Art Nouveau

Art Nouveau, literally “New Art”, arose from a deliberate move away from the staid neo-classicist history of the nineteenth century, itself defined by a more noble and sombre approach than preceding Rococo sensuality.

Extrapolating from the post-industrial revolution arts and craft movement, art and design were now finally considered part of every day life, as form finally met function, and so nature should be represented heavily in art and design. As such, Art Nouveau was characterised by ornate rounded and sinusoidal patterns often based on plant-inspired motifs and female forms.

The Encyclopaedia of Art History renders it like this:

Art Nouveau means much more than a single look or mood: we are reminded of tall grasses in light wind, or swirling lines of stormy water, or intricate vegetation – all stemming from organic nature: an interest in which should be understood as proceeding from a sense of life’s order lost or perverted amidst urban industrial stress.¹

“La Vague” – Saintenoy [Wikimedia Commons]
Staircase Petit Palais [Pixabay]
While it started in the dying stages of the nineteenth century, perhaps 1890, Art Nouveau gained great leverage at the Paris World Fair of 1900. It came to symbolise La Belle Epoque, “The Beautiful Era”, a retrospective nostalgic label, applied after the carnage of the First World War, for the almost five-decade long relative tranquility of, especially Paris, between the years 1871 to 1914. La Belle Epoque stands also as testament to what man can achieve when he has, for the most part, stopped forever looking over his shoulder.

Inside view of the Galerie des machines, which was designed by the architect Dutert. The building was located on the Champ-de-Mars, in front of the Ecole Militaire (which still exists today). It housed an exhibit about technological inventions. It was the biggest and tallest hall created for the 1889 exhibit, and was used again in the 1900 World Fair. It was eventually destroyed shortly afterwards. [Image and Text: Wikimedia Commons]
Interior view of the dome between the Palais des expositions diverses and the Palais des machines. The staircaise in the background of the image was located at the end of the Galerie de trente mètres, and led to the second floor of the Palais des machines; this second floor was a platform that would encircle the inside of the Palais, and would allow visitors to see the exhibit from above ground. The fountain in the center of the image was created by Bartholdi specifically for the World Fair; after the event, it was dismantled and taken to Lyon, where it still stands today. The horses represent the many streams and smaller rivers that flow into the Saône river, and the sculpture was eventually entitled “The Saône and its tributaries”. The sculpture on the foreground represents Saint-Michael killing the dragon. [Image and Text: Wikimedia Commons]
The style was widely employed in discipline and through various materials, from interior design to architecture, glassware and jewellery, poster art and illustration, painting and sculpture.²

Tournai, Avenue Van Cutsem, 19 [Wikimedia Commons]
Hôtel Céramic, art nouveau (Paris) [Wikimedia Commons]
From its centre of Paris, Art Nouveau spread across Europe and then across the Atlantic, and finally the Pacific, at each location known respectively by its local colloquialism:

  • Jugendstil (Germany)  term for a style dating from around 1900 that arose as an offshoot of the French and Belgian art nouveau
  • Secession Style (Austria)
  • Modern Style (England, Russia, and others)
  • Stile Liberty (Italy)
  • Tiffany style (America)

But we keep coming back to Paris, home of Art Nouveau and the Trocadero. While the Trocadero predates Art Nouveau in both time and style, it was home to many of the meetings of those who came to the Exposition Internationale.

Completed in 1867 in anticipation of the 1878 World Fair in Paris, was The Palais du Trocadéro. [Image: Wikimedia Commons]
Art Nouveau, replaced by the Art Deco of the 1920s, was a bridge that let man cross from Neoclassicism to modernism.

Further Reading/Viewing

  1. “Art Nouveau (c.1890-1914).” Art Nouveau Design: Characteristics, History, Artists. Accessed November 26, 2017.
  2. “Art Nouveau (c.1890-1914).” Art Nouveau Design: Characteristics, History, Artists. Accessed November 26, 2017.
Featured Image

Tour Eiffel & Exposition Universelle, Paris, France, 1889 [Flickr: trialsanderrors]

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