The Thomas Jefferson building of the Library of Congress is just across the street from the Capitol building in Washington DC. It may be the most beautiful building in the world. Completed in 1898, it is covered in sculptures and murals portraying gilded age ideals; one section of painting shows personifications of the various scientific disciplines from astronomy to biology.
If you are a fan of art nouveau works, as I am, the Thomas Jefferson building is almost overwhelming, draped from head-to-toe in exciting color and design. Below are just a few of the pictures I took. Additionally, the library houses several excellent rotating exhibits. DC has a lot of great institutions to visit, and Library of Congress should definitely be one you seek out.
I pretty much love anything art nouveau. So whenever I go to European cities, I look to see if they have any art nouveau icons. In Prague there is Mucha, in Berlin there is the Bröhan museum, and in Brussels there is Victor Horta. There is a Horta Museum, as well as a number of buildings he and others designed nearby. A bunch of walking tours (like this one with a nice video) can help you cover the various buildings or get a peek from wherever you currently are via the pictures.
Like many architects of the period, he also designed the furniture, wallpaper, and interior structures like staircases. The museum has great examples of these. Alas no pictures were allowed and there aren’t any fair use pics. But if you’re curious you can google for yourself. Here are some pictures of his lovely buildings:
Hôtel Tassel in Brussels
Horta museum building
Horta museum building
Old England building, designed by Barnabé Guimard, closer to the Grand Place in Brussels. (not Horta, but still very cool. This hosts the instrument museum so you can go inside and enjoy that too.
I love to go to art museums to new style ideas. On a recent trip to the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts (VMFA), I visited the art nouveau section and saw a piece by English artist Walter Crane:
Walter Crane plate at VMFA.
The plate mentioned that Walter Crane did children’s books.
So I went home and ordered a couple of his books. A Floral Fantasy in an Old English Garden anthropomorphizes the flowers of the gardens in beautiful art nouveau fashion. Below is a photo of one of the pages. This page depicts bachelor’s buttons. All the little details, down to their boots, are done to match the characteristics of the plant. Another panel shows a battle between a thistle knight and a snapdragon. Walter Crane has several children’s books besides this one. Since Walter Crane died in 1915, his works have entered the creative commons, and they can be had very cheap, especially digitally.
Walter Crane also did more adult works. Neptune’s Horses reminds me of the scene in Lord of the Rings where the elf summons up the waters to fend off the nazgul, but it was painted over a century before.
My favorite style is art nouveau. I first learned about art nouveau when I was living in Prague. The works of Alphonse Mucha, a prominent Czech art nouveau artist, remain throughout the city. There is a museum of his various prints and a few paintings, that explains the motivation behind his work. The municipal house (Obecní dům) is in the art nouveau style, with stained glass windows done by Mucha. The Prague castle also has a stained glass work by Mucha, among its many others. Mucha often depicted images of slavic nationalism and women with slavic features. Mucha’s interest in the slavic and czech identity, and his works on this identity, make learning about him an interesting way to learn about Czech history.
One of Mucha’s famous posters. (pic from Wikipedia)
Thumbnails above, from left: Mucha stained glass at the Municipal House, the Municipal House and the Powder Tower, and Mucha stained glass at Prague Castle.
Besides the locations in Prague, I’ve visited several other Art Nouveau, Art Deco, and Bauhaus collections. The Bröhan museum in west Berlin and the Horta museum in Brussels are both great. You can also sometimes find museum collections online, like the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts.