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A Beginner's Guide to Art Nouveau

Art Nouveau stained glass window in the Belgium Hotel Santenoy

Art Nouveau stained glass window in the Belgium Hotel Santenoy

The Winds of Change Bring in Art Nouveau

The Art Nouveau style occurred during the last quarter of the 19th century and evolved from Aestheticism and the Art and Crafts Movement.

The revolution occurred because many artists and designers were disenchanted and bored with the fussiness of Victorian art, design, style and fashion.

New design and style ideas appeared in many different areas of Victorian life, and designers continued to search for ways to reflect the changing world of the late 19th century. In Britain, in the last quarter of the century, international trade was more important than it had ever been. At the same time, there was a consciousness, particularly among artists and designers, that this was a new, modern age which should be reflected in their work; they needed a 'new art' or, as the French say, "Art Nouveau."

This was not a purely British movement but was seen worldwide in Europe, Australia, the USA, Canada and Japan.

Portrait of Adele Bloch-Bauer by Gustav Klimt (1862-1918), now in the Neue Galerie, New York

Portrait of Adele Bloch-Bauer by Gustav Klimt (1862-1918), now in the Neue Galerie, New York

From Classical to Eastern and Folk Influences

Art Nouveau was a conscious attempt at modernism and a departure from traditional Victorian forms of design, most of which looked back to the past for inspiration.

Designers rejected the inspiration of classical European art and instead looked to Japanese, Celtic and other folk art as a basis for their work. This can be seen in works by artists such as Gustav Klimt. Typical motifs come from nature: flowers, insects and birds. Lines curve and wind, straight lines were scorned by Art Nouveau designers.

Symbolism is important in the designs. For example a leaf may be just a leaf or perhaps it is part of the female body. Designers used forms from the natural world in ways that suggested they might represent human limbs. They used traditional materials like wood, glass, and pewter.

A movie on DVD about Siegfried Bing, the man largely responsible for promoting Art Nouveau. His gallery in Paris displayed work by some of the movement's most famous exponents like William Morris and Louis Comfort Tiffany.

Bedroom furniture by Gustave Serrurier-Bovy, a leading Belgian architect and designer who lived from 1858 - 1910

Bedroom furniture by Gustave Serrurier-Bovy, a leading Belgian architect and designer who lived from 1858 - 1910

A Ragbag of Different Styles?

It is only comparatively recently that Art Nouveau was accepted as a 'style' and accorded any real recognition. It had been seen as a collection of different styles with little in common except, perhaps, a taste for excess and flamboyant decoration.

Not only is there no consensus on the exact definition or characteristics of Art Nouveau, there is even some argument over the period it covered although generally it is thought to be from the 1890s to about 1910.

Art Nouveau was not universally acclaimed, particularly in England. Many critics of the period saw it as decadent and self indulgent. For example, the sculptor, Sir Alfred Gilbert who created Eros in Piccadilly Circus, said "L'Art Nouveau, forsooth! Absolute nonsense! It belongs to the young lady's seminary and the duffer's paradise..." This was not untypical of the feelings of the time.

Candlesticks by Archibald Knox, now in the Carnegie Museum of Art

Candlesticks by Archibald Knox, now in the Carnegie Museum of Art

The Role of the Liberty Store

In London, the famous Liberty department store had been instrumental in encouraging and promoting Arts and Crafts.

Arthur Lasenby Liberty, its proprietor, knew many of the designers and, in the 1890s, promoted Art Nouveau in both the London and Paris stores. Indeed, in Italy, Art Nouveau was known as Stile Liberty so synonymous was Liberty & Co with the style.

Liberty sold work by designers like Lindsay P. Butterfield, who produced textiles and wallpaper, and Archibald Knox who designed across a wide range from pewter and jewellery to carpets and clocks.

Part of Louis Comfort Tiffany's Stained Glass Window in Yale University called 'Education'

Part of Louis Comfort Tiffany's Stained Glass Window in Yale University called 'Education'

Two Great Art Nouveau Designers

Many gifted designers embraced Art Nouveau but two of the greatest must be René Lalique and Louis Comfort Tiffany, both renowned for their designs in glass and jewellery.

