Art Nouveau. It was a style of art and architecture that lasted a short time, from about 1890 to 1914, ending with the start of World War I. You would recognize the style from Tiffany lamps, for example…lots of flowers, curved lines, nude sensuous women. There will never be another Art Nouveau building or item made, as art periods are defined by their dates of origin. You could create something in “Art Nouveau style,” or “Impressionism style,” but their dates define the real thing. Yet, in just over 20 years of Art Nouveau, the then-wealthy city of Riga had more than 800 Art Nouveau buildings constructed, mostly between 1904 and 1914! Its most prolific designer, as seen in the breathtaking building in the first photo, was Mikhail Eisenstein, a civil engineer (not an architect) who created about half of the 800 Art Nouveau buildings in Riga.
After showing each building in its totality, we tried to get closeups of the detail. It was hard, as some of these gorgeous buildings are on narrow streets; no matter how far back we stood, it wasn’t always far enough to shoot the entire building. The neat thing about Eisenstein’s buildings is that, as an engineer, he used a lot of decoration that looked like bolts and rivets…items of his trade! We commented that the world is so fortunate to have these buildings still there, sitting like gifts after 100 years. Luckily, only one of the Art Nouveau buildings was destroyed in World War II.
Something we learned on our tour is that Art Nouveau attempted to create buildings based on their function (you’ve heard of form follows function?), designing from the inside out. Rather than a building having exactly similar windows on the outside, an Art Nouveau building might have a very large window for the living room, to include a lot of sunlight, while a bathroom or bedroom might have a small, or high, window. After each room was designed, the artwork was the frosting on the cake, so to speak.
There is a closeup below of a building we showed in our last post, with flowers, a sun, green vines, and lots of gold around a doorway. We were told that this is very un-Latvian. They are not a colorful, outgoing, sunny, happy people…rather, they are introverted, they like dark plain colors, and they always expect it to be cold and rainy. This was said proudly, by the way. That colorful building is up for sale in the Old Town, which you might think would command a hefty price, but not in Latvia. People would rather buy, and live, in houses away from the tourists and the noise. So, at the asking price of 1.5 million euros, the building has sat unsold for quite some time. Do you see the brown, dreary, Gothic-looking building below that needs a facelift and some paint??? Believe it or not, THAT is an Art Nouveau building designed by a native Latvian, and they believe it is more of an example of their culture and mindset.
After all these gorgeous buildings and details are some other pictures from walking around the city…the Powder Tower, Riga Nativity of Christ Orthodox Cathedral, and the Freedom Monument. The last three photos are from Bastejkalna parks, across the street from Old Town and right on the middle of the city. Isn’t it peaceful and pretty? It is hard to imagine that it is surrounded by traffic, roads, tour groups, noise, and daily life. It must be exactly as it looked 100 years ago, prior to modern life.