Art Nouveau, or “new art” was a prominent design movement from 1880 to 1910. It directly followed the Arts and Crafts movement and subsequently was an outgrowth of both this and the Aesthetic movement.
Art Nouveau aimed to provide a style that was appropriate to evolving ways of life, yet was also able to embellish the everyday life.
A key characteristic of Art Nouveau is the use of abstract curves and shapes. The movement largely drew on nature for inspiration, and was quite decorative in style. It heavily drew upon fluid lines, asymmetrical composition and delicate shades of colour. “Whiplash curves” featured heavily during this design period, which were inspired from botanical studies. The image of the female also began to appear and evolve during this movement. This imagery became a decorative and a commonly found theme in advertising, illustration, architecture and even fashion and jewellery. As well as drawing upon previously used concepts featured in the Arts and Crafts movement and the Aesthetic movement it also held similarities to Japanese art in its fluidity and the way it drew upon nature.
The Belgian journal L’Art Morderne was the first place to feature the newly termed movement in the 1880’s, describing the work of Les Vingt. Les Vingt was a group of artists consisting of 20 painters and sculptors that supported the unity of all the arts and sought to achieve this. Following this, in 1893, Victor Horta began to feature characteristics of this new movement in iron and casting in the homes of prominent people whom he worked for. Drawing upon this new style, Victor was able to create spaces in homes that would allow sufficient flow of both light and air. This use of abstract lines and curves by Victor Horta was seen as one of the major events in the development of Art Nouveau.
The designers responsible for the development of Art Nouveau as an emerging design style aimed to use their work as a metaphor, communicating the idea of freedom and release which they desired from artistic tradition and critical expectations. They also sought to bring unity in the art and design world, holding highly the idea of Gesamtkunstwerk meaning “total work of art”. To achieve this total work of art they aimed to incorporate a variety of media in their works.
The Arts and Crafts movement, which was prominent in design prior to Art Nouvea was, only accessible to the wealthy due to its costly price, however in contrast to this Art Nouvea spread quickly throughout the whole of Europe. The great spread of the movement was assisted by the ability of this new style to work simultaneously with forms of design still present from the past. The movement was known by different names according to country being known as “Modernisme” in Catalonia, “Jugendstil” in Germany and “Liberty” in Italy.
It was not until 1906 that Art Nouveau began to decline in its appearances in design. By the time of the First World War, Art Nouveau was no longer present, yet its influence on the design world still lives on today. Art Nouvea continues to inspire many, ideas from Art Nouveau being drawn upon even for later movements such as Art Deco.