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The Background and History of Art Nouveau

Updated on December 09, 2014
chezchazz profile image

Chazz is an Interior Decorator/Consultant/Retailer, amateur photographer, cook, gardener, handyman, currently restoring an 1880 Victorian.

Detail from Mucha's Bicycle Ad, 1897.
Detail from Mucha's Bicycle Ad, 1897. | Source

Art Nouveau Then and Now: An Overview of the Style and its Influence

Many people have heard of the term Art Nouveau and have at least a general sense of the style--flowing, ornate, organic--but no knowledge of its origins, the movement's most influential artists, or what truly makes a design fall into this genre, which was popular in the late 19th and early 20th centuries and still has a sizable following today, even if its fans don't actually know the name.

Today, you'll still find Art Nouveau pieces, from prints to sculptures to entire buildings, all over the world, in cities, towns, museums and attics alike. Some of these works were created during the height of the Art Nouveau movement and are truly valuable pieces. But you'll also see many newer or brand new Art Nouveau designs in the form of jewelry, furniture, sculptures, paintings, illustrations, and advertisements.

So, keep an eye out the next time you visit a yard sale or flea market. Be sure to check out those antique-looking picture frames, jewelry boxes, and those boxes loaded with Aunt Kay's stuff. You may just find one of the most famous pieces of Art Nouveau yet to be rediscovered.

First, though, read through this page and learn a bit more about what you're looking for and where you can find pieces for your own Art Nouveau collection, new and old.

Bistrot Du Peintre is a wonderful example of Art Nouveau Period Décor in Paris, France
Bistrot Du Peintre is a wonderful example of Art Nouveau Period Décor in Paris, France | Source
Source

The Beginning of the Art Nouveau Movement

The Poster That Inspired a New Style

The popularity of Art movements can often be traced back to a single artist and even a single work of art. The Art Nouveau movement received its first wave of popularity when a particular lithographed poster, an advertisement for the 1895 Parisian play Gismonda, featuring Sarah Bernhardt, was published. (The popularity of the play and the lead actress undoubtedly helped.)

The new style of art that was featured in this piece was initially called "Style Mucha" after the Czech artist Alphonse Mucha, who designed the poster, but it soon became known as Art Nouveau, which is French for "new art," and many other names.

Art Nouveau has Many Names

The term Art Nouveau originated in France but became the preferred term for the new style known as le style moderne. It became known as Art Nouveau shortly after Siegfried Bing opened a successful Parisian shop of that name which featured work in the modern style.

After the 1900 Exposition Universelle in Paris, the Art Nouveau style spread across Europe, Scandinavia and Russia, and as far as Australia and America. The genre was then also identified by a variety of regional names indicative of its forms, schools of thought, or its practitioners or their locale. Like nouveau in Art Nouveau, most of these terms also share a reference to "newness."

© CJS. All Rights Reserved.
© CJS. All Rights Reserved. | Source

In Italy Art Nouveau was known as Arte nuova and Stile Liberty, in the Netherlands, Nieuwe kunst, in Portugal Arte nova. In Spain, it was called Arte joven (young art) and in Catalonia, Modernisme. In the United States, it became Tiffany style and it was known as The Glasgow School in Scotland, after the institute founded by Charles Rennie Mackintosh.

In Germany, it was Jugendstil and in Austria, Sezessionstil (Secessionist). It was also known by names that reflected its motifs and curvilinearity such as Stile Floreal ("floral style"), Style Nouille ("noodle style") and Paling Stijl ("eel style").


Significant Elements of the Art Nouveau Style

Given the descriptiveness of the different names for what today is commonly called Art Nouveau are indicative of the elements that comprised the style:

  1. Sinuous, flowing, gentle lines and "violent" (or "whiplash") curves
  2. Influences from the natural world -- plants and flowers, birds, etc. -- and geometric forms
  3. Quality workmanship (which was a reaction to the poorly made pieces that previously dominated the decorative arts)
  4. Function dictating form and everyday objects made into art
  5. Floral backgrounds and patterned surfaces
  6. Common materials: opals and semiprecious stones, glass, animal horns and ivory (the latter not often used today, particularly in the Western hemisphere)

Detail from book described below. Picture shows Art Nouveau Architect Victor Horta's Tassel House stairway in Brussels.
Detail from book described below. Picture shows Art Nouveau Architect Victor Horta's Tassel House stairway in Brussels.
Art Nouveau
Art Nouveau

A showcase of Art Nouveau across cities in nine countries.

