The Influence of Art History on Modern Design – Art Nouveau

In the previous posts I started writing about influence of art history on modern design and I began with the Gothic Style from the Medieval Period, which was followed by the post about the Baroque Style from the Western Art.

Today’s post is about another great and influential style, this time from the Modern Art: Art Nouveau. If you want to read more about the Modern Art, click here.

When and where appeared the Art Nouveau style?

Art Nouveau (the term comes from French and it means New Art) is an art style which was mainly manifested in visual arts, design and architecture in the late 19th century and the early 20th century (1890 – 1914), almost in the same time in most of the cultures and European countries , but also in North America.

This style was spread pretty fast throughout Europe thanks to photo-illustrated art magazines and international exhibitions. Its name differed according to each country, so it was called “Modernisme” in Catalonia, “Liberty” in Italy, “Jugendstil” in Germany, “Secession” in Vienna or Prague.

Art Nouveau Print.

This modern style was considered an attempt to create an international style based on decorations. Art Nouveau was a style developed by an energetic and brilliant generation of designers and artists who sought to fashion an art form appropriate to the modern age.

In many ways, this style was a response to the Industrial Revolution. The technological progress was welcomed by artists who embraced the aesthetic possibilities of using new materials in their art work such as cast iron.  Actually, the Art Nouveau style came into being in 1893 when Victor Horta introduces for the first time iron and casting into the homes of the bourgeoisie in Brussels.

Art Nouveau Artwork in The Grand Palais – Paris.

The Art Nouveau artists shared the belief that all the arts should work in harmony in order to create a “total work of art”: buildings, textiles, furniture, jewelry, clothes all conformed to the principles of Art Nouveau.

After 1919 this style was considered old-fashioned and limited and the artist generally abandoned to use it as a distinct decorative style.

Which are the most important characteristics of Art Nouveau?

The Art Nouveau Style is characterized by the use of sinuous, long organic lines and temperate and dark colors. The most used colors are mustard yellow, dark red, olive, brown and some violet and blue now and there.

The specific ornamental characteristics of this modern style is asymmetrical and undulating lines, that were often taking the form of flower stalks and buds, insect wings, vine tendrils and other sinuous and delicate natural objects.

The lines in Art Nouveau were either elegant and graceful or infused with powerfully rhythmic and whip like force. Other features are represented by hyperbolas, parabolas and conventional mouldings which seem to spring to life and grow into some plant shaped forms.

The ornament as a structural symbol is part of the force which grows from nature, the artists creating an organic and transparent world with precious flower elements, with tulips, sun flowers, gillyflowers, cornflowers and so on, combined with lines and simple undulated plans.

Which are the main domains where the Art Nouveau style emerged?

Art Nouveau was considered a “total style”, which means that it includes a hierarchy of scales in design: architecture, interior design, decorative arts, including furniture, textiles, jewelery, household silver and other objects and lighting, as well as the range of visual arts.

This great modern style was known to be employed the most in architecture, interior design, jewelry and glass design, posters, and illustration.

1. Art Nouveau in Architecture

In Architecture, the Art Nouveau style particularly shows the synthesis of ornament and structure. This type of architecture was characterized by a liberal combination of materials – glass, iron, ceramic and brickwork – which was employed in the creation of interiors in which beams and columns became thick vines with spreading tendrils and the windows became both opening for air and light and membranous outgrowths of the organic whole. It’s safe to say that this approach was surely directed opposed to the traditional architectural values of clarity and reason of structure.

Art Nouveau in Riga.

The buildings in the Art Nouveau style have many of the following features: asymmetrical shapes, curved glass, extensive use of arches and curved forms, mosaics, curving, plant like embellishemnts, stained glass and Japanese motifs.

A classic example would be given by Gaudi in Casa Mila (1905-1907) which reproduces the way in which different parts appear organically tied to the base plan.

One of the predominant qualities of the Art Nouveau architecture is the possibility of using the structure theory by exposing the constructive elements of a building, especially iron, so that they become apparent elements of the facade, most often used as a decorative function.

The glass is used in combination to iron and the glass wall enjoyed a great independent development in the art nouveau period. In that period, there were also used the glass and iron staircases like the one created by Hotra for the Maison du Peuple.

Black Sea Art Nouveau.

The Art Nouveau designers selected and modernized some of the abstract elements of the rococo style, such as shells and flames textures and they also advocated the use of very stylized organic forms as a source of inspiration in their art works, expending the natural elements used to embrace grasses, insects and seaweed.

2. The print manifestation of Art Nouveau

The prints from the Art Nouveau period are very important for understanding this movement. For example, the lithograph “Tropon” by Henry van de Velde (1898) shows the distinctive color choices of an Art Nouveau Print with dull green, brilliant ochre and orange, which were combined with the letters of the word “tropon”. The simple composition of this artist combines a new style of color choices with the curvy lines.

“Tropon” by Henry van de Velde (1898).

The Peacock Skirt, by Aubrey Beardsley, (1892).

The two-dimensional Art Nouveau pieces were drawn, painted and printed in popular forms such as posters, advertisements, labels and magazines. The style was typified as extravagant, flowing and with curved lines, often with a floral motif. But it was perhaps the commercial application of the style that gives its particular appeal, directness and lasting presence.

Art Nouveau Poster – Toulouse Lautrec Jane Avril.

