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What is Art Nouveau?

Art Nouveau is an enchanting design movement from the late 19th century, characterized by its flowing lines, natural forms, and intricate patterns. It's a visual symphony that celebrates beauty, blending creativity with the elegance of the natural world. Discover how this style revolutionized aesthetics and continues to influence modern design. What elements of Art Nouveau can you spot in your surroundings?
Niki Foster
Niki Foster
Niki Foster
Niki Foster

Art Nouveau is a style of art that appeared in Europe during the late 19th century, though it's influence is global and continuous. The artistic style, which takes its name from the French, literally means "new art" and is characterized by the use of organic shapes and dramatic, curving lines that encompass many forms of art including paintings, glassware, furniture, and architecture. Many of its themes are taken from nature, though presented quite abstractly, and includes plants, flowers, and naturally curved lines. Some famous artists for this style include Aubrey Beardsley, Thomas Malory, and Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec. This stylistic choice was eventually replaced in the twentieth century, but its influence can still be seen in Europe and other parts of the world.

Influences

The influence of art noveau is seen in period architecture.
The influence of art noveau is seen in period architecture.

Besides nature, the Art Nouveau style also gleans inspiration from High Victorian, Roccoco, and Japanese art; in addition, this artistic style has affinities with the contemporary Pre-Raphaelite, Symbolism, and Arts and Crafts styles. The 19th century artistic style was succeeded in the 20th century by the emergent Art Deco style, which incorporated more geometrical shapes and had an even more stylized appearance; however, Art Nouveau still holds somewhat of an influence in certain decorative arts, especially jewelry. Art Nouveau had a few revivals throughout the Western world in the early 20th century, notably the artistic style known as Jugendstil in Germany and Scandinavia.

Art Forms

Art noveau often featured plant and flower motifs.
Art noveau often featured plant and flower motifs.

Commonly found in architecture and design, the art nouveau style can be seen in many of the world's cities, and perhaps most famously in the Parisian Metro stations. Many of the metro stations have cast iron supports that resemble plant stems on the exterior portions of the buildings, and others have detailed glass canopies designed in the "new art" style. While there were glass canopies designed in this artistic style, smaller glassware were created as well. This lead to jewelry being created in the new art style, which is still used today for jewelry design. Art Nouveau also frequently appeared in paintings, illustrations, and advertisements of the 19th century, as well as many furniture pieces.

Famous Artists

Stained glass is a prized medium in art noveau.
Stained glass is a prized medium in art noveau.

Rennie Mackintosh was a major Art Nouveau architect and furniture designer who worked in Scotland and England, and his work provides classic examples of the artistic style. Parisians Rene Lalique and Emile Galle, and the American designer Louis Comfort Tiffany are among the artists who helped extend the style to jewelry and various decorative arts. Aubrey Beardsley famously illustrated Oscar Wilde's play Salome, Thomas Malory's Le Morte D'Arthur, and the periodical The Yellow Book.

In the category of painters, Alphonse Mucha was a Czech painter best remembered for his "new art" poster designs, and Gustav Klimt was a Viennese painter and muralist noted for his heavy use of gold and mosaic-like designs. Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec became famous for his Moulin Rouge, Art Nouveau style, while Edvard Munch, a Norwegian painter, produced some of the darkest examples of the artistic style in his Frieze of Life series of paintings.

Frequently Asked Questions

What is Art Nouveau and when did it originate?

Art Nouveau is a style of decorative art, architecture, and design that emerged in the late 19th century, around 1890, and peaked in popularity at the turn of the 20th century. Characterized by its use of long, sinuous, organic lines and was inspired by natural forms such as the curving shapes of plants and flowers. It was a reaction against the academic art, eclecticism, and historicism of 19th-century architecture and decoration.

What are the key characteristics of Art Nouveau design?

Art Nouveau design is distinguished by its flowing lines, naturalistic forms, and emphasis on craftsmanship. Key characteristics include the use of asymmetrical shapes, extensive use of arches and curved forms, intricate linear patterns, and often, the incorporation of floral and other plant-inspired motifs. Stained glass, mosaics, and ornamental ironwork are also common features in Art Nouveau architecture and objects.