 

10 Famous Art Nouveau Artists, Architects and Sculptors

Once it began, Art Nouveau quickly established its influence the world over. Artists from France, Belgium, Germany and other countries employed this distinct style combined with their individual touches and specialties to create truly unique designs.

This list is by no means all-inclusive. Toulouse-Lautrec, Aubrey Beardsley, and many other well-known artists and designers do not appear here but will be featured in future articles.

The intent was to present a geographic and stylistic representation of the genre as an introduction to what has been called the first modern art movement.

Click on the names to read more about each of these influential artists. You'll see some of their works on this page.

From left to right: Dance, Painting, and Flower by Alphonse Mucha.
From left to right: Dance, Painting, and Flower by Alphonse Mucha. | Source

Alphonse Mucha's Art Nouveau

More works by the artist who inspired this "new art" movement

Alphonse Mucha was a Czech painter and decorative artist who's credited with beginning the Art Nouveau movement. This actually happened quite by accident, when he wandered into a print shop one Christmas where he found out about the sudden need for a new poster ad for a play starring the most famous actress in Paris at the time: Sarah Bernhardt.

It was then that Mucha volunteered to create that poster within two weeks. Bernhardt loved the poster so much--and that poster received so much positive attention--she entered into a 6-year contract with him. Mucha went on to create many more paintings and posters, ads and book illustrations. This prolific artist also designed jewelry, carpets, wallpaper, and theater sets.

Art Nouveau Artist Gustav Klimt

This Austrian painter used gold leaf in many of his works, which often focused on the female form. Klimt's paintings have sold for some of the highest prices recorded for individual works of art -- as much as $135 million -- but you can own a Gustav Klimt print for just a few dollars, even pennies in fact.

Emile Gallé's Art Nouveau

This French glass artist is well known for the experimental techniques he incorporated into his pieces, including metallic foils and air bubbles.

He also infused life into the glass industry by establishing a workshop for mass producing his and other artists' designs.

The Work of Hector Guimard

This innovative French architect designed some complex structural frames which lent themselves to high quality acoustics, including that of the extraordinary concert hall Humbert-de-Roman.

He also designed the Hotel Guimard, built on ground too narrow for the exterior walls to be weight-bearing, making for a very unique arrangement of interior spaces.


Charles Rennie Mackintosh
Charles Rennie Mackintosh | Source

Charles Rennie Mackintosh's Art Nouveau Style

Charles Rennie Mackintosh was a Scottish architect, designer, watercolorist and artist. He painted many floral watercolors and designed textiles.

Mackintosh also designed the Glasgow School of Art and Queen's Cross Church, as well as private homes, commercial buildings, interior renovations and and other churches; however, the majority of his more ambitious designs were never actually built.

Stained glass window from The Hill House, Glasgow by Charles Rennie Mackintosh, featuring his iconic "Mackintosh Rose."
Stained glass window from The Hill House, Glasgow by Charles Rennie Mackintosh, featuring his iconic "Mackintosh Rose."

Read More about Charles Rennie Mackintosh

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Arts and Crafts Period Interior Design and Home Decorating: Names to Know
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Ceylan Vase by René  Lalique  features eight birds in amber yellow glasss
Ceylan Vase by René Lalique features eight birds in amber yellow glasss

Lalique Art Nouveau Glass

Early 20th-century French artist and poet René Lalique became a master glass-maker, attracting the attention of museums and collectors all over the world.

The facade of the Casa Batllo (1904-1907) in Barcelona, Spain. Designed by Spanish architect Antoni Gaudi.
The facade of the Casa Batllo (1904-1907) in Barcelona, Spain. Designed by Spanish architect Antoni Gaudi.

