The First Moderns: Art Nouveau, from Nature to Abstraction

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Vase, c.1920 © Anderson Collection of Art Nouveau
The First Moderns: Art Nouveau, from Nature to Abstraction
Curated by: Paul Greenhalgh

University of East Anglia
Norwich NR4 7TJ
United Kingdom
February 4th, 2012 - December 1st, 2013

Other (outside main areas)
+44 1603 593199
Tue-Sun 10-5


The First Moderns is the first in a series of spectacular displays dedicated to the history of Modernism.

Treating Art Nouveau as the first modern design movement, the exhibition explores the progression of the style from natural to more abstract, geometric forms.

Drawing on the Sainsbury Centre’s permanent collections, The First Moderns highlights the role of artists and designers of the Art Nouveau style in the rise of Modernism. The display offers an opportunity to see the Centre’s Anderson Collection in a new way, comparing the naturalistic vitality of René Lalique’s jewellery and glass by Emile Gallé with the controlled style of Louis Majorelle and the geometric forms of Charles Rennie Mackintosh and Josef Hoffmann.

The display focuses on the period from 1880 to 1930, engaging with new ideas emerging at the time around culture, society, politics and science. The artworks reflect the explosion of interest in the natural world but also the growth of urban life and the rise of consumerism. The First Moderns features loans from public institutions such as the Victoria and Albert Museum and Glasgow School of Art, and a number of private collections. This is also a first chance to see acquisitions to the Sainsbury Centre collections of significant works by Josef Hoffmann and Gustave Serrurier-Bovy.

The First Moderns: Art Nouveau, from Nature to Abstraction is curated by a team led by Professor Paul Greenhalgh.

As featured in the BBC Four series Sex and Sensibility: The Allure of Art Nouveau