Louis Comfort Tiffany is perhaps best known for his lamps and smaller glass objects. Some of his most stunning work in glass, however, was on a much bigger scale.

Examples can be seen in the Tiffany Chapel, reassembled at the Morse Museum of American Art in Florida. Constructed using Favrile glass (Tiffany's own invention), the reredos or altar wall shows a bunch of grapes between two peacocks over which hovers an enormous crown. The chapel also contains leaded windows by Tiffany.

Much of Lalique's Art Nouveau jewellery is exquisitely delicate, and depicts natural forms like flowers, leaves and seed pods. Unusually for a jewellery designer of the time, Lalique's pieces often had relatively little intrinsic value because he did not often use large gemstones in his work. He refined the use of glass in jewellery, not as imitation diamonds or other precious stones, but as a painter uses paint. This technique continued into vases, statuettes, car mascots and glass panels.

Poppy Necklace by René Lalique

A delicate poppy necklace made in the early 1900s by René Lalique. It is gold, diamonds, enamel and glass.

A delicate poppy necklace made in the early 1900s by René Lalique. It is gold, diamonds, enamel and glass.

Antoni Gaudi - Art Nouveau Architect

Antoni Gaudi in Spain is probably one of the most controversial Art Nouveau designers. The keynotes of his architecture were fluid lines and extravagant exterior decoration much of it done by using a mixture of applied materials to the outside walls.

His best known building is the cathedral, Temple de la Sagrada Familia, Barcelona, Spain, which he started in 1882 and he worked on for over forty years until his death in 1926. Since then, other architects have taken over the project in an effort to finish it. This has been made more difficult because the original plans were destroyed by anarchists in the 1930s. Now, the estimated finishing date is in 2026 but many people will be surprised if it is completed by then.

Gaudi's use of applying materials to the walls gives it an organic appearance. In some places it looks like melted wax or some kind of primordial plant. The whole building is so unexpected and extraordinary that it is now one of Spain's most popular visitor attractions.


Gaudi's Temple de la Sagrada Familia in Barcelona, Spain

© 2009 Carol Fisher

Do you Like Art Nouveau?

Judith Nazarewicz from Victoria, British Columbia, Canada on June 17, 2013:

I love Art Nouveau! So beautiful!

allaneaglesham lm on May 10, 2013:

I am very glad to see that you mention Charles Rennie Mackintosh - my hero!

angharad on December 04, 2012:

I love Art Nouveau. Wonderful lens.

Kylyssa Shay from Overlooking a meadow near Grand Rapids, Michigan, USA on October 15, 2012:

No, I don't like Art Nouveau; I love it! I love the way it makes its appearance in the form of practical items as well as being a style of art.

Titia Geertman from Waterlandkerkje - The Netherlands on September 08, 2012:

Yes, I'm nuts about Art Nouveau, along with the Art Deco. I think they are the most beautiful styles ever. That's why I love Paris so much, it's filled with Art Nouveau. Thank you for sharing beauty.

EsotericAllusion on May 21, 2012:

I would actually like to see Gaudi's buildings for real, they are Gothic in a haunting way.

anonymous on May 17, 2012:

Incredibly detailed and eye-catching!

SophiesWords on May 05, 2012:

This is a beautiful, informative lens. Thank you!

fullofshoes on February 09, 2012:

elegant!! enjoyed your lens very much.

Close2Art LM on January 31, 2012:

love the feel of the style and this lens is great, Blessed!!!

GaelicForge on January 28, 2012:

"New Art" is forever unfolding- question, doubt, and search for that which is innovative.....

curious0927 on January 28, 2012:

Nice work! My first experience with Art Nouveau, am glad it was this one! Blessed

Johanna Eisler on January 27, 2012:

I didn't realize Art Nouveau encompassed so many different styles. Thanks for the enlightenment! :)

Congratulations on making the front page!

