The Rise of Modernism

The Rise of Modernism

Modernism was a philosophical movement of the late 19th and early 20th centuries that was based on an underlying belief in the progress of society.

Learning Objectives

Summarize the ideas that constitute Modernism

Key Takeaways

Key Points

  • Among the factors that shaped modernism were the development of modern industrial societies and the rapid growth of cities, followed by the horror of World War I.
  • Modernism was essentially based on a utopian vision of human life and society and a belief in progress, or moving forward.
  • Modernist ideals pervaded art, architecture, literature, religious faith, philosophy, social organization, activities of daily life, and even the sciences.
  • In painting, modernism is defined by Surrealism, late Cubism, Bauhaus, De Stijl, Dada, German Expressionism, and Matisse as well as the abstractions of artists like Piet Mondrian and Wassily Kandinsky, which characterized the European art scene.
  • The end of modernism and beginning of postmodernism is a hotly contested issue, though many consider it to have ended roughly around 1940.

Modernism is a philosophical movement that, along with cultural trends and changes, arose from enormous transformations in Western society during the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Among the factors that shaped modernism were the development of modern industrial societies and the rapid growth of cities, followed by the horror of World War I.
Modernism was essentially based on a utopian vision of human life and society and a belief in progress, or moving forward. It assumed that certain ultimate universal principles or truths such as those formulated by religion or science could be used to understand or explain reality.

Modernist ideals were far-reaching, pervading art, architecture, literature, religious faith, philosophy, social organization, activities of daily life, and even the sciences. The poet Ezra Pound’s 1934 injunction to “Make it new!” was the touchstone of the movement’s approach towards what it saw as the now obsolete culture of the past. In this spirit, its innovations, like the stream-of-consciousness novel, atonal (or pantonal) and twelve-tone music, divisionist painting and abstract art, all had precursors in the 19th century.

In painting, during the 1920s and the 1930s and the Great Depression, modernism is defined by Surrealism, late Cubism, Bauhaus, De Stijl, Dada, German Expressionism, and Modernist and masterful color painters like Henri Matisse as well as the abstractions of artists like Piet Mondrian and Wassily Kandinsky, which characterized the European art scene. In Germany, Max Beckmann, Otto Dix, George Grosz, and others politicized their paintings, foreshadowing the coming of World War II, while in America, modernism is seen in the form of American Scene painting and the social realism and regionalism movements that contained both political and social commentary dominated the art world.

Modernism is defined in Latin America by painters Joaquín Torres García from Uruguay and Rufino Tamayo from Mexico, while the muralist movement with Diego Rivera, David Siqueiros, José Clemente Orozco, Pedro Nel Gómez, and Santiago Martinez Delgado, and Symbolist paintings by Frida Kahlo, began a renaissance of the arts for the region, characterized by a freer use of color and an emphasis on political messages. The end of modernism and beginning of postmodernism is a hotly contested issue, though many consider it to have ended roughly around 1940.

The work portrays five nude female prostitutes from a brothel. The women appear as slightly menacing and rendered with angular and disjointed body shapes.

Les Desmoiselles D’Avignon by Picasso, 1907: Picasso is a ubiquitous example of a modernist painter.

Post-Impressionism

Post-Impression refers to a genre that rejected the naturalism of Impressionism in favor of using color and form in more expressive manners.

Learning Objectives

Compare and contrast Post-Impressionist techniques with those of Impressionism

Key Takeaways

Key Points

  • Post-Impressionists extended the use of vivid colors, thick application of paint, distinctive brush strokes, and real-life subject matter, and were more inclined to emphasize geometric forms, distort forms for expressive effect, and to use unnatural or arbitrary colors in their compositions.
  • Although they were often exhibited together, Post-Impressionist artists were not in agreement concerning a cohesive movement, and younger painters in the early 20th century worked in geographically disparate regions and in various stylistic categories, such as Fauvism and Cubism.
  • The term ” Post- Impressionism ” was coined by the British artist and art critic Roger Fry in 1910, to describe the development of French art since Manet.

