A Beginner's Guide to Art Nouveau

Updated on March 31, 2017
Art Nouveau stained glass window in the Belgium Hotel Santenoy
Art Nouveau stained glass window in the Belgium Hotel Santenoy | Source

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 | Source

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 | Source

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 | Source

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' | Source

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. | Source

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

Questions & Answers

    © 2009 Carol Fisher

    Do you Like Art Nouveau?

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      • Judith Nazarewicz profile image

        Judith Nazarewicz 

        5 years ago from Victoria, British Columbia, Canada

        I love Art Nouveau! So beautiful!

      • allaneaglesham lm profile image

        allaneaglesham lm 

        5 years ago

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

      • profile image

        angharad 

        5 years ago

        I love Art Nouveau. Wonderful lens.

      • Kylyssa profile image

        Kylyssa Shay 

        5 years ago from Overlooking a meadow near Grand Rapids, Michigan, USA

        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 profile image

        Titia Geertman 

        5 years ago from Waterlandkerkje - The Netherlands

        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 profile image

        EsotericAllusion 

        6 years ago

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

      • profile image

        anonymous 

        6 years ago

        Incredibly detailed and eye-catching!

      • SophiesWords profile image

        SophiesWords 

        6 years ago

        This is a beautiful, informative lens. Thank you!

      • profile image

        fullofshoes 

        6 years ago

        elegant!! enjoyed your lens very much.

      • Close2Art LM profile image

        Close2Art LM 

        6 years ago

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

      • GaelicForge profile image

        GaelicForge 

        6 years ago

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

      • curious0927 profile image

        curious0927 

        6 years ago

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

      • Johanna Eisler profile image

        Johanna Eisler 

        6 years ago

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

        Congratulations on making the front page!

      • Paul Ward profile image

        Paul 

        6 years ago from Liverpool, England

        Excellent lens introducing Art Nouveau: Angel Blessed

      • iWriteaLot profile image

        iWriteaLot 

        6 years ago

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

      • parwatisingari lm profile image

        parwatisingari lm 

        6 years ago

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

      • profile image

        DanielleRose 

        6 years ago

        Very interesting lens. Beautiful art and architecture!

      • a1kitchendesign1 profile image

        a1kitchendesign1 

        6 years ago

        Great Lens!!

      • profile image

        miaponzo 

        6 years ago

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

      • LiteraryMind profile image

        Ellen Gregory 

        6 years ago from Connecticut, USA

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

      • Scarlettohairy profile image

        Peggy Hazelwood 

        6 years ago from Desert Southwest, U.S.A.

        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 profile image

        KevCooper 

        6 years ago

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

      • profile image

        agent009 

        6 years ago

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

      • Leilani-m profile image

        Leilani-m 

        6 years ago

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

      • cocomoonbeams profile image

        cocomoonbeams 

        6 years ago

        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!

      • profile image

        anonymous 

        6 years ago

        great art

      • profile image

        SIALicenceUK 

        6 years ago

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

      • efcruzarts profile image

        efcruzarts 

        6 years ago

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

      • Aquavel profile image

        Aquavel 

        6 years ago

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

      • Heatherseesthel profile image

        Heatherseesthel 

        6 years ago

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

      • profile image

        RecipePublishing 

        6 years ago

        Great lens.

      • profile image

        MagnoliaTree 

        7 years ago

        Lovely lens. Thanks for sharing this information!

      • profile image

        anonymous 

        7 years ago

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

      • DebinSC profile image

        DebinSC 

        7 years ago

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

      • profile image

        anonymous 

        7 years ago

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

      • Michey LM profile image

        Michey LM 

        7 years ago

        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 profile image

        Clairwil LM 

        7 years ago

        One of my favourite periods in art. Excellent lens.

      • WildFacesGallery profile image

        Mona 

        7 years ago from Iowa

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

      • Gloriousconfusion profile image

        Diana Grant 

        7 years ago from United Kingdom

        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 profile image

        Aquavel 

        7 years ago

        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 profile image

        Lee Hansen 

        7 years ago from Vermont

        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 profile image

        Ann-Marie LM 

        7 years ago

        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.

      • indigoj profile image

        Indigo Janson 

        7 years ago from UK

        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.

      • Stazjia profile imageAUTHOR

        Carol Fisher 

        7 years ago from Warminster, Wiltshire, UK

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

      • justholidays profile image

        justholidays 

        7 years ago

        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!

      • Grasmere Sue profile image

        Sue Dixon 

        8 years ago from Grasmere, Cumbria, UK

        I love Art Nouveau, and your lens is beautiful

      • Shades-of-truth profile image

        Emily Tack 

        8 years ago from USA

        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 profile image

        davis66 

        8 years ago

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

      • profile image

        anonymous 

        8 years ago

        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 profile image

        dahlia369 

        8 years ago

        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!! :)

      • profile image

        GrowWear 

        8 years ago

        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 :)

      • RhondaAlbom profile image

        Rhonda Albom 

        8 years ago from New Zealand

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

      • pkmcruk profile image

        pkmcr 

        8 years ago from Cheshire UK

        Congratulations on your well deserved Purple Star :-)

      • pkmcruk profile image

        pkmcr 

        8 years ago from Cheshire UK

        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 :-)

      • profile image

        palaceofglass 

        8 years ago

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

        Glass Decoration

      • Bellezza-Decor profile image

        Bellezza-Decor 

        8 years ago from Canada

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

      • verymary profile image

        Mary 

        8 years ago from Chicago area

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

      • goldenecho profile image

        Gale 

        8 years ago from Texas

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

      • profile image

        ulla_hennig 

        8 years ago

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

      • groovyfind profile image

        Samantha Devereux 

        9 years ago from Columbia Mo

        How cool, Instant fave!

      • JanTUB profile image

        Jan T Urquhart Baillie 

        9 years ago from Australia

        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.

      • profile image

        Agapantha 

        9 years ago

        I could drool

      • cjsysreform profile image

        cjsysreform 

        9 years ago

        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 profile image

        Dianne Loomos 

        9 years ago

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

      • ctavias0ffering1 profile image

        ctavias0ffering1 

        9 years ago

        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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