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Whiplash (decorative art)

Whiplash designs in the interior of the Hôtel Tassel by Victor Horta (1895)

The whiplash or whiplash line is a motif of decorative art and design that was particularly popular in Art Nouveau. It is an asymmetrical, sinuous line, often in an ornamental S curve, usually inspired by natural forms such as plants and flowers, which suggests dynamism and movement.[1] It took its name from a woven fabric panel called "Coup de Fouet" ("Whiplash") by the German artist Hermann Obrist (1895) which depicted the stems and roots of the cyclamen flower. The panel was later reproduced by the textile workshop of the Darmstadt Artists Colony.

Curling whiplash lines were modelled after natural and vegetal forms, particularly the cyclamen, iris, orchid, thistle, mistletoe, holly, water lily and from the stylized lines of the swan, peacock, dragonfly and butterfly.[2]

In architecture, furniture and other decorative arts, the decoration was entirely integrated with the structure. The whiplash lines were frequently interlaced and combined with twists and scrolls to inspire a poetic and romantic association. Femininity and romanticism was represented by the lines of long curling hair intertwined with flowers.[2]

Designers such as Henry van de Velde used the whiplash line to create a sense of tension and dynamism. He wrote: "A line is a force like other elementary forces. Several lines put together but opposed act like the presence of multiple forces.[3]

Noted designers who used the whiplash line included Aubrey Beardsley, Hector Guimard, Alphonse Mucha and Victor Horta. In the Art Nouveau period, the whiplash line appeared frequently in furniture design, railings and other ornamental iron work, floor tiles, posters and jewelry. It became so common that critics of Art Nouveau ridiculed it as "the noodle style".[4]

  1. ^ "The whiplash line". Victoria and Albert Museum. Retrieved 2 January 2020.
  2. ^ a b Renault & Lazé 2006, p. 107-108.
  3. ^ Fahr-Becker 2015, p. 152.
  4. ^ "The whiplash line". Victoria and Albert Museum. Retrieved 2 January 2020.