Sense and Sensuality: Art Nouveau 1890-1914

Sainsbury Centre for Visual Arts

14 February – 14 December 2014

Until 26 April

£2.50 with National Art Pass (£5 standard entry)

From 26 April

£4 with National Art Pass (£8 standard entry) to include entry to Monument, Sense and Sensuality and John Virtue: The Sea

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Exploring the sensual nature of Art Nouveau through examples of sculpture, graphics, books, ceramics and furniture.

The period 1890 to 1914, which saw the rise and fall of Art Nouveau, was a complicated and turbulent time. Millions of people migrated to rapidly growing cities where aspiration sat alongside anxiety and doubt, and values of the past clashed with ideas about the future.

Of its time, Art Nouveau drew on issues such as personal and sexual liberation, feminism, youth revolution, religion, mythology, psychology, narcotics and the concept of mass manufactured art, enabling a widespread questioning of values.

Here, special focus is given to its tendency towards the erotic. Key exhibits include Larche's Loïe Fuller lamp which perfectly encapsulates the female form, and Bouval's Sommeil ou La Femme aux Pavots - a depiction of a sexually liberated modern woman​, with undercurrents of addiction and narcotics.

However, Art Nouveau faced heavy criticism and, accused of being superficial, decadent, promiscuous and even debauched, it slowly faded out of fashion.

It wasn't until the 1960s that it began to re-emerge, with examples on display revealing how it became the style of choice for stage sets and record cover designs of progressive rock and pop musicians, and also infiltrated aspects of the Pop Art Movement.

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Included are Felix Vallotton's original L’Art Nouveau poster, which was seen at Siegfried Bing’s Maison de l’Art Nouveau in 1895 and was the very first public presentation of the name, and Aubrey Vincent Beardsley’s Salome prints, which many believe to be the first true works in the style.

Meanwhile, one of the most enduring images of the period, Steinlen's The Black Cat, a poster for the night club of that name, reflects the movement's interest in mysticism and symbolism.

Venue information

Opening times

Tue – Fri, 10am – 6pm
Sat - Sun, 10am - 5pm

Closed Mon, including bank holidays.

Closed 23 Dec – 2 Jan

Free Parking for exhibition visitors – see website for more details

"Art Fund" is the operating name of the National Art Collections Fund, a charity registered in England and Wales (209174) and Scotland (SC038331)