Art Nouveau architecture, furniture, jewelry, and graphics took their inspiration from the curving shapes and flowing lines of flowers and the female form. Some Art Nouveau adaptations of nature and the human body were literal while others were more abstract. The Art Nouveau style was influenced by creative output of numerous cultures—from Japanese woodblock prints to linear Celtic patterns to elegant Islamic designs.

Though commonly associated with French artists such as Emile Gallé and Czech artists like Alphonse Mucha, the first reference to the term Art Nouveau occurred in the 1880s when a Belgian journal called L’Art Moderne used it to describe the work of 20 painters and sculptors. Les Vingt, as they were known, saw their work as a vehicle for social reform. Their goal was to break down the barriers between so-called high art (painting and sculpture) and the applied arts (craft) to create a unified aesthetic that would be spiritually uplifting to people of all classes.

In Brussels, one of the champions of the movement was an architect and interior designer named Henry van de Velde, who, in 1892, designed his own home, Bloemenwerf, and all the furnishings in it. Even more influential was Victor Horta, whose Hotel Tassel in Brussels was completed in 1894. Horta oversaw every detail, from the vine- and-branch-like wrought-iron railings that wrapped the structure’s curving interior staircases to the stained glass depicting warm and inviting landscapes.

Other European cities and designers seemed in tune, if not always in step aesthetically, with the Belgian Art Nouveau movement. Antoní Gaudí produced building after building of remarkable organic beauty in Barcelona, while Gustav Klimt and other Viennese artists explored the sensual side of Art Nouveau, which was known there as Jugendstil.

French architect and designer Hector Guimard was more directly influenced by Horta’s work, especially in his iron-and-glass entrances to the Paris Metro, created between 1899 and 1905. Guimard also designed numerous custom pieces of furniture for private residences, many of which featured stylized and abstracted flourishes that seem oddly out of context when displayed in museums today but looked perfectly at home in the rooms for which they were designed.

Paris was a home for Art Nouveau before Guimard created his first Metro entrance, thanks in no small part to a German art dealer named Siegfried Bing, who opened L’Art Nouveau gallery in 1895. With interiors by van de Velde, the gallery sold everything from Japanese decorative objects to Rookwood pottery, as well as a range of vases, jewelry, stained glass, and other Art Nouveau pieces by an American named Louis Comfort Tiffany. Bing’s influence was felt at the Exposition Universelle in 1900, when Art Nouveau decorative objects were the stars of the show.

Parisian Art Nouveau had an enormous impact on the city’s graphic artists, too. Alphonse Mucha created flowing, organic imagery that celebrated the female form and celebrities su...

Sometimes Art Nouveau transformed familiar forms into something entirely new. For example, the serpent jewelry that had been so popular in England during the Victorian era was now studded in enamel on bodies of gold. René Lalique, whose glass forms were Art Nouveau icons, turned his attention to dragonflies to create brooches and pins—Lalique’s insects often had female torsos and bejeweled, iridescent wings of enamel and gold.

Despite the presence of sophisticates such as Guimard and Bing and the refined art of Mucha, Chéret, and Lalique, Paris was actually not the center of French Art Nouveau. That claim went to the glassmaking town of Nancy, where Emile Gallé was based. Gallé’s glass objects were rich with opaque metallic lustres in shapes that suggested newly discovered varieties of semi-precious stones.

For Gallé, the base of a vase might take the shape of an onion—like a lot of Art Nouveau artists, he was forever returning to the organic. Some of Gallé’s cameo vases were acid-etched, but his breakthrough was a technique called marqueterie-de-verre, which was like the inlaid, woodworking technique of marquetry, except on glass. In fact, furniture with intricate marquetry was another Gallé trademark—he used some 300 varieties of local fruitwood in his cabinets, tables, trays, and headboards.

