Dragonflies and Butterflies in Art Nouveau

Dragonflies and Butterflies in Art Nouveau Dragonfly bedButterfly Art

Unsurprisingly, dragonflies and butterflies have been used for inspiration by artists for 100’s of years and, as an artist myself, I just love them.  Here, I am going to have a look a little closer in to why these insects were so inspiring.

There are many pieces of work to look at over the years, especially in Art Nouveau, but why have they captured the imagination of so many people?

Is it because of their fantastic transparent and iridescent wings with their incredible structure and almost engineered lattice framework?  Or is it the beautiful metallic colourings on the thorax?  Or is it their magical ability to transcend from one life to another, escaping the aquatic realms of their larval past to make their ascension to the other life, to float free spirited on warm summer’s winds.

Art Nouveau

Dragonflies, in particular, are a very poplar subject matter in the Art Nouveau movement. Art Nouveau, with its wonderful flowing lines and hidden fantasies, is full of symbolism.  The movement was a response to the profound social changes and industrialization of every day life and the style of the moment was, in part, inspired by Japanese art.

Lalique DragonflyDragonfly JewelryLalique ButterflyJapan had just been opened up to the rest of the world. It was known as the Land of the Dragonflies and it was a very inspiring symbol of wealth and power, a renewal after great hardship. The belief was so strong that the mighty Samurai warriors decorated their armour with its image. Even today the dragonfly is still Japan’s national emblem and Japanese farmers believe that the presence of dragonflies in their rice fields means that they can expect a good harvest.

Art Nouveau jewellers borrowed these images of butterflies and dragonflies from Japanese art.  They would use the most exquisite enamel, a material that emulated the transparent features of an insect’s wing.  This is what make’s these piece’s so magical and stunning.

In metalwork, Gaudi’s fantastic Art Nouveau entrance was inspired by the butterfly wing.  This is one of my favourite pieces by him.  And Likewise, Louise Comfort Tiffany also used both butterflies and dragonflies in his lamps.

Guadi Gate Taffany LampWhen my Granny passed away, she left me her Tiffany style Art Nouveau lamp because I loved it so much.  When the light was switched on, I would immediately be immersed in all the different colours of the glass; and all the flowing lines and little details of nature would add a touch of fantasy.  The dragonfly wings would stand out to me against the light and this must have made a mark in my brain, kind of like when you look at a light and then switch it off and the light remains burned into your retina.  But this vision never left and so it was from this that I drew my inspiration for my cast iron cookbook stand.

BexSimon’s Dragonfly/Tiffany’s inspired Art Nouveau cook book stand

Bexsimon Cook book standApril’s Gate was another work of mine inspired by dragonflies.  It was a gate commissioned by a primary school in Hersham to commemorate the death of one of the pupils, April, who died from cystic fibrosis.

April's GateI worked with the kids to design the gate which was based on the story of the water beetles who kept loosing their friends, never to be seen again after they climb up the water lily stem.  The story tells how when the beetles reach the top of the stem they break through the water onto the lily pad and transform into a beautiful dragonfly to fly in the warm sun, but they can never return to the bottom of the pond to tell their friends what happened.

And so these insects not only inspire us and those before us in the Art Nouveau movement in creating beautiful art but help our children in understanding death.



1 Comment
  • DaveH
    Posted at 12:25h, 18 June

    Great article – thanks a lot

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