Some styles of decor are so out there that they become associated with only a small segment of society and fizz out of favour quickly. Art Nouveau is such a style.
Art Nouveau literally means “New Art” in French. It was a term first used by Samuel Bing, a Paris shop owner who commissioned now famous artists such as Toulouse Lautrec, Rousell and Louis C. Tiffany to design works for his shop. The shop was full of international arts and crafts.
Art Nouveau is associated primarily with the decorative arts, furniture, and interiors although the art of artists such as aforementioned Toulouse Lautrec are also associated with this era.
One of the biggest goals for artists and craftsmen who worked in this style was their belief in a new style of art that reflected a complete break with history. It must be remembered that many academic artists were considered “history” painters – their works influenced by the past. Art Nouveau was art for a new century, a protest against the restraints and limitations commonly applied to the theory and application of design at the time.
At the beginning the artists’ attention turned to applied arts and decoration and for the first time they felt free to create art for art’s sake instead of having to fulfill some other expectation. The majority of what survives today from this era is in the decorative arts.
Art Nouveau is known by many other names such as the Glasgow Style, or, in the German-speaking world, Jugendstil. Artists drew inspiration from organic forms, evolving elegant designs that united flowing, natural forms resembling the stems and blossoms of plants. Straight lines were used only when absolutely necessary.
The most popular colours used were muted greens, browns, yellows, and blues. Lines were sinuous and always moving visually. This was especially conducive to creating amazing glass pieces as you can see above and below. Artists such as Galle, Tiffany, Muller and Daum created amazing works of art in glass.
These examples of Art Nouveau were from both the Musee D’Orsay in Paris as well as the Fin de Siecle museum in Brussels.
We also visited Victor Horta’s home in Brussels. He was a prominent architect at that time and his house reflects the Art Nouveau style. Unfortunately the museum does not allow photographs to be taken of the interior.
The style, popular at the start of the 20th century became associated with the Belle Epoque and the wealthy whose taste ran to extreme decoration in their interiors and furniture. The avoidance of straight lines in the design of furniture also caused some construction issues.
Art Nouveau went out of fashion by the First World War, paving the way for the development of geometrically- influenced Art Deco in the 1920s, but it experienced a popular revival in the 1960s. It’s now considered as an important predecessor to modernism.