About Art Nouveau

Art Nouveau was an art style that began in Europe and spread rapidly throughout the world. The commonly known period of time for the Art Nouveau style lies between the years 1890 and 1905; this fifteen-year ‘peak period’ produced many artists that are still influential today.

Art Nouveau was characterized by the use of organic, stylized curvilinear forms in its designs, as well as heavy use of floral inspired motifs. Inspirations for this style came from Japanese woodblock prints. Several artists of this time, such as Jules Cheret and Alphons Mucha, used females in a large portion of their designs. The idea was that the females would embody a sense of sensuality, or temptation, that is meant to seduce the viewer and have them captivated by the sexual appeal of the product that is being advertised; however, this often led to the viewer not being able to immediately discern what the product is being shown.

The utilization of the female form was seen throughout Europe; however, Henri van de Velde discarded the notion of ‘sex sells’ with his advertisement for Tropon chocolates, printed in 1897. Instead, van de Velde relied on highly abstracted curvilinear forms, which are still very distinctly of the Art Nouveau aesthetic, to go along with this new style of design. Henri van de Velde believed that art should encompass all areas of human life; in other words, Art Nouveau should extend to all areas of design (architecture, furniture, applied arts, fine arts, etc…)

Jeremy Howard, author of Art Nouveau: International and National Styles in Europe, wrote, “This was an age of new ways of looking: at the world, the self and the human relationship to the natural environment.” He continues by saying that this style changed the perception of how people saw culture and things going on around them. The previous thoughts of life being too much to fully understand was thrown out of the window as people began changing their ways of thinking.

This change in thought motivated many people, and began showing up in architecture. Two of Art Nouveau’s prime architects are Victor Horta and Hector Guimard. Guimard’s work can be seen on the entrances and pavilions for the Paris Métro in France, and Victor Horta’s designed the interior for Hotel Solvay. In the decorative arts department, Louis Comfort Tiffany was the most known designer. His works also characterized Art Nouveau motifs with its curvilinear forms and earthy colors.

This highly decorative style started started to dwindle out around in the 1900’s due to war times.