Art Nouveau vs. Art Deco: At a GlanceBefore delving into the history and development of each specific movement, let’s discuss the primary aesthetic differences between the two styles that will allow you to easily distinguish between the two. The movements claim vastly different influences: Art Nouveau was influenced by nature, whereas Art Deco was influenced by the Industrial Revolution. These influences had a profound impact on the aesthetics of each.
Read on to learn more about the key differences between Art Nouveau and Art Deco.
Art NouveauAs one of the more recognizable movements in art and design, Art Nouveau is pervasive in visual culture even today. The sinewy line of flora, the interpretation of the exotic and the flourish of a bold typeface all typify this imaginative style of art, architecture and decorative arts. From the most famous examples – Hector Guimand’s Paris Mètro station entrances and Antonin Gaudì’s La Sagrada Familia – to the widely-produced posters and advertisements of the period, Art Nouveau can be appreciated in many forms.
Literally translating to “New Art,” Art Nouveau emerged in opposition to the neoclassical forms that had dominated all aspects of the arts for over a century. Artists and artisans moved away from the ideals that first emerged in ancient Greece and had subsequently emerged time and time again throughout history. Symmetry and proportion made way for organic forms that embraced the inherent asymmetry of the natural world. Art Nouveau found beauty in the chaos; it was an apt metaphor for the new freedoms of the modern world.
The first hints of Art Nouveau emerged in Britain, where the style found its roots in the Arts & Crafts movement of William Morris, which championed the role of the designer in an age of increasingly dehumanized industrialization. Natural, simplified forms dominated his work as a textile designer. Calling for a renewed link between the fine and decorative arts, he worked closely with the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood, another significant influence in the development of the Art Nouveau style.
The influx of Japanese art into the West also helped to shape the emerging Art Nouveau aesthetics. The exaggerated colors, unusual contours and flattened planes of Japanese prints were directly translated into Art Nouveau textiles and wallpapers, while Japanese woodcut and printmaking techniques were eagerly adopted.
The resulting Art Nouveau designs were applied to a wide range of media, from furnishings and interior decoration to architecture and the fine arts. It reached an international audience at the Exposition Universelle of 1900, which was held in Paris and attracted an estimated 50 million visitors. Works in the new style were exhibited by nearly all of the most important makers of the day; René Lalique, Emile Gallé, Henri Vever, Georges Fouquet, Sévres, Alphonse Mucha and many others brought their Art Nouveau that wowed audiences, then and today.
The style prevailed for over a decade following the important exhibition, with most scholars agreeing it came to an end with the beginning of World War I. However, its influences are still felt to this day, and objects in the Art Nouveau style remain widely loved.
Art DecoAs the Art Nouveau movement began to fade away in the years before the First World War, it paved the way for a new style to emerge: Art Deco. The movement takes its name from the 1925 Exposition Internationale des Arts Décoratifs et Industriels Modernes, a world's fair hosted in Paris that marked the zenith of the Art Deco style. Immensely popular, the fair attracted over 16 million people during its seven-month run, showing wares from 15,000 exhibitors in the new "style moderne."
Whereas Art Nouveau was a reaction against the machine-made wares of the Industrial Age, Art Deco embraced the influence of the Industrial Revolution. Its inspiration came from the technological innovation, industrial materials and mechanization of the modern era. Its design principles thus emphasize clean lines and streamlined decorations — a direct contrast to the over-exuberant flourishes of the Art Nouveau age.
In addition to industry and technology, the Art Deco style also referenced pre-modern art, specifically the compelling motifs of ancient Egyptian art. The 1920s saw a wave of what became known as “Egyptomania” after the discovery of the young King Tutankhamun’s tomb in 1922. Images from Egypt spread throughout the Western world with news footage of archaeological digs. More than 3,000 years after his death, the pharaoh's reach spread across the Atlantic to the United States. They inspired a new era of Egyptomania that touched everything from fine art to jewelry to the decorative arts as artists and makers integrated Egyptian-style motifs in their sleek, Art Deco creations.
In the flamboyant age of flappers and gangsters, the avant-garde Art Deco style quickly became associated with luxury. While the silhouettes of furniture, vases, light fixtures and more were sleek and streamlined, the objects themselves were far from plain. Inlays of precious materials such as ivory, ebony and even silver featured prevalently in furniture of the era, while jewelry incorporated the very best examples of diamonds, platinum, jade and other precious gems.
The style gradually began to wane in the 1930s, as Neoclassicism once again returned to popularity. The rich, luxurious materials that became synonymous with the style became increasingly irrelevant in the face of the Great Depression and World War II. However, the style has regained popularity in recent years; not only did it experience a brief revival in the 1970s, but again today, as consumers seek the timeless sophistication of this bygone age.
Duncan, Alastair. Art Deco Complete: The Definitive Guide to the Decorative Arts of the 1920s and 1930s. Thames & Hudson, 2009.
Weisberg, Gabriel. Art Nouveau Bing: Paris Style 1900. Abrams, 1986.