Gallé was the leader of the Nancy artists, whose numbers included Louis Majorelle and Victor Prouvé. Majorelle worked mostly in mahogany, and he was more concerned with the sculptural lines and shapes of his pieces than the decorations on their surfaces, which was Prouvé’s chief focus. Eugène Vallin was another Nancy furniture-maker who took his sculptural cues from nature.

When it came to glass, Daum Frères was the other Nancy glass powerhouse. Its blown-and-etched glass vases and shades sometimes had bronze bases created by Majorelle. One of Daum’s best-known accomplishments was the revival of pâte–de-verre, a centuries-old technique in which crushed glass was mixed with water and metal oxides to form a paste that was pressed into a mold and fired.

Meanwhile, in the United Kingdom, Liberty & Co. sold Art Nouveau metalwork to its London customers. Liberty’s pewter Tudric tea services were decorated with relief leaves and flowers, and featured handles wrapped in bamboo cane. Liberty also sold personal adornments such as belt buckles in silver and turquoise, and its Cymric line of silver clocks, vases, and other objects was an effort to bring Art Nouveau to the middle classes.

To the north, in Scotland, Charles Rennie Mackintosh worked more in the Belgian mold, designing houses as well as the furniture that went into them. Unlike his contemporaries, Mackintosh was unafraid of straight lines—his high-backed chairs display none of the waves and curves of the French.

Finally, in the United States, Rookwood alum Artus Van Briggle relocated to Colorado Springs to produce fine examples of Art Nouveau pottery. But the leading champion of Art Nouveau in America was Louis Comfort Tiffany. Some of Tiffany’s pieces, such as his famous wisteria lampshades, were literal interpretations of nature. In other cases, Tiffany mined Egyptian and Middle Eastern styles and motifs for his work, producing everything from iridescent glass scarabs to vases of ancient Cypriot design.

About our sources | Got something to add?

▼ Expand to read the full article ▼

Best of the Web (“Hall of Fame”)

Modernism

Modernism

This archived overview produced by the Minneapolis Institute of Arts offers thumbnail sketches of the design moveme… [read review or visit site]



