Though short-lived as a movement (roughly 1880 to 1914), Art Nouveau had a lasting influence on Western design. Like the Arts and Crafts movement that preceded and ran concurrently with it, Art Nouveau was a rejection of the fussy ornamentation of the Victorian Era, as well as the dehumanizing effects of the Industrial Revolution. But whereas Arts and Crafts was reductive, Art Nouveau was exuberant, poaching elements of its overall aesthetic and numerous motifs from sources as varied as Japanese art and the botanical world.

Given its preoccupation with organic, fluid forms, Art Nouveau would not seem well suited to metalwork. In fact, metal was one of its earliest applications, as seen in the vinelike, iron staircase railings designed by Victor Horta for early 1890s Belgian homes. A French architect named Hector Guimard took this impulse even further when, at the beginning of the 20th century, he designed many of the entrances for the Paris Metro. Walking beneath their glass-and-cast-iron awnings was like stepping into an Art Nouveau print by Alphonse Mucha or Jules Chéret.

In terms of decorative objects, silver was used to produce repousséd and chased pieces of jewelry, flatware, mugs, candlesticks, and bowls by manufacturers such as Gorham. Pewter was hammered into the shapes of tureens, as well as mirror and picture frames, while bronze was cast by Tiffany into lamp bases that supported and accentuated their stained-glass shades. And then there were companies like Liberty & Co. in the U.K., which cranked out cigarette cases, match holders, and clocks in both Arts and Crafts and Art Nouveau styles, ironically, perhaps, bringing these movements that spurned mass-production techniques to the masses.


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