Antoni Gaudi's Art Nouveau Architecture

Visit Barcelona on Spain's Costa Blanca and you will be surrounded by Antoni Gaudi's creations. The Catelonian architect's first love was for his native land, and many of his works reflect a quiet pride and radiate his intense faith. Perhaps his most famous work was the design and building of the beautiful Cathedral of Barcelona, which continues to inspire artists today. Guadi's popularity as an architect is evident in the many commissions he undertook throughout his life. He's responsible for projects as varied as lampposts to entire buildings. Some of his most iconic work is found in mosaic style fountains and statues that decorate buildings and naves throughout the Mediterranean.

Some examples of Louis Comfort Tiffany's blown glass
Some examples of Louis Comfort Tiffany's blown glass

Art Nouveau Designs by Louis Comfort Tiffany

You may not know this highly influential American artist by his full name, but surely you've heard of or at least seen some of his world-famous art glass. Tiffany stained glass windows? Tiffany lamps? Yes, that's Louis Comfort Tiffany, who also designed glass mosaics and blown glass, jewelry, ceramics, enamels and metalwork.

Tiffany was most proud, however, of his favrile art glass, which demanded a great deal of skill. Some examples can be seen in the above photo. Tiffany's Favrile glass included colored, gold iridescent, blue iridescent, and opalescent forms.

Meyda Tiffany 98935 Tiffany Laburnum Table Lamp
Meyda Tiffany 98935 Tiffany Laburnum Table Lamp

Not many leaded glass lamps that use the Tiffany name reflect the original artist's committment to quality, but Meyda Tiffany (yes, she really is related to Louis Comfort) manufactures many traditional designs that are among the best being produced today.

 
From Art Nouveau Jewellery from Pforzheim by Fritz Falk (see below)
From Art Nouveau Jewellery from Pforzheim by Fritz Falk (see below)

Victor Mayer Art Nouveau

Througout his working life, German Victor Mayer drew his influences from at least four major art movements: Arts and Crafts, Art Nouveau, Art Deco and Avant-garde. He trained in Germany and Vienna, and his Art Nouveau jewelry designs drew heavily on nature for inspiration. He specialized in enameling and engraving, and his jewelry was much sought after in high society. Some of his Art Nouveau belt buckles recently sold at auction for several thousands of dollars.

For More About Art Nouveau Jewelry

Art Nouveau Antique, Vintage & New Jewelry

Art Nouveau jewelry is very popular today, including genuine antiques, vintage pieces, and new, very affordable designs. Learn about Art Nouveau and see our wonderful collection of great pieces.

Interior of the Hotel Solvay in Brussels, designed by Victor Horta in 1900.
Interior of the Hotel Solvay in Brussels, designed by Victor Horta in 1900.

Art Nouveau Designs by Victor Horta

Although Art Nouveau was overtaken by other styles in the 20th century, it's still considered a significant part of cultural heritage, having contributed a great influence in the world of art and architecture.

Riga, Latvia, is said to have the finest collection of Art Nouveau buildings in Europe. There are also four homes in Brussels designed by Victor Horta that are prime examples of Art Nouveau, showing the transition from 19th to 20th-century architecture.


Victor Horta
Victor Horta

A rare collection of Horta's original drawings plus archival images and stunning photographs illuminated by the insightful commentary.

 
Art Nouveau Patterns
Art Nouveau Patterns | Source

Art Nouveau is Still Going Strong

Although the true Art Nouveau movement lasted for just twenty years (1890-1910), its popularity and desirability persists today.

When it comes to original Art Nouveau outside of fine art museums, you can still find pieces for sale by antique dealers and collectors, including jewelry, sculptures, furniture, prints and paintings and more. And sometimes you can find some surprises too.

If you're lucky, perhaps you'll discover a genuine Art Nouveau lithograph hidden behind a newer, cheap picture in old frame. Oftentimes, those who find these pictures in old frames don't know what they are or their true value.

But you don't have to hunt through bazaars or spend a lot on Art Nouveau antiques to bring this style into your own home or wardrobe. There are many new designs made in this still-popular, beautiful style, and many of those items are very affordable. While most people don't go all out with this ornate style today, it's fun to accent your home or your outfits with at least a touch of Art Nouveau elegance.

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© 2012 Chazz

Are You a Fan of Art Nouveau?

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    • chezchazz profile image
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      Chazz 4 years ago from New York

      Thank you for your kind comments - Greatly appreciate each one.