Key Terms

  • Post-Impressionism: (Art) a genre of painting that rejected the naturalism of impressionism, using color and form in more expressive manners.
  • Post-Impressionist: French art or artists belonging to a genre after Manet, which extended the style of Impressionism while rejecting its limitations; they continued using vivid colors, thick application of paint, distinctive brush strokes, and real-life subject matter, but they were more inclined to emphasize geometric forms, to distort form for expressive effect, and to use unnatural or arbitrary color.
  • post-and-lintel: A simple construction method using a header or architrave as the horizontal member over a building void (lintel) supported at its ends by two vertical columns or pillars (posts).

Move from Naturalism

Post-Impression refers to a genre of painting that rejected the naturalism of Impressionism, in favor of using color and form in more expressive manners. The term “Post-Impressionism” was coined by the British artist and art critic Roger Fry in 1910 to describe the development of French art since Manet. Post-Impressionists extended Impressionism while rejecting its limitations. For example, they continued using vivid colors, thick application of paint, distinctive brush strokes, and real-life subject matter, but they were also more inclined to emphasize geometric forms, distort forms for expressive effect, and to use unnatural or arbitrary colors in their compositions.

Significant Artists of Post-Impressionism

Post-Impressionism developed from Impressionism. From the 1880s onward, several artists, including Vincent Van Gogh, Paul Gauguin, Georges Seurat, and Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec, envisioned different precepts for the use of color, pattern, form, and line, deriving these new directions from the Impressionist example. These artists were slightly younger than the Impressionists, and their work contemporaneously became known as Post-Impressionism. Some of the original Impressionist artists also ventured into this new territory. Camille Pissarro briefly painted in a pointillist manner, and even Monet abandoned strict en plein air painting. Paul Cézanne, who participated in the first and third Impressionist exhibitions, developed a highly individual vision emphasizing pictorial structure; he is most often called a post-Impressionist. Although these cases illustrate the difficulty of assigning labels, the work of the original Impressionist painters may, by definition, be categorized as Impressionism.

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Wheat Field with Crows by Van Gogh, 1890: Vincent Van Gogh used swirling brush strokes in many of his Post-Impressionist works.

A Diverse Search for Direction

The Post-Impressionists were dissatisfied with the triviality of subject matter and the loss of structure in Impressionist paintings, although they did not agree on the way forward. Georges Seurat and his followers, for instance, concerned themselves with Pointillism, the systematic use of tiny dots of color. Paul Cézanne set out to restore a sense of order and structure to painting by reducing objects to their basic shapes while retaining the bright fresh colors of Impressionism. Vincent van Gogh used vibrant colors and swirling brush strokes to convey his feelings and his state of mind. Hence, although they were often exhibited together, Post-Impressionist artists were not in agreement concerning a cohesive movement, and younger painters in the early 20th century worked in geographically disparate regions and in various stylistic categories, such as Fauvism and Cubism.

Painting depicts many different people relaxing in a park by the river.

A Sunday Afternoon on the Island of La Grande Jatte by Georges-Pierre Seurat, 1884–86: Georges Seurat’s works are Pointillist, using systematic dots of color to create form and structure.

Cézanne

Cézanne was a French, Post-Impressionist painter whose work highlights the transition from the 19th century to the early 20th century.

Learning Objectives

Discuss the evolution and influence of Cézanne’s style of painting during the Post-Impressionist movement

Key Takeaways

Key Points

  • Cézanne’s early work is often concerned with the figure in the landscape, often depicting groups of large, heavy figures. In Cézanne’s mature work there is a solidified, almost architectural style of painting. To this end, he structurally ordered his perceptions into simple forms and color planes.
  • This exploration rendered slightly different, yet simultaneous, visual perceptions of the same phenomena to provide the viewer with a different aesthetic experience.
  • Cezanne ‘s “Dark Period” from 1861–1870 contains works that are characterized by dark colors and the heavy use of black.
  • The lightness of his Impressionist works contrast sharply with the dramatic resignation found in his final period of productivity from 1898–1905. This resignation informs several still life paintings that depict skulls as their subject.

Key Terms

  • Cezanne: Paul Cézanne (1839–1906) was a French artist and Post-Impressionist painter whose work laid the foundations of the transition from the 19th century conception of artistic endeavour to a new and radically different world of art in the 20th century.
  • Impressionism: A 19th-century art movement that originated with a group of Paris-based artists. Impressionist painting characteristics include relatively small, thin, yet visible brush strokes, open composition, emphasis on accurate depiction of light in its changing qualities (often accentuating the effects of the passage of time), common, ordinary subject matter, inclusion of movement as a crucial element of human perception and experience, and unusual visual angles.
  • Post-Impressionism: (Art) a genre of painting that rejected the naturalism of impressionism, using color and form in more expressive manners.

