Art Nouveau is an international style of art, architecture and applied art, especially the decorative arts, that was most popular between 1890 and 1910. A reaction to the academic art of the 19th century, it was inspired by natural forms and structures, particularly the curved lines of plants and flowers.
English uses the French name Art Nouveau (new art). The style is related to, but not identical with, styles that emerged in many countries in Europe at about the same time: in Austria it is known as Secessionsstil after Wiener Secession; in Spanish Modernismo; in Catalan Modernisme; in Czech Secese; in Danish Skønvirke or Jugendstil; in German Jugendstil, Art Nouveau or Reformstil; in Hungarian Szecesszió; in Italian Art Nouveau, Stile Liberty or Stile floreale; in Norwegian Jugendstil; in Polish Secesja; in Slovak Secesia; in Ukrainian and Russian Модерн (Modern); in Swedish and Finnish Jugend.
Art Nouveau is a total art style: It embraces a wide range of fine and decorative arts, including architecture, painting, graphic art, interior design, jewelry, furniture, textiles, ceramics, glass art, and metal work.
By 1910, Art Nouveau was already out of style. It was replaced as the dominant European architectural and decorative style first by Art Deco and then by Modernism.
Art Nouveau took its name from the Maison de l’Art Nouveau (House of the New Art), an art gallery opened in 1895 by the Franco-German art dealer Siegfried Bing that featured the new style. In France, Art Nouveau was also sometimes called by the British term “Modern Style” due to its roots in the Arts and Crafts movement, Style moderne, or Style 1900. It was also sometimes called Style Jules Verne, Le Style Métro (after Hector Guimard’s iron and glass subway entrances), Art Belle Époque, and Art fin de siècle.
In Belgium, where the architectural movement began, it was sometimes termed Style nouille (noodle style) or Style coup de fouet (whiplash style).
In Britain, it was known as the Modern Style, or, because of the Arts and Crafts movement led by Charles Rennie Mackintosh in Glasgow, as the “Glasgow” style.
In Italy, because of the popularity of designs from London’s Liberty & Co department store (mostly designed by Archibald Knox), it was sometimes called the Stile Liberty (“Liberty style”), Stile floral, or Arte nova (New Art).
In the United States, due to its association with Louis Comfort Tiffany, it was often called the “Tiffany style”.
In Germany and Scandinavia, a related style emerged at about the same time; it was called Jugendstil, after the popular German art magazine of that name. In Austria and the neighboring countries then part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, a similar style emerged, called Secessionsstil in German, (Hungarian: szecesszió, Czech: secese) or Wiener Jugendstil, after the artists of the Vienna Secession.
In Spain the related style was known as Modernismo, Modernisme (in Catalan), Arte joven (“young art”); and in Portugal Arte nova (new art).
In Russia, it was called Modern (Модерн ар-нуво), and Jugendstil (Югендстиль), and Nieuwe Kunst (new art) in the Netherlands.
Some names refer specifically to the organic forms that were popular with the Art Nouveau artists: Stile Floreal (“floral style”) in France; Paling Stijl (“eel style”) in the Netherlands; and Wellenstil (“wave style”) and Lilienstil (“lily style”) in Germany.
The new art movement had its roots in Britain, in the floral designs of William Morris, and in the Arts and Crafts movement founded by the pupils of Morris. Early prototypes of the style include the Red House of Morris (1859), and the lavish Peacock Room by James Abbott McNeill Whistler. The new movement was also strongly influenced by the Pre-Raphaelite painters, including Dante Gabriel Rossetti and Edward Burne-Jones, and especially by British graphic artists of the 1880s, including Selwyn Image, Heywood Sumner, Walter Crane, Alfred Gilbert, and especially Aubrey Beardsley.
In France, the style combined several different tendencies. In architecture, it was influenced by the architectural theorist and historian Eugène Viollet-le-Duc, a declared enemy of the historical Beaux-Arts architectural style. In his 1872 book Entretiens sur l’architecture, he wrote, “use the means and knowledge given to us by our times, without the intervening traditions which are no longer viable today, and in that way we can inaugurate a new architecture. For each function its material; for each material its form and its ornament.” This book influenced a generation of architects, including Louis Sullivan, Victor Horta, Hector Guimard, and Antoni Gaudí.
The French painters Maurice Denis, Pierre Bonnard and Édouard Vuillard played an important part in integrating fine arts painting with decoration. “I believe that before everything a painting must decorate”, Denis wrote in 1891. “The choice of subjects or scenes is nothing. It is by the value of tones, the colored surface and the harmony of lines that I can reach the spirit and wake up the emotions.” These painters all did both traditional painting and decorative painting on screens, in glass, and in other media.
Another important influence on the new style was Japonism: the wave of enthusiasm for Japanese woodblock printing, particularly the works of Hiroshige, Hokusai, and Utagawa Kunisada which were imported into Europe beginning in the 1870s. The enterprising Siegfried Bing founded a monthly journal, Le Japon artistique in 1888, and published thirty-six issues before it ended in 1891. It influenced both collectors and artists, including Gustav Klimt. The stylized features of Japanese prints appeared in Art Nouveau graphics, porcelain, jewelry, and furniture.
