Art Nouveau, or the French term for “New Art,” is a colorful movement in the arts that captivated Europe during the transition from the 19th century to the 20th century. In other languages, Art Nouveau had other names, such as “Stile Liberty” in Italy and “Jugendstil” or “youth style” in German.
Right before art lovers would begin riding in motor cars, watching moving pictures, and bracing for the First World War, they would flip through bright magazines of Art Nouveau styles. This cultural movement included decorative and applied arts, architecture, and painting during the years 1890 to 1905.
An early example of the paintings of Art Nouveau is Edvard Munch’s “The Scream.” This painting was created in 1893 and later displayed during the artist’s first Paris show at La Maison de l’Art Nouveaux gallery. This location was the interior design house for which Art Nouveau is named. Now “The Scream” hangs in the National Gallery in Oslo, Norway.
Photographic images of paintings, prints, architecture, interior design, and decorative works were displayed as photographic images in Art Nouveau publications. These magazines, including “Art Nouveau” magazine, were distributed around Europe due to advances in printing.
The print manifestations of Art nouveau are important for understanding the movement. The lithograph “Tropon” by Henry van de Velde (1898) shows the distinct color choices of an Art Nouveau Print with brilliant ochre, dull green, and orange, combined with the letters of the word “tropon.” This simple composition combines a new style of color choices with the curvy lines.
According to the “Grove Dictionary of Art,” Art Nouveau also served as an important link between Neoclassicism, which focused on classic art periods including Greek, Roman, and Renaissance themes, transitioned art to the modernist movements. Art Nouveau ended at the same time as Cubism and Surrealism were beginning.
What sets Art Nouveau apart from the Neoclassicist forms of art is the attempt by its artists to create a truly new form of art that did not mimic the past. The movement also sought to create an international style. When tourists visit Paris in the 21st century, it is easy to look around and see the lasting impact of Art Nouveau designs, including prints, pictures, signs, and wallpaper in public places and in the windows of cafes and brasseries. In European hotels preserved from this time period, architecture and interior design examples survive today much like the boutique hotels of Miami’s South Beach preserve the Art Deco style of buildings and interior design.
The Art Nouveau movement produced new themes in architecture. Curvy lines known as curvilinear in art, asymmetrical shapes and forms, surfaces with leaf and vine decorations, and other patterns characterize Art Nouveau buildings.
Architect Hector Guimard’s work shows how Art Nouveau produced works for the public enjoyment. Guimard designed decorative entries to Paris Metro subway) stations still visible today. In another expressive form, Victor Horta created ornate staircases in Brussels homes, especially the “Maison and Atelier” staircase. In Barcelona, Spain, Antoni Gaudi created La Casa Mila in 1905 to 1907. His free forms are asymmetrical and reflect the absence of straight lines.
The Casa Mila shares the absence of symmetry that soon found new expressions in other art forms. For example, in the first Cubist works of Pablo Picasso and Georges Braque, symmetry is noticeably missing. In Picasso’s “The Three Women,” human forms lack geometric proportions and breaks with tradition in the same way as Gaudi’s architectural style.
The brilliant interior design that started in this time period is evident today in the United States of America. Louis Comfort Tiffany (1848-1933) is the son of Charles Tiffany. Louis began creating his famous lamps at the turn of the century. He performed commissions for noted Americans such as Mark Twain and Cornelius Vanderbilt.
Tiffany’s work is preserved at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City. As an artist and designer, Tiffany was very prolific in the creation of lamps, drawings, paintings, stained glass windows, mosaics, ceramics, and jewelry. The famous jewelry house, Tiffany & Company, founded by Charles Tiffany, is the same firm for which Louis became the first design director in 1902 in the middle of the Art Nouveau period. Today, Tiffany & Company sells magnificent pieces of jewelry and other collectibles to the rich and famous.