Introduction

Paul Cézanne (1839–1906) was a French artist and Post- Impressionism painter whose work began the transition from the 19th century conception of artistic endeavor to a new and radically different world of art. Cézanne’s often repetitive brushstrokes are highly characteristic and clearly recognizable. He used planes of color and small brushstrokes to form complex fields and convey intense study of his subjects.

Early Work

Cézanne’s early work is often concerned with the figure in the landscape, often depicting groups of large, heavy figures. Later, he became more interested in working from direct observation, gradually developing a light, airy painting style. Nevertheless, in Cézanne’s mature work, there is development of a solidified, almost architectural style of painting. To this end, he structurally ordered whatever he perceived into simple forms and color planes.

Cézanne was interested in the simplification of naturally occurring forms to their geometric essentials, wanting to “treat nature by the cylinder, the sphere, the cone.” For example, a tree trunk may be conceived of as a cylinder and an apple or orange as a sphere. Additionally, his desire to capture the truth of perception led him to explore binocular graphic vision. This exploration rendered slightly different, yet simultaneous, visual perceptions of the same phenomena, providing the viewer with a different aesthetic experience of depth.

Dark Period

Cezanne’s “Dark Period” in 1861–1870 was comprised of works that are characterized by dark colors and the heavy use of black. They differ sharply from his earlier watercolors and sketches at the École Spéciale de dessin at Aix-en-Provence in 1859. In 1866–67, inspired by the example of Courbet, Cézanne painted a series of paintings with a palette knife. He later called these works, mostly portraits, une couillarde (a coarse word for ostentatious virility). All in all, works of the Dark Period include several erotic or violent subjects.

Painting is a still life depicting a table covered in a thick cloth with a tea cup and large shell on it. A black clock is in the background.

The Black Marble Clock, 1869–1871: The Black Marble Clock, with its heavy use of black and dark colors, exemplifies the type of work Cézanne created during his “Dark Period” in his early career.

After the start of the Franco-Prussian War in July 1870, Cézanne’s canvases grew much brighter and more reflective of Impressionism. Cézanne moved between Paris and Provence, exhibiting in the first (1874) and third Impressionist shows (1877). In 1875, he attracted the attention of collector Victor Chocquet, whose commissions provided some financial relief. On the whole, however, Cézanne’s exhibited paintings attracted hilarity, outrage, and sarcasm.

A pool of water is in the foreground with many different flowers and trees in the background.

Jas de Bouffan, 1876.: Under Pissarro’s influence, Cezanne’s works became much brighter and Impressionist in style.

The lightness of his Impressionist works contrast sharply with his dramatic resignation in his final period of productivity from 1898–1905. This resignation informs several still life paintings that depict skulls as their subject.

Painting depicts four human skulls piled together.

Pyramid of Skulls, c. 1901: The dramatic resignation to death informs several still life paintings Cézanne made between 1898 and 1905.

Cézanne’s explorations of geometric simplification and optical phenomena inspired Picasso, Braque, Gris, and others to experiment with ever more complex multiple views of the same subject. Cézanne thus sparked one of the most revolutionary areas of artistic enquiry of the 20th century, one which was to affect the development of modern art. A prize for special achievement in the arts was created in his memory. The “Cézanne medal” is granted by the French city of Aix en Provence.

Vorticism

Vorticism, an offshoot of Cubism, was a brief modernist movement in British art and poetry of the early 20th century.

Learning Objectives

Describe the short-lived Vorticism movement in Britain

Key Takeaways

Key Points

  • The movement of Vorticism rejected the typical landscapes and nudes popular at the time in favor of a geometric style tending towards abstraction.
  • The movement was announced in 1914 in its first issue of BLAST, Vorticism’s official literary magazine, which declared the movement’s manifesto.
  • Vorticism diverged from Cubism and Futurism. It tried to capture movement in an image. In Vorticist paintings, modern life is shown as an array of bold lines and harsh colors drawing the viewer ‘s eye to the center of the canvas.

