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”)



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    

Antique Art Nouveau Handel Lamp Base.original Patina Arts Crafts Signed 9ct/9k Rose Gold Seed Pearl Victorian Art Nouveau Puff Heart Drop Earrings, 37518ct/ 18k Gold Amethyst & Seed Pearl Victorian Art Nouveau Drop Earrings, 750Antique Victorian Art Nouveau Sterling Silver With Enamel Stork Bird Brooch/ PinUnusual Antique Puffy Sterling Silver Art Nouveau Pendant NecklaceAntique Art Nouveau 14k Gold Enamel Diamond Seed Pearl Wild Rose Brooch Pin PinkAntique Victorian Art Nouveau Handel Gwtw Globe Parlor Oil Lamp Shade W FlowersExquisite Art Nouveau Silver Enamel Scarab Brooch By Charles Horner 1924Rare C1890 Art Nouveau Beautiful Maiden Smoking Figural Bronze Desk Tray AshtrayVery Rare C1890 Art Nouveau Devils Smoking Figural Bronze Desk Tray AshtrayAntique Silver Plated Art Nouveau Compact Sovereign Coin Case Ladies Purse Bag C1910 Art Nouveau Liberty & Co Archibald Knox Tudric Pewter Cocoa Pot Wine EwerAntique Art Nouveau Guilloche Enamel Large Pendant On Bronze MetalFrench Art Nouveau Gilded Claret Jug C1900C1900 Arts & Craft / Art Nouveau French-austrian Enamel Jewellery Box Of AngelsLoetz Era Pallme-könig Art Nouveau Iridescent Glass Vase C1895Antique Circa 1900, Art Nouveau, Nude Bronzed Spelter Metal Vase, NrLarge C1910 Art Nouveau Liberty & Co Archibald Knox Tudric Pewter Platter TrayAbsolutely Stunning Art Nouveau Sterling Silver Dressing Table Hand Mirror 1904Fabulous Pair Art Nouveau Silver Enamel Earrings Charles Horner C1911Vintage Art Nouveau Czech Neiger Enamel Lapis Glass Bead Panel Drop NecklaceExceptional Wmf Art Nouveau Claret JugArt Nouveau .375 9ct Gold Peridot & Seed Pearl Ornate Drop Pendant Brooch, 3.43gAntique Art Nouveau 14k Gold Plique A Jour Enamel Diamond Gargoyle PendantLovelyc1910 Art Nouveau Liberty & Co Archibald Knox Tudric Pewter Tea Set W TrayBeauty Bronze Art Nouveau Lamp Base Original Verdigris Green Patina Ca 1910Fabulous William B Kerr Art Nouveau Sterling Silver Figural Maiden Ring Pin TrayAntique Victorian Art Nouveau Gold Agate Rare Pagoda Fob Seal Charm Pendant Old Fine C1910 Art Nouveau Beautiful Maiden Smoking Figural Brass Desk Tray AshtrayWmf Secessionist Art Nouveau VaseBeautiful Art Nouveau Silver And Luminous Moonstone Drop NecklaceBeautiful Art Nouveau Silver Ring With 3 Luscious Moonstones Entwined In LeavesAntique Art Nouveau Solid Silver Ebonised Hardwood Walking Stick 1922Old Victorian Art Nouveau Czech German Brass Turquoise Glass Pendant NecklaceLarge C1910 Art Nouveau Liberty & Co Archibald Knox Tudric Pewter Platter Tray 2Antique Solid Silver Hat Pin/hatpin-b/ham 1911-art NouveauAntique Liberty & Co Archibald Knox Tudric Pewter Vase 030 Art Nouveau DamagedVictorian Art Nouveau Cast Iron Electric Candlestick Table Lamp Df232 Cloth CordAntique Vintage Victorian Art Nouveau Silver Agate Heart Watch Fob Charm PendantLoetz Kralik Era Palme König Glass Glas Vase Art Nouveau Jugendstil C1900Antique Art Nouveau Silver & Peacock Enamel Brooch 1908-099ct/9k Gold Diamond & Ruby Art Nouveau Design Earrings, 375Antique Original Art Nouveau/arts And Crafts Wooden CandlestickBeautiful Delicate Art Nouveau Silver And Moonstone Drop EarringsWmf Art Nouveau Letter OpenerRozenburg Den Haag Dutch Samuel Schellink Art Nouveau Porcelain Vase C.1912Fine Antique Wileman The Foley "intarsio" Art Nouveau Jardiniere C1890Antique Charles Horner Silver & Enamel Art Nouveau Heart Brooch Pin 1880's N/rArt Nouveau Charles Horner Guilloche Enamel And Chester Silver Brooch Date 1915Art Nouveau 14k Gold Plique A Jour Enamel Diamond Gargoyle Pendant For RepairUnger Bros Sterling Silver Huge Art Nouveau Antique Repousse Cherub Shaving CupAntique Victorian Art Nouveau Gold Family Photo Book Locket Fob Charm Pendant UkLobmeyr Bohemian Art Nouveau Enameled Cranberry To Clear Wine GlassOld Mine Diamond 18k White Gold Filigree Antique Art Nouveau Era Ring Size 6.25Antique Victorian Art Nouveau Earrings Enamel Flower Semi Precious Stones Q309Arts & Crafts - Pre-raphaelite Frame - Art Nouveau - AngelsVery Fine Wmf Secessionist Art Nouveau Liqueur JugAntique Art Nouveau Gilt Bronze Sevres Porcelain Portrait Centerpiece BowlAntique Red Coral Carved Flower Yellow Green Rose Gold Art Nouveau Era Ring Sz 8Fairy Art Nouveau Brass Aide Memoire Antique Dance Book Pencil Bal De Carnet