9 Things You Need to Know About Art Nouveau


Art Nouveau design has become so iconic, it’s hard to believe it was a cutting edge, even controversial movement at the time of its development at the end of the 19th century. From the period’s historic roots to its most celebrated artists and makers, here are the top nine things you need to know about the Art Nouveau.

1. Art Nouveau means “New Art” in French, and was a progressive stylistic movement at the time of its inception in the late 19th century.

2. Although “Art Nouveau” has become the common name for the movement in English, there were many iterations across Europe and each was known by a different name. What was Art Nouveau in France was “Jugendstil” in Germany, “Modernisme” in Catalonia (Spain), and “Sezessionstil” in Austria-Hungary.

image1 Image: René-Jules Lalique, Gold, enamel, opals, and amethysts necklace, ca., Source: Metropolitan Museum of Art

3. The period lasted from the 1880s until the First World War and pervaded all aspects of the aesthetic world, particularly architecture, the applied arts, and graphic and illustration art.

4. The style draws much of its inspiration from the natural world and is characterized by flowing, sinuous curves mimicking and exaggerating those found in nature. Illustrations and studies such as those by German biologist Ernst Heinrich Haeckel in Kunstformen der Natur were the source, in part, of many stylistic elements of the movement.

5. The idea of “Gesamtkunstwerk” or total work of art featured prominently into the movement, and designers and artists sought to unify fine and applied arts in their creations. The Wisteria Dining Room now at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, but originally designed by Lucien Lécy-Dhurmer (French, 1865-1953) for a Parisian residence, is an example of this holistic approach to design. The murals, woodwork, furniture, and even the carpet are realized as a unified visual experience. All elements were custom built for the room.

6. Art Nouveau artists frequently incorporated glass into their work. Artisans such as Emile Galle, Rene Lalique, and Louis Comfort Tiffany used both established techniques and new methods they developed to create their now iconic designs.

image2Image Left: The entrance of the metro station at Porte Dauphine, Paris, designed by Hector Guimard, Source: Wikipedia Image Right: La Sagrada Familia, Barcelona, Spain, designed by Antonio Gaudi, Source: Wikipedia

7. Rene Lalique’s advancement of Art Nouveau style was not limited to glass. He also produced fine jewelry employing the sinuous curves and natural elements typical of the period, like this gold, opal, and enamel necklace.

8. Art Nouveau design still pervades many modern cityscapes. Antonio Gaudi’s structures in Barcelona and Hector Guimard’s Paris Metro entrances not only remain in daily use, but are major tourist attractions.

9. Although the stylistic movement ended over 100 years ago, true Art Nouveau designs are still being completed today. Antonio Gaudi’s Sagrada Familia in Barcelona, considered a masterpiece of Modernisme architecture, was begun in 1882, but it will not be complete until 2026.

Featured Images (From Left to Right): Alphonse Mucha, Biscuits Lefèvre-Utile, 1897, Alphonse Mucha, Monaco-Monte Carlo, ca. 1897, Alphonse Mucha, JOB (Cigarette papers/papiers à cigarettes), 1896