The curving, distinctive lines of Art Nouveau buildings retain their glamour even when caked with dust or overgrown with vegetation. In fact, it might be even more fitting to witness an Art Nouveau creation fade back into nature.
Sven Fennema and Helena Aguilar Mayans, two photographers we love (and have featured in past issues), have a habit of haunting such abandoned places all over Europe—and illuminating the lost beauty they find there. These first two shots from Fennema are both from Italy. The first is from an abandoned villa in a “silent part” of a small town in Tuscany. Imagine entering the place and finding a fully intact fresco like the one opposite, created by the popular Italian artist Galileo Chini, a leader in the Stile Liberty movement—Italy’s version of Art Nouveau.
“Finding this unique artwork made me happy and sad at the same time,” Fennema says. “The mood and light with the patina made it look so beautiful, but also it is almost clear that the decay won’t be stopped and that this piece of history will be gone forever.” Next is a scene from a much larger villa in Lombardy, a spectacular location with sweeping grounds—and this elaborate abandoned structure in the garden. “I always love to experience Art Nouveau in the abandoned places I visit, especially its symmetry and intense decoration,” Fennema says. He even has a trick for finding these extraordinary locations. “Many Art Nouveau buildings were built in the time of industrialization in Europe, especially in Italy,” he says, “and so many owners of the growing factories created their villas in this style. I often research and visit factories along with the abandoned villas of these former owners.”
Aguilar Mayans, whose work is featured on pages 30 to 32, has a similar love for abandoned beauty and is working on a project that explores the aesthetic of fin de siècle art. Abandoned Art Nouveau places around Europe have provided the perfect setting for her project, especially the locations seen here from Italy and Portugal. “What I really like about Art Nouveau,” she says, “is this idea that if we are far away from nature, we can bring it inside in all its forms and phases. All the forms of Art Nouveau inspire me and make me dream about flowers and nature.” She also loves the secret quality of these hidden, derelict places overtaken by wildness, entering a structure that seems run-down and bland only to find it bursting with beauty inside—“dream places,” she says, “like secret gardens.”
Unlike Fennema, Aguilar Mayans uses a model in her images (her best friend Carla) and carefully studies Art Nouveau painters to plan the clothing, accessories, and poses. Her whole project is inspired by the ideas of escapism and dreaming. “I find the Art Nouveau period very inspiring,” she says. “So many social changes were taking place, and I feel artists found a way of escapism and dreaming through this movement. And I think it’s a point of view that’s still very contemporary.”