Who are some famous Art Nouveau artists and designers?

Famous Art Nouveau artists and designers include Alphonse Mucha, whose posters and advertisements epitomized the elegance of the style; architect Antoni Gaudí, known for his distinctive buildings in Barcelona; and Louis Comfort Tiffany, renowned for his exquisite glass designs. Other notable figures include René Lalique, a master of Art Nouveau jewelry, and Victor Horta, who made significant contributions to Art Nouveau architecture.

How did Art Nouveau influence architecture and interior design?

Art Nouveau had a profound impact on architecture and interior design, introducing organic forms and decorative elements that were in stark contrast to the rigid structures of the past. Architects like Victor Horta and Antoni Gaudí designed buildings with flowing lines, incorporating elements from nature into their work. Interiors were harmoniously designed with furniture, textiles, and wall decorations that adhered to the Art Nouveau aesthetic, creating a comprehensive visual language.

Where can I see examples of Art Nouveau today?

Examples of Art Nouveau can be seen worldwide, particularly in cities where the movement flourished. Notable places include Brussels, where Victor Horta's work is well-preserved; Barcelona, home to Antoni Gaudí's architectural masterpieces like the Sagrada Família; and Paris, where the entrances to the Métro stations designed by Hector Guimard are iconic representations of the style. Museums such as the Musée d'Orsay in Paris and the Victoria and Albert Museum in London also house significant Art Nouveau collections.

Niki Foster
Niki Foster

In addition to her role as a MusicalExpert editor, Niki enjoys educating herself about interesting and unusual topics in order to get ideas for her own articles. She is a graduate of UCLA, where she majored in Linguistics and Anthropology.

Learn more...
Niki Foster
Niki Foster

In addition to her role as a MusicalExpert editor, Niki enjoys educating herself about interesting and unusual topics in order to get ideas for her own articles. She is a graduate of UCLA, where she majored in Linguistics and Anthropology.

Learn more...

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Discussion Comments

anon293364

I always thought that Art Nouveau was quite boring. Well, shame on me, because when I got to know it better I liked it so much.

SteamLouis

Expanding architectural art and art from paintings and posters into something like art nouveau jewelry is a great idea. Why don't they do something similar with fashion? Wouldn't it be interesting to see art nouveau reemerge in a field like fashion design?

ysmina

I love all art, but art nouveau holds a special place in my heart. I studied about it in college and have been visiting as many exhibits as I can get to. I've even experimented making my own piece of art nouveau! But nothing can be like Charles Rennie Mackintosh's art nouveau paintings, which are, by far, my favorites.

I encountered his watercolor paintings in an art exhibit in his native Scotland and was immediately struck by the elegance of his work and the unique way he portrayed nature. It's actually why I admire art nouveau so much. You see an image, like a simple flower, but the artist makes it look so sophisticated. I would love to own one of his pieces one day for my home.

ValleyFiah

I am a fan of art deco and art nouveau metalwork in architecture. I like the stylized look of the art forms, especially art deco. There is an old supper club in the Biltmore district of Phoenix that has always caught my eye. The building has those prominent art deco arches that are accentuated with those long straight lines that swoop into geometric curves. The windows and the rest of the building’s design matches to the style perfectly.

I always thought it would be a great location for an ultra-glamorous nightclub. I picture old Chicago when I see the building. The building is sited perfectly, and it would be a great place for someone to make a grand entrance. You could pull up in a classic Rolls limo and it would not look out of place at all. If I only had money!

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    • The influence of art noveau is seen in period architecture.
      By: fotojanis
      The influence of art noveau is seen in period architecture.
    • Art noveau often featured plant and flower motifs.
      By: Brad Pict
      Art noveau often featured plant and flower motifs.
    • Stained glass is a prized medium in art noveau.
      By: PixyNL
      Stained glass is a prized medium in art noveau.