Art Nouveau, although short-lived, defined the social landscape of turn of the century Europe. The movement sought to socialize all art forms, viewing crafts and decorative arts as equally valuable to what has historically been known as ‘high art,’ painting and sculpture. Artists working within the style created modern motifs blending organic curvilinear shapes with angular designs. Art Nouveau can be seen as a rejection of the ornate art celebrated in the Victorian-era and the patronizing academic attitude often credited for the decline in the prestige of decorative art.
In 1894 the French department store La Belle Jardinière commissioned Grasset to complete a series of twelve original artworks for a calendar the fashionable retailer would then publish. In twelve iterations corresponding to each calendar month, Grasset depicts beautiful young women in seasonal costumes and gardens that incorporate his signature Art Nouveau style into whimsical color wood engravings. In “Octobre” a woman is shown raking leaves in an autumn garden full of green, yellow and brown foliage. Despite partaking in yard work the woman is elegantly dressed, advertising La Belle Jardinière. She wears a long-sleeved yellow dress and a wide brimmed hat protecting her from the elements; her skirt is blowing in the breeze.
Eugène Grasset’s diverse body of work exemplifies the attempt to eliminate the hierarchy of the arts. Best known for his poster art, his career spanned a multitude of different media including drawing, sculpture, architecture, tapestry, ceramics and jewelry-making. Grasset approached each endeavor with the same enthusiasm and did not discriminate against lesser-appreciated craft-art. The 19th century had been a time of great industrial achievement yet the quality and workmanship of decorative arts was not yet up to par. Grasset, and other Art Nouveau artists, returned the skill to craft-making.
All twelve images can be seen here and at The Christina Gallery. Read more of Eugène Grasset’s biography here.