John Spacey, November 17, 2020 updated on April 27, 2023
Art Nouveau was an international movement of modern art that took place between 1890 and 1914 that is known for its decorative, colorful, natural style that embraced the fashions and spirit of its age. The following are the basic characteristics of Art Nouveau.
Time & Place
Art Nouveau was an art movement that occurred at a time and place that is never to be repeated. Art captures the spirit of an age such that future artists who use the same style are viewed as revivalists. Art Nouveau is an artifact of the period 1890 to 1914 with a few earlier works that can be considered precursors to the main movement.
Art Nouveau manages to be both extremely diverse and highly stylized such that it is instantly recognizable from style alone. This can be contrasted with other art movements such as romanticism that are identified more by their content.
Art Nouveau is viewed as a convergence between art and design. The early 20th century saw the rise of modern design whereby products and physical environments were increasingly designed in a standardized way. Art Nouveau is seen as a reaction to the design of the day that didn't hesitate to enter into spaces that were historically considered too commercial to be fine art such as interior decoration, furniture, posters, jewelry and housewares.
Arts & Crafts Movement
Art Nouveau is heavily related to the Arts and Crafts Movement of roughly the same time period that featured works with a handmade folk style as a reaction against the bland minimalism of industrial design for the masses.
As art movements go, Art Nouveau was relatively apolitical and commercial. It was also quite popular in its day and not misunderstood by the critics such that it can't be considered particularly avant-garde. For example, Art Nouveau was prominently featured at the Paris Exposition Universelle of 1900 that was visited by no less than 50 million people. Naturally, there are exceptions to be found whereby some Art Nouveau has a political message.
Perhaps due to its association with advertising and commercial art, Art Nouveau tends to embrace the bizarre. Advertising is often a little strange due to a cognitive effect known as the bizarreness effect whereby strange things are more memorable than ordinary things.
An embrace of complexity as a reaction against the standardization of the industrial revolution whereby products are designed not to offend anyone so that they can be scaled out as millions of exact copies.
Art Nouveau occurred at the same time as Pointillism, an avant-garde art movement that produced paintings from dots of paint. Art Nouveau sometimes emulates this style in drawing with small dots or irregular elements that form a picture or pattern. The Art Nouveau movement is also associated with renewed interest in mosaics and related formats such as tile and stained glass windows.
The diverse use of flat colors that are neither bright nor dull. Color is often used without regard to color harmony or realism.
Lettering in Art Nouveau posters have a distinctive style that is instantly recognizable despite being completely unique to each artist or work. They are organic, over-capitalized and extremely decorative, tall and thin.
Art Nouveau furniture, interiors, architecture and decorative items tend to use relatively expensive and unusual materials. This can be contrasted with modern minimialist design with its mantra of form follows function whereby practical materials such as plastic, concrete and steel are used.
The brave use of asymmetrical balance that contrasts the simple symmetrical forms of industrial design.
Natural themes such as flowers and organic free flowing forms.
Repeated elements that form patterns.
As an architectural style, Art Nouveau is associated with asymmetry and extremely heavy use of ornament. This almost resembles Gothic architecture if it weren't for the early 19th themes that were viewed as modern at the time.
As an interior design style, Art Nouveau tends to feel like the interior of an ornate Gothic church. Perhaps for this reason, it was common for Art Nouveau artists to be hired to decorate actual churches.
Contemporary For Its Time
Art Nouveau rejected the historical revivalism that was prevalent at the time in a competing art movement known as Academic Art and architecture style known as Victorian architecture. For example, people are depicted in what were contemporary styles at the time. By not emulating another age, Art Nouveau acts as a symbol of its time.
Art Nouveau began within the British Arts and Crafts movement, particularly the flower patterns of British textile designer and artist William Morris. By the end of the 19th century, it was an international art movement practiced in every country. Practically every country gave it a different name (see below). Of these, Austria was viewed as a breakaway whereby a style known as Vienna Secession is considered distinct and remarkable. This is largely due to the contributions of Gustav Klimt who is arguably one of the greatest artists in all of history.Gustav Klimt, Schubert
Country Specific Names for Art Nouveau
Name of Style
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