The turn of the 20th century saw the Art Nouveau movement flourish across the arts, giving way, among other things, to some of the most beguiling and breathtakingly decorative architecture in European history. The rapid pace of technological, philosophical and political developments was unprecedented and the combination of new building materials on offer plus a diverse range of new stimuli – from the increasing influence of the Orient to the seminal writings of Sigmund Freud, which encouraged a thorough mining of the subconscious to achieve order in chaos – set architects’ imaginations ablaze.
Its power was wide reaching, the most notable pioneers hailing from Belgium (Victor Horta), Austria (Josef Hoffmann and Adolf Loos), France (Hector Guimard), Spain (Antoni Gaudí), Italy (Alfredo Campanini) and Great Britain (Charles Rennie Mackintosh), as well as various parts of eastern Europe, including Prague, Budapest, Moscow and Istanbul. The resulting creations are defined by a striking ornamentality and a fondness for asymmetrical compositions, sensual curvature and bold lines. To approach and enter an Art Nouveau building is to be drawn into a new world, where light dances off the undulating, reflective surfaces, and both interior and exterior is adorned with depictions of flora and fauna in the form of murals, stained glass, ceramic tiles, sculpted detailing and more.
For Japanese image-maker Keiichi Tahara, the late master of light, a stirring encounter with Mackintosh’s iconic Glasgow School of Art in 1979 prompted a five-year mission across Europe to capture the inimitable spirit and ethereal quality of fin de siècle structures on camera. Now, just two weeks after his untimely death at the age of 65, a glorious three-volume set of books showcases over 500 of his most spectacular photographs from this trip, spanning both famous and lesser-known Art Nouveau gems.
“Fin de siècle architecture is clearly not a simple, functional architecture,” Tahara writes in the books' introduction, “painting, sculpture and other art forms are involved in the elaboration of its design. There is a force that proceeds from the hand of each artist that goes beyond simple decoration to create a vital energy.” Tahara believed that the full effect of this collective vitality could only be felt “through direct contact with the works themselves” – but to flick through his atmospheric details of sinuously spiralling staircases; metalwork columns blossoming into delicate leaves; and rays of dappled sunlight streaming into shadowy spaces through tinted glass, is without a doubt the next best thing.
Keiichi Tahara. Architecture Fin-de-Siècle is out in July 2017 published by Taschen.