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A highly decorative idiom, Art Nouveau typically employed intricate curvilinear

patterns of sinuous asymetrical lines, often based on plant-forms (sometimes

derived from La Tene forms of Celtic art). Floral and other plant-inspired motifs
are popular Art Nouveau designs, as are female silhouettes and forms.
Employing a variety of materials, the style was used in architecture, interior
design, glassware, jewellery, poster art and illustration, as well as painting and
sculpture. The movement was replaced in the 1920s by Art Deco.
Art Nouveau means much more than a single look or mood: we are reminded of
tall grasses in light wind, or swirling lines of stormy water, or intricate vegetation
- all stemming from organic nature: an interest in which should be understood
as proceeding from a sense of life's order lost or perverted amidst urban
industrial stress.
Definition, Characteristics
There is no single definition or meaning of Art Nouveau. But the following are
distinguishing factors. (1) Art Nouveau philosophy was in favour of applying artistic
designs to everyday objects, in order to make beautiful things available to everyone. No
object was too utilitarian to be "beautified". (2) Art Nouveau saw no separation in
principle between fine art (painting and sculpture) and applied or decorative arts
(ceramics, furniture, and other practical objects). (3) In content, the style was a reaction
to a world of art which was dominated by the precise geometry of Neoclassical forms. It
sought a new graphic design language, as far away as possible from the historical and
classical models employed by the arts academies. (4) Art Nouveau remains something of
an umbrella term which embraces a variety of stylistic interpretations: some artists used
new low-cost materials and mass production methods while others used more expensive
materials and valued high craftsmanship.
Types of Designs
In line with with the Art Nouveau philosophy that art should become part of everyday
life, it employed flat, decorative patterns that could be used in all art forms. Typical
decorative elements include leaf and tendril motifs, intertwined organic forms, mostly
curvaceous in shape, although right-angled designs were also prevalent in Scotland and
in Austria. Art made in this style typically depicted lavish birds, flowers, insects and other
zoomorphs, as well as the hair and curvaceous bodies of beautiful women. For Art
Nouveau architectural designs, see the exaggerated bulbous forms of the Spanish
architect Antoni Gaudi (1852-1926), and the stylistic Parisian Metro entrances of Hector
Guimard (1867-1942).
Art Nouveau designs were most common in glassware, jewellery, and other decorative
objects like ceramics. But the style was also applied to textiles, household silver,
domestic utensils, cigarette cases, furniture and lighting, as well as drawing, poster art,
painting and book illustration. Theatrical design of sets and costumes was another area
in which the new style flourished. The best examples are the designs created by Leon
Bakst (1866-1924) and Alexander Benois (1870-1960) for Diaghilev and the Ballets
Russes. Art Nouveau also had a strong application in the field of architecture and interior
design. In this area it exemplified a more humanistic and less functionalist approach to
the urban environment. Hyperbolas and parabolas in windows, arches, and doors were

typical as were plant-derived forms for moldings. Art Nouveau interior designers updated
some of the more abstract elements of Rococo style, such as flame and shell textures,
and also employed highly stylized organic forms, expanding the 'natural' repertoire to
include seaweed, grasses, and insects. Art Nouveau architectural designs made broad
use of exposed iron and large, irregular pieces of glass.

Art Nouveau Decorative Glass and Jewellery

In both these areas, Art Nouveau found tremendous expression, as exemplified in works
by Louis Comfort Tiffany in New York, Charles Rennie Mackintosh in Glasgow
and Emile Galle and the Daum brothers in Nancy, France. Jewellery of the Art
Nouveau period saw new levels of virtuosity in enameling as well as the introduction of
new materials such as moulded glass, horn, and ivory. The growth of interest
in Japanese art (a fashion known as Japonisme), along with increased respect for
Japanese metalworking skills, also stimulated new themes and approaches to
ornamentation. As a result, jewellers stopped seeing themselves as mere craftsmen
whose task was to provide settings for precious stones like diamonds, and began seeing
themselves as artist-designers. A new type of Art Nouveau jewellery emerged that
depended less on its gemstone content and more on its designwork. The jewellers of
Paris and Brussels were at the forefront of the Art Nouveau movement and it was in
these cities that it achieved the greatest success. In America, Louis Comfort Tiffany
(1848-92) was an adventurous creator of luxury objects, mainly in glass, often utilising
the shot-silk glow of metallic iridescence, and inspired by flower and feather. Tiffany's
firm was enormously successful and his goods were much imitated.

When art nouveau was showcased first in Paris and then in London, there was
outrage; people either loved it or loathed it. Within the style itself there are two
distinct looks: curvy lines and the more austere, linear look of artists such as Charles
Rennie Mackintosh. Some aspects of art nouveau were revived again in the 1960s.

sinuous, elongated, curvy lines

the whiplash line

vertical lines and height

stylised flowers, leaves, roots, buds and seedpods

the female form - in a pre-Raphaelite pose with long, flowing hair

exotic woods, marquetry, iridescent glass, silver and semi-precious stones


arts and crafts - art nouveau shared the same belief in quality goods and fine
craftsmanship but was happy with mass production

rococo style

botanical research

The names

Charles Rennie Mackintosh - architect and designer of furniture and


Alphonse Mucha - posters

Aubrey Beardsley - book illustrations

Louis Comfort Tiffany - lighting

Ren Lalique - glass and jewellery

Emile Galle - ceramics, glass and furniture

Victor Horta - architect

At the time

1859 The Origin of the Species is written by Charles Darwin

1865 War and Peace is written by Tolstoy

1867 Disraeli is prime minister

1899 aspirin is first marketed

1901 Marconi transmits first radio signals across the Atlantic

Get the look

Floors - are parquet and should be stained and varnished.

Colour schemes - are quite muted and sombre and became known as
'greenery yallery' - mustard, sage green, olive green, and brown. Team these
with lilac, violet and purple, peacock blue. Mackintosh experimented with allwhite interiors.

Walls - can either be painted in one of the colours of the palette or off-white,
or papered.

Wallpaper - designs are highly stylised flowers, particularly poppies, water

lilies and wisteria; branches, tendrils, leaves, stems, thistles, pomegranates;
peacock feathers, birds and dragonflies.

Tiles - use in panels and intersperse patterned ones with white. A technique
called tube lining was used to make the design stand out from the surface think of piping icing on a cake.

Furniture - Mackintosh is renowned for extremely high-backed chairs in

glossy black lacquer. If that's not your style go for curvy shapes upholstered in
a stylised floral fabric.

Stained glass - panels went in doors as well as furniture - wardrobe doors,

cabinets, mirrors etc, with curved leading for the stalks and leaves, ending in
a flower made from pearly enamels or semi-precious stones such as

Door handles - beaten metal for door handles and light fittings are perfect for
that handmade finish.

Lighting - you've got to have a Tiffany lamp - the beautiful umbrella-shape

rainbow of favrile glass with bronze and metal latticework. Original ones cost
the earth but most of the high streets stores produce very good imitations.

Fireplaces - look for cast iron hoods with the raised sinuous curves of flowers
growing up each side and tiles. Many original ones can be picked up in

salvage yards but make sure you know whether you're buying a repro or an
original. If you're unsure whether a salvaged item is art nouveau, study the
design carefully: it should grow from the ground upwards with a continuous
organic movement.

Ornaments - in silver, pewter and glass. There are hundreds of outlets selling
Mackintosh-style clocks, frames, jewellery boxes etc. Typical art nouveau
glass is iridescent with patterns of liquid oil. Lalique glass is usually a pearly
opaque with etched designs.

Flowers - and peacock feathers are the epitome of art nouveau style.