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What Are the Characteristics of Art Nouveau Flowers?

By Terrie Brockmann
Updated May 23, 2024
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Artists who created the art nouveau–style artwork often used flowers and other natural forms as inspiration. Art nouveau flowers generally have larger-than-life, stylized elements, such as long stamens, vine-like stems, or oversized petals. Most of the artists used simple coloring techniques that accented the simplistic, two-dimensional effect of illustration-styled art. Other characteristics include exaggerated and flowing curves, such as tendril-like stems, and the repetition of basic shapes. Frequently, an artist used one petal shape repeated to create a flower, such as a sunflower or aster, instead of realistically painting each petal.

The placement of flowers in art nouveau artwork varies. Some artists prefer to design asymmetrically balanced pieces, while others may meticulously reproduce the flower and other elements to create a symmetrical pattern. Often art nouveau artists used flowers as repeated motifs. Mirror-imaged flowers placed side by side or flanking the center of the art piece are very popular patterns in art nouveau pieces.

One of the most characteristic features that art nouveau flowers have in common is the illustrative appearance of the work. During the art nouveau period, artists blurred the line between fine art and illustration. Illustrative art has a flat, two-dimensional appearance that artists achieve by using simplistic shading or no shading. The simplistic shading gives a flatter appearance, which serves to place emphasis on the flowing lines of the flowers' stems, tendrils, and leaves.

The serpentine curves that characterize art nouveau flowers and other components, such as women's hair, have been incorporated into other art styles since the art nouveau period. Most notably, the style is evident in art deco art and the some of the art of the 1960s. Dreamlike, gracefully flowing tendrils often accompany art nouveau flowers in the artwork. Sometimes the artist incorporated entwining flower stems or interwove leaves to achieve the feel of tendrils.

Another characteristic of art nouveau flowers is the exaggeration of the plant' parts. Often an artist enlarges or stylizes interesting elements for emphasis. For example, in his textile wall hanging "Whiplash," artist Hermann Obrist created very long serpentine stems and elongated, very thin leaves that are reminiscent of the curves of a bullwhip being whipped through the air. Obrist's piece incorporates at least two of the characteristics of art nouveau style because he portrayed the plant's elements — even the roots — as flowing and curvaceous and exaggerated the length of the stems and leaves.

Examples of art nouveau flowers may be found in all types of artwork, including tapestries and other artwork, architectural details and building decorations, and furniture. Flowers grace decorative ironwork and carved wooden furniture from the period. Many illustrators used the art style for posters, book and magazine illustrations, and other graphic arts. Some of the best examples of art nouveau work are in museums around the world.

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