Store, is also spectacular example of his work - the terracotta frieze on the building showing a day in the life of the architect and his family.

"I think the work of George Skipper is a fabulous example of art nouveau in this city," said Geitner.

Ceiling of the Royal Arcade, Norwich
Lanterns at the Royal Arcade, Norwich

"It's the use of decoration and form, the use of ceramic, but also the use of new technology – the metal and glass in the shop fronts.

"It's that marriage of technology and ornamentation that really signals art nouveau to most people," she added.

The Anderson Collection features pieces by the leading exponents of the genre, including Louis Comfort Tiffany, Emile Gallé, René Lalique, Minton and Royal Doulton.

Critics speak out

However, the art nouveau style wasn't without its critics.

"It's always been controversial and has vacillated between the height of fashion and being grossly unfashionable," said Geitner.

"People often didn't like the things we love about art nouveau. They didn't like how grand the decorative gestures were, how sensual and enjoyable it was.

"I think they saw it as frivolous and over the top. And it's that over the top style that people also so much admired," she added.

The Anderson Collection of art nouveau can be seen at the Sainsbury Centre until Sunday, 17 June, 2007. Admission is free.

last updated: 27/02/07
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