Key Terms

  • Industrial Revolution: The major technological, socioeconomic, and cultural change in the late 18th and early 19th century when the economy shifted from one based on manual labor to one dominated by machine manufacture.
  • Vorticism: An offshoot of Cubism; a short-lived modernist movement in British art and poetry of the early 20th century, based in London but international in make-up and ambition.

Vorticism was a brief modernist movement in British art and poetry during the early 20th century. It was based in London but was international in make-up and ambition. As a movement, Vorticism rejected the typical landscapes and nudes of the time in favor of a geometric style tending towards abstraction.

The Vorticism group began with the Rebel Art Centre established by Wyndham Lewis as a break with other traditional schools, and had its intellectual and artistic roots in the Bloomsbury Group, Cubism, and Futurism. Lewis saw Vorticism as an independent alternative to Cubism, Futurism, and Expressionism. Though the style grew out of Cubism, it is more closely related to Futurism in its embrace of dynamism, the machine age, and all things modern. However, Vorticism diverged from both Cubism and Futurism in the way it tried to capture movement in an image. In Vorticist paintings, modern life is shown as an array of bold lines and harsh colors drawing the viewer’s eye to the center of the canvas.

The bold lines and harsh colors of this painting make it appear abstract rather than depicting an actual lake.

The Lake: Lawrence Atkinson, one of the signatories of BLAST, painted The Lake (pen and watercolor on paper) circa 1915–20 inspired by Vorticism.

The Vorticists published two issues of the literary magazine BLAST, edited by Lewis, in June 1914 and July 1915. It contained work by Ezra Pound, T. S. Eliot, and by the Vorticists themselves. Its typographical adventurousness was cited by El Lissitzky as one of the major forerunners of the revolution in graphic design in the 1920s and 1930s.

Top of cover says BLAST on the left and WAR NUMBER on the right. The drawing depicts soldiers drawn using sharp angles and geometric lines. Near the bottom is the date JULY 1915.

BLAST Cover: The cover of the 1915 BLAST demonstrates the Vorticist Movement’s use of geometric style and sharp angles in print and design.

Paintings and sculpture shown at the Rebel Art Centre in 1914, before the formation of the Vorticist Group, were considered “experimental work” by Lewis, Wadsworth, Shakespear and others, who used angular simplification and abstraction in their paintings. This work was contemporary with and comparable to abstraction by continental European artists such as Kandinski, František Kupka, and the Russian Rayist Group. The Vorticists held only one official exhibition in 1915 at the Doré Gallery in London. After this, the movement broke up, largely due to the onset of World War I and public apathy towards their work.

Symbolism

Symbolism was a late 19thcentury art movement of French, Russian, and Belgian origin.

Learning Objectives

Discuss Symbolism’s use of artwork as a search for absolute truths

Key Takeaways

Key Points

  • Symbolism was largely a reaction against naturalism and realism, anti-idealistic styles that were attempts to represent reality in its gritty particularity, and to elevate the humble and the ordinary over the ideal. Symbolism, on the other hand, favored spirituality, the imagination, and dreams.
  • Symbolists believed that art should represent absolute truths that could only be described indirectly. Thus, they wrote and painted in a very metaphorical and suggestive manner, endowing particular images or objects with symbolic meaning.
  • Symbolist artists stressed the power of personal subjectivity, emotions and feelings rather than any reliance on realism to suggest larger truths.
  • Symbolism expressed scenes from nature, human activities, and all other real world phenomena that are not depicted for their own sake, but rather as perceptible surfaces created to represent their esoteric affinities with primordial ideals.

Key Terms

  • symbolism: Symbolism was a late 19th century art movement of French, Russian and Belgian origin in poetry and other arts. Symbolism is the practice of representing things by symbols, or of investing things with a symbolic meaning or character. A symbol is an object, action, or idea that represents something other than itself, often of a more abstract nature. Symbolism creates quality aspects that make literature like poetry and novels more meaningful.

A Move Toward Meaning

Symbolism was a late 19th century art movement of French, Russian, and Belgian origin that manifested in poetry and other arts. The term “symbolism” is derived from the word “symbol” which comes from the Latin symbolum, a symbol of faith, and symbolus, a sign of recognition. Symbolism was largely a reaction against naturalism and realism, anti-idealistic styles that were attempts to represent reality in its gritty particularity, and to elevate the humble and the ordinary over the ideal. Symbolism, on the other hand, favored spirituality, the imagination, dreams, emotions, and the personal subjectivity of the artist as a tool to illustrate larger truths. Thematically, Symbolist artists tended to focus on themes surrounding the occult, decadence, melancholy, and death.

