Art Nouveau or 'New Art' became popular from about 1980 to the First World War. It was a forward-looking style of art and design that developed in reaction to 19th century designs that were dominated by historicism and neoclassicism. It sought to position art and design within everyday life and as such saw artistic value in all objects no matter how prosaic they may be. In short it was believed that art and design should become a part of the everyday. It also involved the close study of natural forms and through this study that the new aesthetic was born. The most successful examples of Art Nouveau can be said to be those works that see a successful and provocative meager between the decorative and the functional.
Art Nouveau encompassed all forms of art and design including: architecture, furniture, graphic design, jewelry, glassware, painting, metalwork, textiles and pottery. This saw a break away from the traditional separation between the categories of fine art (painting and sculpture) and applied arts (ceramics, furniture and the like).
The Arts and Crafts movement that arouse around 1880 saw a direct influence on Art Nouveau. The Arts and crafts movement was led by English designer William Morris and was a reaction against the busy designs and compositions of Victorian-era decorative art. The Art Nouveau also adopted this reactionary approach to the decorative arts of the Victorian-era.
Around the time that Art Nouveau developed Japanese art was very popular, in particular its wood-block prints. The Wood-block prints contained floral and bulbous forms and curves that all because central elements of what was to be Art Nouveau.
The key distinguishing feature of Art Nouveau is its flowing, asymmetrical line. The line takes a journey that often sees it transform into natural objects such as stalks and bulbs, vine tendrils and insect wings. The line can be gentle and smooth or it can have a strong rhythmic and whip-like force.
Different countries different names
An art gallery in Paris, France called Maison de L'Art Nouveau (House of New Art) was responsible for the term nouveau. The gallery displayed all kinds of artistic creations from painting to sculpture, ceramics, furniture, metal work and Japanese art. Rooms within the gallery displayed works that were designed in the Art Nouveau style.
The Art Nouveau style soon spread to a number of European countries and these countries developed their own names for the style. Art nouveau was known in France as style Guimard, after French designer Hector Guimard; in Germany as Jugendstil (youth style); in Spain as modernisme; in Austria as Sezessionstil (secession style); and in Italy as the stile floreale (floral style) or stile Liberty, after British art nouveau designer Arthur Lasenby Liberty.
The sheer amount of names that this moment had is evidence of just how widely the movement spread and of how influential it was.
Examples of Art Nouveau designers
There were a great number of designers who worked in the Art Nouveau style. Two prominent designers were Louis Majorelle and Rene Lalique.
Louis Majorelle was a French furniture and iron work designer. He began his career in his father's furniture making company. Influenced by Emile Galle Majorelle he moved away from 18th-century reproductions and began working with natural décor often underlined by fine marquettry. In 1900 he incorporated ironwork into his designs in the form of handles, railings or balconies. In 1901 he confounded Ecole de Nancy (Ecole de Nancy is the name of the Art Nouveau movement in Nancy). Majorelle maintained a modern workshop that utilized both machine and hand labor. He worked in marquetry, cabinetry, wood, bronze, and sculpture.
Rene Lalique was a French glass and jewelry designer. Lalique attended the School of Decorative Arts, Paris, and in London (1878-80). In 1885 he founded his own firm in Paris. Lalique is know for his brooch and comb designs which he exhibited in 1900 at a Paris international exhibition. Women with sensuous hair and sheer drapery were often the subject matter of his works as were animals such as snakes and insects. Lalique also experimented with rock crystal and architectural glass.