As an international movement, Art Nouveau is referred to by multiple different names, Jugendstil in Germany and stile floreal in Italy, evidence of its wide-reaching impact. Many artists worked in the style, but the most influential and famous stand apart for their unique contributions to the movement.
Who influenced Art Nouveau?Before we can dive into Art Nouveau, it’s important to consider the preceding decades and their influence on the exciting movement that followed. Art Nouveau emerged as an alternative to the previously popular style of Academic painting, as well as a reaction to the wave of technology and modernization associated with the late 19th century. Although Art Nouveau artists were excited about change and innovation, they wanted to preserve the originality and imagination of earlier centuries, while still creating an entirely new art movement.
Europeans also found the use of natural forms and innovative techniques in Japanese art, specifically woodcutting and printmaking, highly inspiring and incorporated these aspects into the aesthetics and principles of Art Nouveau design. Some of the most noticeable influences are the vibrant colors and natural motifs. Many famous Art Nouveau artists drew from a variety of inspirations, but all valued the natural world and its inherent beauty above all else.
What are 5 characteristics of Art Nouveau?
Art Nouveau is an international movement that encompasses many different areas of art and design, but all converge on similar shared aspects. For supporters of Art Nouveau, leveling the playing field between fine art and design or crafts was a crucial component, and allowed followers to unite under broad characteristics achievable in any creative output. The rare art in traditional mediums that was created does share characteristics with decorative art, including the following five characteristics of Art Nouveau.
One important aspect of the movement was content focused on the natural world, particularly plants and animals. Floral designs were incredibly popular, as well as organic shapes which mimicked the curves of growing trees and plants.
The use of strong curving lines shows inspiration from the natural world as well as the influence of advertisements from Henri de-Toulouse Lautrec and Aubrey Beardsley, and can be seen in all aspects of the movement, from Art Nouveau architecture to jewelry and fine art.
The materials used by artists within the movement all generally favored experimental over traditional materials, recognizing the unique ability of new materials to capture organic forms. In the jewelry world, this included colored gemstones and enamel, while glassmakers innovated new styles never attempted before.
In this same vein, Art Nouveau creations often shared a similar color palette, prioritizing natural, muted hues and browns, greens and yellows, all colors commonly seen in the natural settings depicted in these works.
The final important characteristic of Art Nouveau works is functionality, as creations were expected to be both beautiful and useful. Art Nouveau artists shared aesthetic ideas, but overall valued craftsmanship and the quality of their output as well.
Art Nouveau artists are often compared to Art Deco artists, and while these two movements are close in timing, their aesthetics are decidedly different. Following the decline of Art Nouveau design alongside the beginning of World War I, some firms transitioned into Art Deco style pieces, one example being Goldscheider, which produced the sculpture above as well as Art Deco works. The comparison of Art Deco vs. Art Nouveau highlights the wide range of reactions within the art world to similar themes of technology and modernization.
Who were the originators of Art Nouveau?
Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec
Although never identified as an Art Nouveau artist during his lifetime and often aligned with the Post-Impressionist movement, Lautrec certainly aided in the origins of the Art Nouveau movement through his illustrations and lithographs. His commercial artworks featured strong lines and bright colors, all created for the bars and clubs he frequented as a resident of Montmartre. The above work of portraiture is a departure from Lautrec’s famous posters (below) and is part of a series of works on the working women of Montmartre.
English illustrator Aubrey Beardsley played an important role in the development of the Art Nouveau style, and his drawings were influenced by both Lautrec’s posters and Japanese prints. Beardsley used graceful, curving lines and worked primarily in black and white to create advertisements that blurred the line between commercial and fine art.
Who are the key artists for Art Nouveau?
René Lalique is known not only for his decorative art pieces but also for his incredible jewelry creations. This important artist was one of the earliest participants in the Art Nouveau movement, and his craftsmanship and designs have secured him a prominent place in history.
In the work above, Lalique’s favorite motifs of natural beauty are executed with precision and grace. His jewelry pieces feature these same desirable qualities, and include gemstones set with enamel as well as his famed glasswork in wearable forms. Lalique’s colorful glass creations garner praise even today, and works by the artist are seen in many important museum collections.
Hector Guimard was a French architect working in the Art Nouveau style, who seamlessly captured the movement’s naturalistic style in one of the most important technological advances of the time, the Paris Metro. Guimard’s designs for the exteriors of the stations used affordable materials, while still creating stylistic and inviting designs themed around the natural world. For many visitors to Paris even today, these Art Nouveau Paris Metro entrances are some of the most iconic sites in the historic and fashionable city.
Another important name in glassmaking is Gallé, a French artist known for his naturalistic designs and artistry. Trained under his father, also a glassmaker, Gallé took influence from the natural world as well as ancient glassware, creating incredible designs with a unique layering technique. He achieved international fame through exhibiting his works, which also included furniture pieces suitable for elegant and unique interior design.
Louis Comfort Tiffany
While Tiffany & Co. has had a long legacy, many of the company’s most beloved designs and products come from its innovations during the Art Nouveau period. Louis Comfort Tiffany, son of the company’s founder Charles Tiffany, created many works with natural themes, including paintings, glasswork and jewelry. One of Louis Comfort Tiffany’s greatest innovations was Favrile glass, a type of iridescent glass with distinctive colors, as seen in the example above. This creation won Tiffany the grand prize at the Paris Exposition in 1900, which also featured the creations of many other Art Nouveau designers and creators.
Jewelry pieces like the brooch above demonstrate the artistic principles of Art Nouveau, especially the curving lines and natural forms treasured during this period.
Like many Art Nouveau artists, Lucien Lévy-Dhurmer was versatile in his choice of mediums, creating traditional fine art in the form of paintings and sculptures as well as designing furniture and ceramics. Lévy-Dhurmer was born in French Algeria and began his career as a decorative painter in a porcelain manufactory, before an inspiring trip to Italy which shaped his artistic career. While his decorative arts feature the style of Art Nouveau, his painting style branches into the Symbolist movement.
Curious about other art movements? Learn everything you need to know about the marvelous talents and artworks of 20th century art movements.
Whether you favor the natural motifs of Art Nouveau jewelry or the geometric style of Art Deco furniture, M.S. Rau has exquisite offerings from each period. Browse our collection today to discover ways you can spruce up your home's interior design with magnificent pieces from these art movements.