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2/10/2011 Houston —At the turn of the 20th century, many artists, such as Emile Gallé, Edvard Munch and František Kupka, were exploring nature, dreams and the erotic in their art. Circa 1900: Decorative Arts at the Turn of the Century offers a look at this pivotal artistic moment and presents drawings, paintings, architecture and objects, many of which have never been on view at the MFAH. Over 30 works will be on display at Alice Pratt Brown Gallery of the MFAH from February 26 to July 31, 2011.

The Art Nouveau, or ―New Art, movement became popular in France as a reaction to the Victorian era. Painter Alphonse Mucha catapulted the movement when his poster advertising the play Gismonda starring Sarah Bernhardt was displayed on Paris streets. Art Nouveau sought to incorporate art into everyday life and objects in highly decorative fashion. Intricate patterns and flowing floral designs were used in architecture, textiles, jewelry, household items, visual arts and decorative pieces.

―Much of Circa 1900 is about a feeling, said Christine Gervais, assistant curator, decorative arts, at the MFAH. ―At this time in the decorative arts, artists were looking at the natural world, and their interpretations were often simultaneously dark and beautiful. This exhibition offers a glimpse into the European mindset at the turn of the century, and allows the viewer to question not only what the pieces might say in the interior of a home, but also what interesting things they might say about the person who owns them.

Circa 1900 features a balcony railing designed by Hector Guimard. Guimard, a French architect, interior designer, and one of the leading artists of the Art Nouveau movement, is most known for designing the entrances to the Paris Métro. The black wrought-iron details of the balcony are shaped in whiplash curves—decorative vine-like lines that express the organic feeling of the movement and are one of Art Nouveau’s most distinguishing motifs. The work is on loan from The Menil Collection, along with several other objects collected by Dominique de Menil in the 1970s.

This exhibition will mark the first time Czech artist František Kupka’s The Yellow Scale (La Gamme Jaune) (c. 1907) and Black Idol or Defiance (L’Entêtement ou L’Idole Noire) (1900), both from the MFAH collection, have been on display together. The Yellow Scale (La Gamme Jaune) depicts the artist sitting in a chair, cigarette in one hand and a yellow book in another. This book refers to decadent French novels, which were usually bound in yellow. Editions of other yellow books will also be on display.

While much of the art of the turn of the century is about beauty, there is also a sense of the darkness of nature. Kupka’s Black Idol or Defiance is mystical and moody, reflecting his interest in occultism and spiritualism—Kupka had been a medium in Vienna. Other unsettling works in the exhibition include the deep green Dragon Vase (c. 1900), with sharp lines and forked dragon tongue, Edvard Munch’s eerie depiction of the Madonna and child in Madonna (Liebendes Weib) (1895-1902) and a brass coat hook made to resemble a serpent, coiled and ready to attack.

Several decorative vases by Emile Gallé will be on view, including the cameo-cut Water Lily Vase (c. 1895-1900), which the artist created by delicately cutting away thin layers of glass to create the illusion of blood-red lilies floating on cool green water. Also on view is a Dutch vase manufactured by Rozenburg Den Haag and decorated by H.G.A. Huyvenaar. The imaginatively painted, eggshell-thin porcelain piece is a recent addition to MFAH permanent collection.

On the occasion of Circa 1900, works from the MFAH collection of American decorative art, made circa 1900, will be installed in front of Louis Comfort Tiffany’s window, A Wooded Landscape in Three Panels (c. 1905), including a chair by the Roycroft Shops, and an imaginative and decorative table by John Scott Bradstreet.

Visitors will also have a chance to see photographs of the same period in Heinrich Kühn, on view March 6 to May 30, 2011. Kühn, an important figure in the international Pictorialist movement of the early 1900s, blended Modernist and Old Master traditions, and experimented with printing techniques.