It depicts Hale standing on the balcony, falling to her death while also lying on the bloody pavement below.

The Suicide of Dorothy Hale by Frida Kahlo, 1939: While this painting was a commission, it still demonstrates Kahlo’s signature use of symbolism to express her subjective truth.

A Search for Hidden Truth

Symbolists believed that art should represent absolute truths that could only be described indirectly. Thus, they wrote and painted in a very metaphorical and suggestive manner, endowing particular images or objects with symbolic meaning. Jean Moréas published The Symbolist Manifesto (“Le Symbolisme“) in Le Figaro on 18 September 1886 (see 1886 in poetry). Moréas announced that symbolism was hostile to “plain meanings, declamations, false sentimentality, and matter-of-fact description,” and that its goal was to “clothe the Ideal in a perceptible form ” whose “goal was not in itself, but whose sole purpose was to express the Ideal.” In other words, symbolism expressed scenes from nature, human activities, and all other real world phenomena not for their own sake, but as perceptible surfaces created to represent their esoteric affinities with primordial ideals.

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La mort du fossoyeur: La mort du fossoyeur (“The death of the gravedigger”) by Carlos Schwabe is a visual compendium of symbolist motifs. Death and angels, pristine snow, and the dramatic poses of the characters all express symbolist longings for transfiguration “anywhere, out of the world.”

The symbolist style has frequently been confused with decadence and, by the late 1880s, the terms “symbolism” and “decadence” were understood to be almost synonymous. Though the aesthetics of the styles can be considered similar in some ways, the two remain distinct. The symbolists emphasized dreams, ideals, and fantastical subject matter, while the Decadents cultivated précieux, ornamented, or hermetic styles, and morbid subject matters. The symbolist painters were an important influence on expressionism and surrealism in painting, two movements that descend directly from symbolism proper.

The harlequins, paupers, and clowns of Pablo Picasso ‘s “Blue Period” show the influence of symbolism, and especially of Puvis de Chavannes. In Belgium, symbolism became so popular that it came to be thought of as a national style: the static strangeness of painters like René Magritte can be considered as a direct continuation of symbolism. The work of some symbolist visual artists, such as Jan Toorop, directly affected the curvilinear forms of art nouveau.

A young, shirtless man is being caressed by a cheetah in a sphinx-like pose with a woman’s head.

The Caress: Belgian symbolist Fernand Khnopff’s The Caress

Art Nouveau

Art Nouveau was an international style of art and architecture that was most popular from 1890–1910.

Learning Objectives

Describe the origins and characteristics of Art Noveau

Key Takeaways

Key Points

  • Art Nouveau was an international style of art and architecture that was most popular from 1890–1910. The name “Art Nouveau” is French for “new art.” The origins of Art Nouveau are found in the resistance of the artist William Morris to the cluttered compositions and the revival tendencies of the 19th century.
  • A reaction to academic art of the 19th century, Art Nouveau was inspired by natural forms and structures, exemplified by curved lines, asymmetry, natural motifs, and intricate embellishment.
  • Art Nouveau is considered a “total style,” meaning that it pervaded many forms of art and design such as architecture, interior design, the decorative arts, and the visual arts. According to the philosophy of the style, art should strive to be a way of life.

Key Terms

  • Art Nouveau: Art Nouveau is an international philosophy and style of art, architecture, and applied art—especially the decorative arts—that was most popular during 1890–1910.
  • japonisme: The influence of Japanese art and culture on European art.
  • syncopated: A variety of music rhythms that come unexpected.

Background

Art Nouveau is an international style of art and architecture that was most popular from 1890–1910 AD. The name Art Nouveau is French for “new art.” A reaction to academic art of the 19th century, it was inspired by natural forms and structures, not only in flowers and plants, but also in curved lines. It is also considered a philosophy of furniture design. Art Nouveau furniture is structured according to the whole building and made part of ordinary life. Art Nouveau was most popular in Europe, but its influence was global. It is a very varied style with frequent localized tendencies.

Image of the facade. Stone work is flowing. There are few straight lines, and much of the façade is decorated with a colorful mosaic made of broken ceramic tiles.

Art Nouveau: Barcelona: The Casa Batlló, already built in 1877, was remodelled in the Barcelona manifestation of Art Nouveau, modernisme, by Antoni Gaudí and Josep Maria Jujol during 1904–1906.

Before the term Art Nouveau became common in France, le style moderne (“the modern style”) was the more frequent designation. Maison de l’Art Nouveau was the name of the gallery initiated during 1895 by the German art dealer Samuel Bing in Paris that featured exclusively modern art. The fame of his gallery was increased at the 1900 Exposition Universelle, where he presented coordinated installations of modern furniture, tapestries and objets d’art. These decorative displays became so strongly associated with the style, that the name of his gallery subsequently provided a commonly used term for the entire style. Likewise, Jugend (Youth) was the illustrated weekly magazine of art and lifestyle of Munich, founded in 1896 by Georg Hirth. Jugend was instrumental in promoting the Art Nouveau style in Germany. As a result, Jungenstil, or Youth Style, became the German word for the style.

Origins of Art Nouveau

The origins of Art Nouveau are found in the resistance of the artist William Morris to the cluttered compositions and revivalist tendencies of the 19th century. His theories helped initiate the Art Nouveau movement. About the same time, the flat perspective and strong colors of Japanese wood block prints, especially those of Katsushika Hokusai, had a strong effect on the formulation of Art Nouveau. The Japonisme that was popular in Europe during the 1880s and 1890s was particularly influential on many artists with its organic forms and references to the natural world.

Although Art Nouveau acquired distinctly localized tendencies as its geographic spread increased, some general characteristics are indicative of the form. A description published in Pan magazine of Hermann Obrist’s wall hanging Cyclamen (1894), described it as “sudden violent curves generated by the crack of a whip,” which became well known during the early spread of Art Nouveau. Subsequently, the term “whiplash” is frequently applied to the characteristic curves employed by Art Nouveau artists. Such decorative “whiplash” motifs, formed by dynamic, undulating, and flowing lines in a syncopated rhythm, are found throughout the architecture, painting, sculpture, and other forms of Art Nouveau design.

Art Nouveau as a Total Style

Art Nouveau is now considered a “total style,” meaning that it can be seen in architecture, interior design, decorative arts (including jewelry furniture, textiles, household silver, and other utensils and lighting), and the visual arts. According to the philosophy of the style, art should strive to be a way of life, and thereby encompass all parts. For many Europeans, it was possible to live in an Art Nouveau-inspired house with Art Nouveau furniture, silverware, crockery, jewelry, cigarette cases, etc. Artists thus desired to combine the fine arts and applied arts, even for utilitarian objects.

Desk and chair by Hector Guimard, 1909–12

Desk and Chair by Hector Guimard, 1909–12: The curving, serpentine woodwork seen on this desk is characteristic of Art Nouveau, which often drew stylistic influence from the natural world.

Art Nouveau in architecture and interior design eschewed the eclectic revival styles of the 19th century. Art Nouveau designers selected and “modernized” some of the more abstract elements of Rococo style, such as flame and shell textures. They also advocated the use of very stylized organic forms as a source of inspiration, expanding their natural repertoire to use seaweed, grasses, and insects.

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The doorway at place Etienne Pernet, 24 (Paris 15e), 1905 by Alfred Wagon, architect.: The asymmetrical and curvilinear influence of the natural world is again seen in the ironwork of this doorway at Place Etienne Pernet in Paris.

In Art Nouveau painting, two-dimensional pieces were drawn and printed in popular forms such as advertisements, posters, labels, and magazines. Japanese wood-block prints, with their curved lines, patterned surfaces, contrasting voids, and flatness of visual plane, also inspired Art Nouveau painting. Some line and curve patterns became graphic clichés that were later found in works of artists from many parts of the world.

Black and white poster depicting two women wearing flowing, intricate dresses. The woman in the foreground is wearing a giant skirt that resembles a peacock feather.

The Peacock Skirt by Aubrey Beardsley, 1893: Aubrey Beardsley is an artist known for his posters and often associated with Art Nouveau due to his use of elaborate decorative pattern and sweeping curvilinear line.