    • profile image

      LadyDuck 4 years ago

      Art Nouveau is beautiful. Your lenses really show up you are a professional interior decorator, in my opinion the most beautiful profession in the world! Congratulations for your lenses!

    • profile image

      anonymous 4 years ago

      Oh yes, my favorite. Thank you for including the glassware. Often writers stop with Tiffany.

    • profile image

      MaggiePowell 4 years ago

      I do love the color and style of Klimt...

    • profile image

      Terrie_Schultz 4 years ago

      I love art nouveau. Beautiful lens!

    • profile image

      slyounkin1 4 years ago

      informative lens, thanks

    • Heidi Vincent profile image

      Heidi Vincent 4 years ago from GRENADA

      I'm one of those people you describe in your first sentence. I have a sense of the style - flowing, ornate, organic - but did mot know its origin. Thanks for this informative lens on Art Nouveau.

    • Rosetta Slone profile image

      Rosetta Slone 4 years ago from Under a coconut tree

      I love art nouveau and your lens is fabulous. Such a pleasure to read it and see all the great pictures.

    • Elyn MacInnis profile image

      Elyn MacInnis 4 years ago from Shanghai, China

      I have loved art nouveau since I was a teenager and discovered it. You have a lot of interesting information here - thank you for doing such a nice page on this beautiful art style. Blessed.

    • profile image

      john9229 4 years ago

      I love this Art. Nice and informative you have share in this lens

    • ismeedee profile image

      ismeedee 4 years ago

      I like a lot of the Art Nouveau stuff. Have always liked Klimt!

    • JeffGilbert profile image

      JeffGilbert 4 years ago

      This is amazingly well researched and educational. It's a pleasure to read this kind of lens. Thanks for making it!! :)

    • profile image

      getmoreinfo 4 years ago

      Thanks for the information about the History of Art Nouveau as well as the lovely photos.

    • Kimberley Vico profile image

      Kimberley Vico 4 years ago

      Yes, Yes, Yes! Great Article... and very thorough too!

    • profile image

      JoshK47 4 years ago

      I am, in fact, a big fan of this art style - beautiful work! Blessed by a SquidAngel!

    • CampingmanNW profile image

      CampingmanNW 4 years ago

      What an interestingly and complete journey you have taken us on in this lens. Thank you

    • profile image

      happynutritionist 4 years ago

      It was like going to an interesting art class through this page. I know of Art Nouveau, but didn't know the little details that set it apart from other art. Thank you for your time sharing all of this, and the purple star isn't quite art nouveau I don't think? But it sure is nice:-) *blessed*

    • Steph Tietjen profile image

      Stephanie Tietjen 4 years ago from Albuquerque, New Mexico

      I've always loved Mucha's work and own a treasured box from my mother with one of his images. Very nicely presented. Muchas gracias

    • profile image

      crstnblue 4 years ago

      Excellent lens, complex and informative!

      Thanks for sharing & thumbs up for your great work done!

      Blessed!

    • profile image

      anonymous 4 years ago

      I've always liked art nouveau. I learned so much during my visit here today.

    • Titia profile image

      Titia Geertman 4 years ago from Waterlandkerkje - The Netherlands

      Along with Art Deco, the Art Nouveau is the style I love most of all. Six years ago my aunt died and I had to clean up her house, which was build and decorated in 1930 and it had never changed since. I inherited all the Art Deco furniture which I'm putting in our guesthouse when it's finished. Loved my visit and congrats on the Purple Star. Blessed.

    • mrdata profile image

      mrdata 4 years ago

      Valuable lens! You did a great job! Thanks for sharing your lens with us and your deserve the purple star. Congrats!

    • profile image

      AlleyCatLane 4 years ago

      You always do such an excellent, thorough job of writing about design history. I love reading your articles. Blessed!

    • captainj88 profile image

      Leah J. Hileman 4 years ago from East Berlin, PA, USA

      I didn't know much about it. I love the curves, and the rich color palette. I like Flemish art from the 16th century for much the same reason. This is a very beautiful and informative lens, thanks for sharing.

    • BestRatedStuff profile image

      BestRatedStuff 4 years ago

      I have always been drawn to this art form. Lovely sampling you have here.

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