Paul from Liverpool, England on January 27, 2012:

Excellent lens introducing Art Nouveau: Angel Blessed

iWriteaLot on January 26, 2012:

The Sangrada Familia looks amazing. And thanks. I always just dumped Art Nouveau in with Art Deco. Nice lens

parwatisingari lm on January 25, 2012:

I love those glassworks! sometime I going to create some. this year my target is zendalas!

DanielleRose on January 25, 2012:

Very interesting lens. Beautiful art and architecture!

a1kitchendesign1 on January 24, 2012:

Great Lens!!

miaponzo on January 24, 2012:

I DO... and now I have some background on it!!!! Thanks for the Art Nouveau lesson! Blessed!

Ellen Gregory from Connecticut, USA on January 23, 2012:

Very informative lens. I prettty much like something about every style.

Peggy Hazelwood from Desert Southwest, U.S.A. on January 23, 2012:

I do like Art Nouveau style but like Art Deco better. I think it's great that the word gaudy came from Gaudi's name.

KevCooper on January 16, 2012:

Love it! But I'm not a big fan of Charles Rennie Macintosh.

agent009 on November 26, 2011:

This looks incredible! I love the older turn of the century art styles and Pop Art the most.

Leilani-m on November 18, 2011:

I love art noveau and often use it in my designs as very decoratice accent. Great lens!

cocomoonbeams on November 09, 2011:

I love Art Nouveau, it has always been one of my favorite styles! Mucha is my absolute fave! I also wanted to say thanks for helping me in the SquidU forum back in September. You were the first person to actually give me really good advice and I learned a lot from you! My lenses have really gone up in ranking after taking some of your advice and I've been featured on the front page of the Halloween magazine and even made a sale! So, thanks!

anonymous on November 05, 2011:

great art

SIALicenceUK on November 03, 2011:

Fantastic lens, well laid out and easy to read. Thumbs up

efcruzarts on October 26, 2011:

great infos for art nouveau. This lens is good at it!

Aquavel on September 22, 2011:

Wonderful lens and selections of Art Nouveau artists, architects and craftsmen! Thanks for sharing!

Heatherseesthel on August 30, 2011:

Thanks for this beginners' guide to Art Nouveau for home décor!

RecipePublishing on August 21, 2011:

Great lens.

MagnoliaTree on June 03, 2011:

Lovely lens. Thanks for sharing this information!

anonymous on June 01, 2011:

I love Art Nouveau, and I love that time period. Great examples!

DebinSC on April 03, 2011:

Great job presenting a complex subject! I'm a fan or Art Nouveau. Love this!

anonymous on February 07, 2011:

What a lovely resource for beginners on Art Nouveau. Visited by the neighborhood Interior Design Angel and blessed.

Michey LM on December 09, 2010:

This is a great presentation of Art Nouveau which is spanning across many niches including arts in general, but also Architecture (Gaudi is a perfect example), and especially decorative art created by: Tiffany, Lalique, Faberge, which enhence our life with beauty, simplicity and value.

So I stretch my wings to Bless this lens

Clairwil LM on November 30, 2010:

One of my favourite periods in art. Excellent lens.

Mona from Iowa on October 14, 2010:

A great lens showcasing one of my favorite art periods. Really lovely.

Diana Grant from United Kingdom on October 08, 2010:

I love art nouveau - so much so that I even went to Barcelona to see the Gaudi buildings. And one of my grandchildren's forenames are William Morris....

A most enjoyable lens

Aquavel on October 03, 2010:

Wonderful lens! I love Art Nouveau and the work of Tiffany, Gaudi, Toulouse-Lautrec, Margaret & Frances MacDonald and so many others. Thanks for sharing!

Lee Hansen from Vermont on September 17, 2010:

I've been drawn to Art Nouveau for years. I love the organic shapes and design features. The artists Mucha and Klimt and Tiffany are among my favorites. I'm off to explore MacIntosh's works thanks to you ...

Ann-Marie LM on September 16, 2010:

Iâve always thought that the images of the Sagrada Familia look like a cross between fine art and science fiction. Truly amazing! Thanks for an interesting and well illustrated lens on such a fascinating topic.