Other Great Reference Sites

Most watched eBay auctions    

German Austrian Antique Art Nouveau Secessionist Jugendstil Silver Enamel BroochJames Fenton Art Nouveau Silver & Enamel Secessionist Brooch Birmingham 1908 Very Fine Large Urania Art Nouveau Pewter Vase By Friedrich Adler 1034Antique Vintage Art Nouveau Deco Egyptian Revival Silver Enamel Brooch Pendant Lovely Art Nouveau Silver Enamel Cufflinks James Fenton Birmingham 1908Liberty & Co. A Fine Art Nouveau And Enamel Broock With Real Pearl. 9 Ct. Gold.Antique Art Nouveau Unger Bros. Pond Lily Sterling Silver Chatelaine Clip BroochStunning Art Nouveau Silver Enamel Dragonfly Brooch Marius HammerMurrle Bennett 15ct Gold Turquoise Art Nouveau Lavalier Pendant Necklace & ChainDivine Rare Antique French Horn Hat Pin Art Nouveau Moth Butterfly Insect C1910Signed Antique Art Nouveau Influenced Boudoir Nude Oil Painting- Beautiful15ct/ 15k Gold Seed Pearl & Enamel Victorian Art Nouveau Love Heart Pendant, 625Outrageous Strong Original Art Nouveau Double Maiden Vase LampSuperb Large Genuine Antique Art Nouveau 1902 Solid Sterling Silver Photo FrameGerman Arts & Crafts Copper Brass Desktop Antique Inkwell Box Wmf Art NouveauAntique Shelley Wileman Art Nouveau " Intarsio" Vase By Frederick RheadAntique Art Nouveau Mermaid Horses Water Sterling Silver Cigarette Case 83gVery Large Burmantofts Faience Jardinere & Stand - Art Nouveau Lion Design RareSuperb Jugendstil Erhard & Söhne, Sohne Art Nouveau Box. Very Good ConditionVictorian Veritas Art Nouveau Cranberry Glass Kerosene Paraffin Hall Oil LampAntique Victorian Art Nouveau Deco 9ct Rose Gold Large Photo Locket Fob PendantVintage Denmark Designer Art Nouveau Brooch F Kastor Hansen Danish Silver Brooch1907-12 Van Briggle Vase W/ Art Nouveau Flowers9ct/ 9k Gold Turquoise Victorian Art Nouveau Murrle Bennett Design Necklace, 375Antique C 1920 Judd Art Nouveau French Maidens Cast Iron Book Rack Bookend YqzLovely Art Nouveau Silver Enamel Butterfly Brooch Marius HammerOrivit 731g Fine Large Secessionist / Art Nouveau / Jugendstil TeapotArt Nouveau Rainaud Signed Slag Glass Lamp Model 1117 AwesomeOrivit 798g Fine Large Secessionist / Art Nouveau / Jugendstil Coffee PotOrivit 256g Fine Large Secessionist / Art Nouveau / Jugendstil Two Handle BowlArt Nouveau 14k Yellow Gold, Sparkling Diamond & Pearl Floral Brooch Pin PendantAntique Art Nouveau Unger Bros. Lady Flowing Hair Goose Sterling Silver BroochPapier Mache Ornate Hand Painted Art Nouveau Victorian Snuff BoxJugendstil Nouveau Secessionist Tall Silver Ewer Claret Jug Kayser Hugo LevenAntique Blended Glaze Roseville Art Nouveau Water Lillies Umbrella Stand Nr YqzArt Nouveau Antique Bronzed Woman Statue Electric Lamp Base Sculpture CandelabraAntique Art Nouveau Hand Painted Enamel Sailboat Ship With BirdsFine 18ct / 18k 750 Seedpearl And Blue Stone Art Nouveau Brooch Impressive Large Antique Art Nouveau Bronze ? Metal Vase Signed Flora 14"Rare Art Nouveau / Jugendstil Silver Haematite Brooch Circa 1910 - LargeAdolph Frankau Brass Arts Crafts Antique Jewellery Trinket Box 1895 Art NouveauVintage 1921 Rookwood Mustard Color Art Nouveau 7 1/2" Vase Model 2144 Exc CondSuperior Art Nouveau 9ct Gold Pendant Peridot Pearl - Original Beautiful ChainOrivit 216g Fine Large Secessionist / Art Nouveau / Jugendstil Jug / CreamerAntique Vintage Art Nouveau Deco Sterling Silver Topaz Blue Crystal Old EarringsGoldklang Antique Art Nouveau German Old Lute Luth No Guitar Mandolin Violin Superb Art Nouveau Silver Enamel Pot By Lawrence Emanuel 1910Stunning Antique Art Nouveau Enameled Glass Flower Vase Loetz Moser AustrianAntique Solid Silver Art Nouveau Photo Frame Birmingham 1934 - 250Unger Bros 925 Fine Sterling Art Nouveau Ladies Mesh Chatelaine Finger Ring PursOrivit 47cm (19") 1540g Secessionist / Art Nouveau / Jugendstil Two Handled TrayAntique Vintage Art Nouveau 18k Double Rams Head Enamel Bangle Bracelet!Antique Art Nouveau Lady Flowing Hair Pond Lily Sterling Silver Watch FobLoetz Art Nouveau Silver Overlaid Glass Vase C.1905Mandalian 1920s Art Nouveau Deco Flapper Metal Mesh Purse Bag HandbagAntique Loetz Lotz Glass - Green Iridescent Glass Vase - Art Nouveau!Rarest Antique Art Nouveau Hat Pin Hinged Insect Brass W Painted Body 11"Antique Art Nouveau Match Safe Vesta Sterling Silver With WomanAntique C. 1900 Art Nouveau Loetz Silberiris Iridescent Vase 6 1/2Antique Original Art Nouveau Silver Enamel Pendant With Pearl & Moonstone Drop