Art Nouveau and the 19th century explorers


I have always been fascinated by exploration stories. I remember my History classes on Egypt and the Pharaohs when I was 10. As books did at that time, I was totally absorbed by such incredible discoveries about these ancient people that erected beauty as a state ornament.

My love for beauty and ancient civilizations was confirmed during my first school trip to Paris when I was 14. I still have this vivid image of my visit to The Louvre museum and the Egyptian section. I was totally captivated.

I realise today that the mystery I unconsciously distill into my pictures as an artist has a lot to do with this early interest. I recreate mystery both through my personal way of lighting or the themes I choose to photograph. There must be a certain sense of drama to catch my attention.

Belle Epoque for me is surrounded with a lot of enigma and engrossing stories. One of these is about the botanist and explorer Jean Linden* who travelled to Brazil and Cuba in search of unknown orchids during the 19th century. Back in his homeland, Belgium, he spent his lifetime compiling his discoveries in books. Art Nouveau was highly influenced by such adventurous souls that took the risks to explore wild lands and bring species that eventually influenced artists and artisans from jewellery to home decoration. 

Another fascinating character of the Belle Epoque is Eugène Grasset** who was a decorative artist. Recently, I accidentally came across one of his books published in 1896 by the Central Library of Fine Arts about plants and their decorative applications.

His forewords are a harsh analysis on the “dead centuries that have nothing to say” and maintains that the act of creating lies in trying to improve or give a new vision to the existing and not to copy the past. 

*Many of Jean Linden books on orchids here
**La plante et ses ornementations . 1896 . Full book