Characteristics of Art Nouveau Style

Art Nouveau style is a particular form of architecture, art and applied art that is based in organic beauty as opposed to classical, academic art. Art Nouveau gained popularity in 1890 and was heartily embraced until about 1905, when it fell out of favor. This style of art was characterized by a belief that all of life was art, and as a result, all of life should be treated as an art form. This flew in the face of classic art, which was reserved for the wealthy. This new art philosophy was the art of the people.

Art Nouveau Origins
The Art Nouveau movement began with a poster created by Alfons Mucha for the play, Gismonda. The poster Mucha produced became very popular, and soon a new art style burst on the scene, inspired by Mucha's work.

Art Nouveau Elements
You can identify Art Nouveau style art and architecture by looking for some specific elements.

  • Flowing Lines: Art Nouveau is characterized by graceful, sinuous lines. The lines are rarely angular.
  • Violent Curves: Some artists referred to the curves in Art Nouveau works as whiplash curves. Rhythmic patterns of curvy lines are characteristic of this art style. These curvy lines connect the images in the art and can even be found in beautified plain items, such as dishes, eating utensils, hardware and furniture.
  • Organic Subject Matter: You'll find plenty of flowers, leaves, vines, grass, seaweed, insects and other organic images in Art Nouveau jewelry, hardware, windows and architecture. Examples include images of birds etched into window frames or curled around each other on fabric for upholstery, or abstract lilies drifting around and connecting to each other on dinnerware.
  • New Materials: Instead of classic gemstones, Art Nouveau jewelers opted to work with opals and semiprecious stones. Glass art reached a new level of popularity as Louis Comfort Tiffany and Charles Rennie Mackintosh took interest in the new art style. Molded glass, animal horns and ivory tusks became commonly used materials.
  • Resistance of Classical Restrictions: Instead of limiting art to painting on a canvas or sculpting out of marble, Art Nouveau artists and architects looked for ways to make everyday objects into pieces of art. A doorknocker might be molded to look like a dragonfly; an entranceway might be graced by vine-like lines in the molding. You can find a classic example of this by studying the entrances designed for the Paris Metro by Hector Guimard.
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