From the "Postcards from the western world - Art Nouveau in the mail" exhibition at the Center for Jugendstil Museum in Alesund:
A Christmas card printed in England in 1843 is considered the world's first postcard. However, the glory days of the postcard were the years between 1898 and 1918, and coincided with Art Nouveau. The main reasons for the enormous appeal of postacrds was the pictures they featured and the fact that they were quicker to write than a letter. Technologically, this explosion of interest in postcards was enabled by improvements in printing techniques. The impressions gained from this multitude of pictures must have helped to shape people's visual tastes and attitudes.
Postcards were also a simple, cheap and efficient way to distribute pictures. Since part of the ideological foundation for the Art Nouveau movement was that beauty and art should be present in all of our everyday lives, it is not surprising that they embraced postcards as a medium. The postcards exhibited in this room are of high artistic value, and were published by Wiener Werkstatte, a group of architects and artists who promoted the idea that art should be accessible to everyone.
One of the most important sources of inspiration for the Art Nouveau movement was Japanese prints. This influence of the arts of Japan on those of the West starting in the second half of the 19th century is known as "Japonism".
The vast majority of the mass-produced pictures used on postcards were not of great artistic value. Nevertheless, they provide us with an important insight into the cultural history of the Art Nouveau period. For instance, the contrasting depictions of women reflect the ambiguous attitudes of the time. On the one hand, women are presented as objects of male sexual desire or as beings possessing an innate savageness. On the other hand, there are frequent depictions of "new women": active, modern women who go skiing or fishing, play tennis, drive cars or go cycling.
Children are often featured on postcards, "especially in Britain and northern Europe, where the cult and respect for childhood is most deeply rooted", according to the book "Art Nouveau Postcards". Carl Larsson and Jenny Nystrom in Sweden, Lisbeth Bergh in Norway and Jessie Wilcox Smith in the US were representatives of this tendency. But children were also a recurring theme on postcards produced in many other countries, and were particularly popular on Christmas or New Year cards, as symbols of renewal, happiness and hope. Religious festivals, and particularly Christmas, were the peak seasons for sending postcards, but people also sent postcards from their travels, sometimes featuring subjects that were not idyllic, including symbols of modernity such as cities, electricity, trains and aeroplanes. The new phenomenon of mass advertising also found its way onto postcards. Several artists, such as Fidus (Hugo Hoppener), an archetype of turn-of-the-century decadence, and Raphael Kirchner, with his depictions of sensual women and strong Japanese influence, demonstrate that it was possible to create distinctive art on postcards.
There are countless ways of trying to classify this flood of images. You can organise them by country, by artist, or by theme. One such subject might be "hats", as there are extraordinary examples of this now almost obsolete item of clothing from the period. The "whiplash" is the most basic design of Art Nouveau, a line which starts as a curve from one side before doubling sharply back on itself. There are inumerable variations on this line, and sometimes it is only the whiplash frame around a motif that reveals when a card was printed. As people have always enjoyed a good laugh, the postcards also frequently feature caricatures and comic themes, and what is considered funny can tell us a lot about the era and its culture. However, the postcards also reflect war and nationalistic propaganda. Soldiers in the trenches were able to choose between cards made especially for them, which they could send home to their loved ones free of charge. The illustrators of these cards had to give a neutral depiction of a soldier's life, sanitised of the true horror of war. One of the cards was also an advertisement for biscuits.
From around 1916 onward, the style of the postcards shifts clearly towards Art Deco, which acted as a transition between the gentle curves of Art Nouveau and the stricter simplicity of funtionalism.