Decorative Styles of Art Nouveau

Art Nouveau is a style of decoration prevalent throughout Europe from the 1880s to the early 1900s. The term art nouveau is applied to a wide range of artistic endeavour; glassware, furniture, book illustration, architecture, graphic design and interior decoration. Art nouveau’s chief importance is its rejection of the 19th Century convention of reviving historical styles.

Jugendstil is the equivalent of art nouveau in Germany and Austria, after a magazine called Die Jugend (The Youth); in France it is known as Modern Style; in Italy as Floreale and sometimes Stile Liberty after the famous London department store; in Czechoslovakia as the Secession.

How to Recognise Art Nouveau

Art nouveau’s distinctive style is recognizable by flowing curves resembling writhing plant forms, sinuous shapes, flames and waves. The flowing hair of stylized female figures is a common motif in art nouveau. It is a highly decorative style that is boldly asymmetrical yet somehow seems to achieve unity and equilibrium: an elusive quality that many find so attractive. Art nouveau makes use of undulating forms of many kinds but most notably the whiplash curve of plant tendrils or stems. This can be seen in the wrought-iron entrances to the Paris Métro stations.

Where to See Art Nouveau Architecture

The entrances to the Paris Métro by Hector Guimard are the most famous examples of art nouveau. However, many more examples exist elsewhere. Antoni Gaudi really pushed art nouveau to its boldest and most elaborate extent in his Church of the Holy Family in Barcelona. Many hotels in Europe stand as monuments to art nouveau; the Imperial Hotel in Prague, for example, is a fine example of art nouveau architecture.

Origins of Art Nouveau

The name art nouveau derives from an interior design gallery opened in Paris in 1895. The Maison de l’Art Nouveau sold objects of original as opposed to period style. This demonstrated art nouveau’s driving principle.

It isn’t hard to detect the influence of symbolism and the Arts and Crafts Movement in the art nouveau style; for example, the role that its expressionistic motifs play in the world around us while endorsing the virtue of craftsmanship. However, the core principle of art nouveau is unique. This singularity is implied by its name – new art – in that, unlike many ideas that define new directions in art, art nouveau didn’t originate from any preceding style – it sprung from nothing as a completely fresh idea.

Leading Art Nouveau Artists

The art nouveau architectural movement was widespread with such leading figures as CR Mackintosh and Antoni Gaudi. Similar forms were used both in book illustration and also in the applied arts, for example the furniture or glassware of the French artist Emile Gallé and of Louis Tiffany in the USA. The best known art nouveau graphic artist is Aubrey Beardsley, whose sinister line drawings were exceptionally well adapted to book illustration. Other art nouveau designers include Hermann Obrist in Germany, Joseph Maria Olbrich in Austria and Alfons Mucha, the Czech artist who has a museum in Prague dedicated to his life and work.

Influence of Art Nouveau

Art Nouveau formed the foundation for art deco, which epitomised western society’s dynamism as the 20th Century progressed. Notwithstanding the energy of its young successor, Art nouveau is regarded as a major turning point in western art; departing from the Victorian sentimentality for the past, to explore a more progressive and untried direction in a spirit of adventure that set the standard for successive art movements.