Even today so many wonderful Art Nouveau posters survived because they became collectible items. The technological progress in lithographic printing allowed for color printing on a large scale for the first time and therefore to make the graphic style of Art Nouveau to be widely available. The commercial poster runs were extended to allow for more copies to be sold to collectors.

Paulette Douval Art Nouveau Poster.

2. Art Nouveau in Decorative Arts

2.1. The Art Nouveau Tendency in Painting

In an attempt to analyze the role played by Art Nouveau in the evolution of painting, we must say that it represents a reaction against the impressionism, except for the German culture area. In essence, this style represented a reaction against the development of the surface and of the line and in painting it marked the end of the illusionist conception of form.

The images can have importance for the content by the way the line holds the atmosphere of the painting through its effect, or they can evoke ornamental values. We can say that this current is an ancestor of expressionism while the other tendency lays the accent on the decorative and ornamental side and their special value in painting in general.

2.2. Glass making and Art Nouveau

Glass making was a domain where art nouveau found a great expression – as example we have the works off Louis Comfort Tiffany in New York, Emile Galle and the Daum brothers in Nancy, France and Charles Rennie Mackintosh in Glasgow.

2.3. Jewelery of the Art Nouveau period

Jewelery in the Art Nouveau period used nature as the principle source of inspiration, complemented by new levels of virtuosity in enameling and the introductions of new materials such as semi-precious stones and opals.

Art Nouveau Winged Fairy.

The jewelery artists also found inspiration in Japanese art and they showed more specialized enthusiasm for Japanese metalworking skills and fostered new themes and approached to ornamentation.

Nummy antique Czech jewel corseted in Art Nouveau bronzed repousse.

If in the previous two centuries, the emphasis in fine jewelery was gemstones, especially the diamonds, and the goldsmith was particularly concerned with providing settings for their advantage, in the Art Nouveau period, a different type of jewelery emerged, motivated by the designer rather than the jeweler as setter of precious stones.

The most renowned jewelers were in Paris and Brussels at that time. Rene Lalique was a French jeweler that glorified nature in jewelery, extending the repertoire and including new aspects of nature like dragonflies or grasses.

3. Art Nouveau in furnishing and home decorations


In general, the furniture pieces had round, sinuous and elegant lines. The furniture has made out of wood usually combined with glass and metal. Some furniture pieces had tapestry and stylish floral patterns. The cabinets regularly had many drawers and painted glasses.

Art Nouveau Furniture.


The chairs in an Art Nouveau decorated house had high backrests and the tables were low and most often had the countertop made out of colored glass. Actually, the painted glass and the stained glass are defining elements for this style. It is used in making decorative objects, lamps or for embedded panels in the furniture or in the windows of doors.

Peter Behrens, Jugendstil Table Lamp (1902).

Art Nouveau motifs on mirror.

Is modern design still influenced by the Art Nouveau style?

Although the Art Nouveau movement had a rapid decline because after the 1910 it already vanished, its importance in applied arts and architecture remains overwhelming. We can say that this style has every right to hold a great place in the history of art, especially in the history of art styles.

Art Nouveau inspired illustration.

The Art Nouveau movement had a great influence on illustrators, artists and the printing trade in America including Art Nouveau revivial in the post-war 60s hippie movement. Even today, some of the best features of Art Nouveau can be seen throughout the visual communication industry – like the painting of Marilyn Monroe for “Visages De Renom” by New York illustrator Les Katz or the works of Milton Glaser and his Push-Pin studio.

Vector Art – Rose created in Art Nouveau style.

Vector Art – Roses Illustration in Art Nouveau style.

The Art Nouveau has been reevaluated in the last twenty years with the rise of postmodernism design. Artists all over the world are using as inspiration today elements of this modern art style like the sinuous lines, floral elements, the nature features and the characteristic colors.

Peacock Garden – Art Nouveau inspired illustration.

One of the most inspirational features from the Art Nouveau style is the nymph poster with the nature, floral motifs and ornaments.

Art Nouveau and Print Designs

The nymph and floral oranaments are some of the most influential art nouveau elements used by graphic designers in their artworks. Some of the most beautiful print arts represent nymphs with floral elements, art nouveau specific colors like olive green, ochre, sinuous lines and art nouveau typography.

Art Nouveau Print Illustration.

Art Nouveau inspired poster.

Art Nouveau Print on T-shirt.

Mucha-esque Art Nouveau bookmark illustration.

Art Nouveau in Typography

The Art Nouveau typography from today originated in magazines like Munchner Jugend, The Studio and Yellow Book or in period advertising, poster or sign design. Collections of typography today include some of the most recognizable styles of the period (Ariosto, Munch, Pantagruel) but they also include unique faces which are based on rare hand lettering.

Art Nouveau Typography with floral and fruits elements.

Art Nouveau Typography by Irina Vinnik.

Illustration of Art Nouveau inspiration.

Metro Type – Art Nouveau Typography.

Art Nouveau in Modern Home Design

The Art Nouveau style can still be found in some of todays’ most luxurious homes. The home designs decorated in Art Nouveau style are characterized by the use of various prints and ornamental shapes. These are used in decorating the walls or in tapestry, in the textiles or even in the art artifacts or wall watches.

The accessories in an art nouveau home are represented by large mirrors with bronze frames or sculpted wood, painted jewelery cases, vases and porcelains.

Home decoration in Art Nouveau style.

Art Nouveau style lamp.

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