Fact Checked

What Are the Characteristics of Art Nouveau Painting?

Debra Barnhart
Debra Barnhart

Art Nouveau, which means “new art” in French, arose in the late 1800s in reaction to strict Greek and Roman classical ideals that had overshadowed much of the 19th century. Painting during this period exhibits the decorative elements and the focus on nature typical of the Art Nouveau movement. A number of artists painted in the Art Nouveau style, but some of the most renowned were Gustav Klimt, Henri Matisse and Alphonse Maria Mucha. While these artists had their own individual styles, they each used decorative patterns and natural forms often found in Art Nouveau painting. Another primary characteristic of Art Nouveau painting and graphic arts was the use of women as subject matter.

Gustav Klimt was born in 1862 in Vienna and was the son of a goldsmith. He became an artist as a teenager. Klimt’s most famous paintings featured women, sometimes nude or partially nude. These paintings had intricate, ornamental backgrounds of amazing beauty. While some aspects of the paintings were realistic, usually the women’s faces — the major portion of most of Klimt’s paintings — consisted of abstract shapes and the linear patterns that characterized Art Nouveau painting. Klimt painted in a fine, delicate manner and often used gold paint, perhaps due to the influence of his father’s profession.

Woman painting
Woman painting

Henri Matisse was influenced by Art Nouveau but his style varied throughout his lifetime, especially since he lived until 1954 when modernism was well underway. Like Gustav Klimt, Matisse often painted women and used decorative elements in the background, but he was a more heavy-handed painter who favored large areas of bold color. Matisse completed the painting The Dessert: Harmony in Red in 1908. The subject of this painting is a woman serving dessert, and both the tablecloth and the wall behind the woman display ornate flowers and branches that are typical of Art Nouveau painting.

The Czech born artist Alphonse Maria Mucha, who might be viewed as the typical Art Nouveau artist, was both a printmaker and a painter. His lithographs made his work more available to the general public. The 1896 painting Winter is representative of Nouveau style and features a woman outside, surrounded by snow covered branches. The painting was clearly inspired by Asian art, and the heavily outlined tree branches form an elaborate pattern. Although Mucha’s work is viewed as Art Nouveau and was imitated by other Art Nouveau artists, he often disassociated himself from the movement and claimed that his work was a reflection of his Czech background.

The Art Nouveau idealization of nature is perhaps best reflected in the fact that each of these artists chose women as their primary subject matter. In addition to using organic shapes and subjects in their paintings, Art Nouveau artists seemed to view women as a symbol of nature. Not only were women featured in paintings, but they were prevalent on advertising posters as well.

You might also Like

Discussion Comments


@Ana1234 - I think it's a shame that Art Deco seems to be more popular now as a vintage style than Art Nouveau, because the latter is so pretty. I guess people think it's too fussy these days.

I do like it when people make paintings of modern characters, like superheros, in an Art Nouveau style. I just wish there was more of it about.


@pleonasm - Mucha was definitely one of the contributors to the beauty of Prague. I was also surprised by how many gorgeous Art Nouveau pieces were available to see in art galleries and museums in Glasglow.

Apparently there was a group of artists there in the late 1800s who contributed to the Art Nouveau movement. And there was one place in particular, called the Willow Tea Rooms where all the furnishings and windows and art and everything was made in the Art Nouveau style.

I wish I could have seen it, but I only saw replicas in the museum.


If you ever have a chance to see the Mucha usem in Prague, I think it has some of the most gorgeous examples of Art Nouveau painting all gathered in one place. There is a bit of the jewelry that he designed as well. The man was basically a genius.

The only thing was that I thought it was a little bit expensive for the size of it, but it seemed like a lot of museums in Europe were like that. Prague has lots of examples of Art Nouveau architecture and art around the city as well, most of which can be seen just walking around for free.

Post your comments
Forgot password?
    • Woman painting
      Woman painting