Indigo Janson from UK on September 14, 2010:

I do like some Art Nouveau, particularly the Tiffany stained glass. And in any case I admire these artists and architects for the way they shook up the established order and forged ahead with something so different. I very much enjoyed your overview of this style here and learning about the connection with Liberty in London.

Carol Fisher (author) from Warminster, Wiltshire, UK on September 07, 2010:

@justholidays: Sorry I missed your favourites but I'm glad you enjoyed what I included.

justholidays on September 07, 2010:

Excellent, excellent! My favourite isn't in this lens but I definitely love this architecture: it's La Pedrera, in Barcelona! Oh, and I missed Baron Horta's architecture and mention. But all in all, I really enjoyed the visit here!

Sue Dixon from Grasmere, Cumbria, UK on March 12, 2010:

I love Art Nouveau, and your lens is beautiful

Emily Tack from USA on March 10, 2010:

I love Art Nouveau things, and have sold a lot of Art Nouveau jewelry, in one of my businesses. Always interesting, just as this aritcle was!

davis66 on January 07, 2010:

I love so much of the creations that came out of this period like those created by Tiffany and Faberge. Great lens.

anonymous on January 02, 2010:

I've loved Art Nouveau since late 60's college classes in drawing, design, and art history. I enjoy the liquid lines and ornamentation that re-emerged in "Hippy" style posters, clothing, hairstyles, etc. Thanks for the explanations and links to peruse! 5*, faved, and fanned. :-)

dahlia369 on December 22, 2009:

Anything art-related usually catches my attention, especially when good info is accompanied with beautiful images. Wonderful lens, I very much enjoyed it - and thank you for the blessing, too!! :)

GrowWear on December 21, 2009:

Thank you for the introduction to the Temple de la Sagrada Familia, Barcelona, Spain. Truly astonishing! Would love to see it with my own eyes! Angel Blessed :)

Rhonda Albom from New Zealand on December 18, 2009:

I learned a lot here. I never quite understood what constituted Art Nouveau before reading this lens. Thanks. Blessed.

pkmcr from Cheshire UK on November 19, 2009:

Congratulations on your well deserved Purple Star :-)

pkmcr from Cheshire UK on November 15, 2009:

I am not sure how I had missed this amazing lens about a form of art which I adore. Rectified now and Blessed by a Squid Angel :-)

palaceofglass on November 08, 2009:

Nice lens! So inspiring and simply great! 5 stars from me.

Glass Decoration

Bellezza-Decor from Canada on October 26, 2009:

I love art nouveau and art deco. Wonderful lens 5* and thanks for dropping by!

Mary from Chicago area on September 23, 2009:

5* and rolling this to squidoo.com/odilon-redon

Gale from Texas on September 13, 2009:

Wonderful lens, great job! I am surprised you didn't mention Aphonse Mucha, though.

ulla_hennig on August 10, 2009:

I like this lens! I have been to Riga in June - this town has quite a few art nouveau houses.

Samantha Lynn from Missouri on July 05, 2009:

How cool, Instant fave!

Jan T Urquhart Baillie from Australia on May 24, 2009:

Art Nouveau is so curvy and sinuous, it conjures up a reclining fairy queen picture from a book I've had since I was three. This a wonderfully informative lens for design buffs. Thanks. 5* and faved.

Agapantha on May 22, 2009:

I could drool

cjsysreform on May 20, 2009:

I love art nouveau. I discovered Lalique glass in one of your other lenses and have become mildly obsessed. Also, the furniture from that period was just amazing. Last year I went to see an art nouveau exhibit which was mainly furniture, and I haven't looked at chairs the same way since.

This lens captures the gorgeous decadence of art nouveau perfectly. Rated 5* and added to favorites... but please don't let me buy any of this stuff until I'm rich and famous! :P

Dianne Loomos on May 19, 2009:

I love art nouveau. You have some beautiful depictions of it here.

ctavias0ffering1 on May 19, 2009:

Art Nouveau is so stylish and graceful, airy and with a deceptive simplicity. You'll never be short of material for updating this lens. When you look at the historical context (in design terms) Art Nouveau was almost bound to happen. Great subject, love the lens 5*

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