Art Nouveau Style

Art Nouveau Style

Art Nouveau, the “new art”, emerged as a group of related styles more or less simultaneously in various parts of Europe as a reaction against the muddle of historical revivals of the 19th century. In Belgium is was known as the “eel” or “noodle” style from its characteristic looped lines and whiplash curves. In Germany it was named the “Jugendstil” after the periodical “Jugend”, while in Vienna it was linked with the artists of the Wiener Secession. There was considerable resistance to the style in England although, in Italy, it was known as the “Stile Liberty” after the firm of Liberty & Co. of London. In England the style really only affected wallpapers, textiles and the decorative arts. Even the work of Charles Rennie Mackintosh and the Glasgow School, with their rather severe version of Art Nouveau, had more impact on the Continent.

The earliest examples of the style are believed to be an 1883 book illustration and some textile designs by Arthur Mackmurdo, the English architect and designer who was a friend of Ruskin and Morris, and who founded the Century Guild. Mackmurdo’s designs are thought to have been influenced by the “bizarre silks” with their asymmetric floral patterns combined with jagged lines, which were woven in the early 18th century.



The term “l’Art Nouveau” was taken from the name of Siegfried Bing’s influential shop Maison de l’Art Nouveau in Paris, which from 1895 to 1905 formed a showcase for the best in modern European and American design. Although the Art Nouveau style was a modern style it drew on historic traditions, notably the Gothic and the rococo and oriental styles, particularly the Japanese.

Art Nouveau was an ornate style, characterised by long, flowing lines that twisted in snakelike fashion. It was used mainly for furniture and interior decoration and in the design of glassware, jewellery, and other ornamental objects. Some artists used the Art Nouveau style for such graphic design works as book illustrations and posters.

The drawings of the English artists Aubrey Beardsley and the posters of Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec are outstanding examples of Art Nouveau graphic design. Other leading figures in the Art Nouveau movement included Emile Gallé of France and Louis Comfort Tiffany of the United States, both of whom created colourful glassware. Architects like Antonio Gaudi of Spain and Victor Horta of Belgium also incorporated elements of the style in their work.

Art Nouveau in brief:

  • Panelled in wood with vine-like tendrils and voluptuous plants framing the panels in asymmetrical forms;
  • Wallpapers with themes of flowing flowers and seaweed-like forms;
  • Friezes of similar patterns popular;
  • Dado rail usually omitted;
  • Ceilings generally plain.



Art Nouveau Furniture and Fabrics

Art Nouveau furniture featured design elements based on natural forms, such as blossoms, roots, stalks, and vines. Designers combined these forms with a graceful motif called a whiplash curve. Art Nouveau decorations often included female heads surrounded by flowing hair. Fabrics included printed cottons, cretonnes, stamped velvets, stencilled linens.

Art Nouveau Furniture and Fabrics in brief:

  • Two styles, one with curving organic lines that give furniture an appearance of growing from the floor, made of cherrywood, walnut and mahogany;
  • The other style in vertical forms with any Art Nouveau flowers controlled within a framework of chair backs, or set into cabinet doors, a very modern in design;
  • Printed cotton, cretonne, stamped velvet, stencilled linen.



The colours associated with Art Nouveau were pale and included mauve pinks, greens, turquoise, Peacock blue, yellow, black and silver.



A typical Art Nouveau window would have had no decorative surround and would have been set flush with the wall. Stained glass was very much a part of this style and appeared on sashes, casements and even French windows.

Many designs were elaborate, depicting birds or plants, while sometimes they were in abstract shapes. Stained glass was often used on staircase or landing windows for privacy.

Art Nouveau Windows in brief:

  • Windows often casement with leaded panes set with coloured glass with Art Nouveau patterns.



Glass lamps in plant-like forms by Tiffany, Gallé, Daum brothers, lit by electricity.



Polished boards or carpets designed to match decorative scheme.



Doors reveal panels with carving that matches scheme of the room.


Art Nouveau Buildings and Museums

The Victorian & Albert Museum, The Bethnal Green Museum, The Brighton Museum, Musée des Arts Décoratifs in Paris, Musée de l’Ecole de Nancy, Casa Batlló in Barcelona, Casa Milá in Barcelona, Hotel Solvay in Brussels, Maxim’s Paris, Vagenonde Restaurant Paris, Paris Métro entrances, Glasgow School of Art, The Hill House in Helensburgh.



© Jonny Ricoh ; London Entrepreneurs 2024