What Is Art Nouveau? The Ultimate Guide

What is Art Nouveau?

Art Nouveau (or Modern Style) was a kind of art movement that was not limited to only canvases and paint. This art movement, between the late 1800s and early 1900s, had a huge influence on not just ordinary artworks, but also architecture and decorative arts such as furniture and jewelry. It was very popular in Europe, being known as Jugendstil in Germany and Stile Liberty in Italy, but it was also appreciated in the United States. While many great concepts in history are born by accident, Art Nouveau was not.

In fact, it was very deliberately created because of a collective and desperate need for a new art style. It went against previous art styles such as academic art and historicism which primarily focused on hearkening back to the golden ages of ancient Rome and Greece, both in architecture and traditional art.

It’s easy to see that Art Nouveau has an entirely different style compared to the rigid, classical style of academic art and historicism. The characteristics of Art Nouveau most often include asymmetrical, natural elements like long, lilting vines, flowers, curving leaves, and long blades of grass. These characteristics also apply to architecture, with gracefully flowing staircases, fences, gates, along with pieces of furniture like stained-glass lamps, chairs, among many other examples.

What Is Art Nouveau?

what is art nouveau
An example of an Art Nouveau-style staircase.

Beyond the shape of the art itself, different materials were being mixed together to get unique results. For example, iron, ceramic, glass, bricks, and other materials could all employed to form certain pieces of architecture such as columns or support beams, these different materials making it easier to portray the organic elements characteristic of the art movement. More than that, these materials made it so many supporting elements of interiors, which were usually ridged and unattractive, could be disguised as vines and other natural elements.

Art Nouveau gave rise to many different artists, some more famous than others, some whose names may still be familiar to us even today. For example, Gustav Klimt, famous for his painting “The Kiss,” Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec with his well-known painting “In Bed,” and Alphonse Mucha. Mucha is perhaps the first artist that comes to mind when picturing the style of Art Nouveau. His painting style perfectly and entirely embodied the movement, his compositions full of curves, plants, flowers, flowing long hair and dresses, palm fronds, and other organic elements. More than his style, his art was also ubiquitous during the period as it was often featured on promotional posters for advertising and for the theater. In particular, he created several art pieces for theater performances staring Sarah Bernhardt, who at the time, was perhaps one of the most famous theater actresses around.

One of Mucha’s promotional posters for actress Sarah Bernhardt.

The art movement in Europe had origins with artists of the Impressionist movement, namely Paul Gauguin notable for his use of color and natural settings such as the tropical jungles of Tahiti. However, Art Nouveau, interestingly, also has some very non-European influences, specifically from Japanese prints, or ukiyo-e, which are defined by their linear, yet fluid designs. Specifically, from 1890 to 1910, Art Nouveau was one of the most popular art styles around.

The Details

Very soon after the end of 1910, the art movement was considered old-fashioned and was soon forgotten in favor of other, newer art movements, such as Art Deco. In the 1960s, the art style was brought back to life through museums which held Art Nouveau exhibitions. Interestingly, because of its revitalization, it was even able to influence the current art movements of the time, such as Pop Art and the colorful, whimsical, swirling designs characteristic of psychedelic art of the late 1960s and early 1970s.

ART & ARTISTS: Psychedelic Graphics of the 1960s – part 1
An example of Art Nouveau’s revitilization in psychedelic art.

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One Comment

  1. That’s a nice overview. Personally, I much prefer Art Deco, with the cleaner lines, and modernist buidings.
    Thanks for following my blog, which is appreciated.
    Best wishes, Pete.

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