New technologies in printing and publishing allowed Art Nouveau to quickly reach a global audience. Art magazines, illustrated with photographs and color lithographs, played an essential role in popularizing the new style. The Studio in England, Arts et idèes and Art et décoration in France, and Jugend in Germany allowed the style to spread rapidly to all corners of Europe. Aubrey Beardsley in England, and Eugène Grasset, Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec, and Félix Vallotton achieved international recognition as illustrators.
With the posters by Jules Cheret for dancer Loie Fuller in 1893, and by Alphonse Mucha for actress Sarah Bernhardt in 1895, the poster became not just advertising, but an art form. Toulouse-Lautrec and other artists achieved international celebrity status.
Maison de l’Art Nouveau (1895)
The Franco-German art dealer and publisher Siegfried Bing played a key role in publicizing the style. In 1891, he founded a magazine devoted to the art of Japan, which helped publicize Japonism in Europe. In 1892, he organized an exhibit of seven artists, among them Pierre Bonnard, Félix Vallotton, Édouard Vuillard, Toulouse-Lautrec and Eugène Grasset, which included both modern painting and decorative work. This exhibition was shown at the Société nationale des beaux-arts in 1895. In the same year, Bing opened a new gallery at 22 rue de Provence in Paris, the Maison de l’Art Nouveau, devoted to new works in both the fine and decorative arts. The interior and furniture of the gallery were designed by the Belgian architect Henry Van de Velde, one of the pioneers of Art Nouveau architecture. The Maison de l’Art Nouveau showed paintings by Georges Seurat, Paul Signac and Toulouse-Lautrec, glass from Louis Comfort Tiffany and Emile Gallé, jewelry by René Lalique, and posters by Aubrey Beardsley. The works shown there were not at all uniform in style. Bing wrote in 1902, “Art Nouveau, at the time of its creation, did not aspire in any way to have the honor of becoming a generic term. It was simply the name of a house opened as a rallying point for all the young and ardent artists impatient to show the modernity of their tendencies.”
Beginning of Art Nouveau architecture (1893–1898)
The first Art Nouveau houses, the Hôtel Tassel by Victor Horta and the Bloemenwerf house by Henry Van de Velde, were built in Brussels in 1893–1895. Both Horta and Van de Velde designed not only the houses, but also all of the interior decoration, furniture, carpets, and architectural details.
Horta, an architect with classical training, designed the residence of a prominent Belgian chemist, Émile Tassel, on a very narrow and deep site. The central element became the stairway, beneath a high skylight. The floors were supported by slender iron columns like the trunks of the trees. The mosaic floors and walls were decorated with delicate arabesques in floral and vegetal forms, which became the most popular signature of Art Nouveau.
Van de Velde was by training a designer, not an architect, and collaborated with an architect on the plan of the Bloemenwerf, the house that he built for himself. He was inspired by the British Arts and Crafts Movement, particularly the Red House of William Morris, and like them he designed all aspects of the building, including the furniture, wallpaper and carpets.
After visiting Horta’s Hôtel Tassel, Hector Guimard built the Castel Béranger, the first Paris building in the new style, between 1895 and 1898. Parisians had been complaining of the monotony of the architecture of the boulevards built under Napoleon III by Georges-Eugène Haussmann. They welcomed the colorful and picturesque style of Guimard; the Castel Béranger was chosen as one of the best new façades in Paris, launching Guimard’s career. Guimard was given the commission to design the entrances for the new Paris metro system, which brought the style to the attention of the millions of visitors to the 1900 Exposition Universelle in Paris.
Paris Exposition universelle (1900)
The Paris 1900 Exposition universelle marked the high point of Art Nouveau. Between April and November 1900, it attracted nearly fifty million visitors from around the world, and showcased the architecture, design, glassware, furniture and decorative objects of the style. The architecture of the Exposition was often a mixture of Art Nouveau and Beaux-Arts architecture: the main exhibit hall, the Grand Palais had a Beaux-Arts façade completely unrelated to the spectacular Art Nouveau stairway and exhibit hall in the interior.
The Exposition particularly highlighted French designers, who all made special works for the Exhibition: Lalique crystal and jewelry; jewelry by Henri Vever and Georges Fouquet; Daum glass; the Manufacture nationale de Sèvres in porcelain; ceramics by Alexandre Bigot; sculpted glass lamps and vases by Emile Gallé and Louis Comfort Tiffany, and Company from the United States; furniture by Édouard Colonna and Louis Majorelle; and many other prominent arts and crafts firms from around Europe and the world. At the 1900 Paris Exposition, Siegfried Bing presented a pavilion called Art Nouveau Bing, which featured six different interiors entirely decorated in the Style.
While the Paris Exposition was by far the largest, other expositions did much to popularize the style. The 1888 Barcelona Universal Exposition marked the beginning of the Modernisme style in Spain, with some buildings of Lluís Domènech i Montaner. The Esposizione internazionale d’arte decorativa moderna of 1902 in Turin, Italy, showcased designers from across Europe.