Art Nouveau is the most popularly recognized art movement to emerge from the Belle Époque period. This largely decorative style (Jugendstil in central Europe), characterized by its curvilinear forms, became prominent from the mid-1890s and dominated progressive design throughout much of Europe. Its use in public art in Paris, such as the Paris Métro stations, has made it synonymous with the city.
An international philosophy and style of art, architecture and applied art - especially the decorative arts - that was most popular during 1890-1910. English uses the French name Art nouveau ("new art"), but the style has many different names in other countries. A reaction to academic art of the 19th century, it was inspired by natural forms and structures, not only in flowers and plants, but also in curved lines. Architects tried to harmonize with the natural environment.
Art Nouveau is considered a "total" art style, embracing architecture, graphic art, interior design, and most of the decorative arts including jewellery, furniture, textiles, household silver and other utensils and lighting, as well as the fine arts. According to the philosophy of the style, art should be a way of life. For many well-off Europeans, it was possible to live in an art nouveau-inspired house with art nouveau furniture, silverware, fabrics, ceramics including tableware, jewellery, cigarette cases, etc. Artists desired to combine the fine arts and applied arts, even for utilitarian objects.
Although Art Nouveau was replaced by 20th-century Modernist styles, it is now considered as an important transition between the eclectic historic revival styles of the 19th-century and Modernism.
At its beginning, neither Art Nouveau nor Jugendstil was the common name of the style but was known as this in some locations, and the style had different names as it was spread. Those two names came from, respectively, Siegfried Bing's gallery Maison de l'Art Nouveau in Paris and the magazine Jugend in Munich, both of which promoted and popularised the style.
Maison de l'Art Nouveau (House of New Art) was the name of the gallery initiated in 1895 by the German art dealer Siegfried Bing in Paris that featured exclusively modern art. The fame of his gallery was increased at the 1900 Exposition Universelle, where he presented coordinated -- in design and color -- installations of modern furniture, tapestries and objets d'art. These decorative displays became so strongly associated with the style that the name of his gallery subsequently provided a commonly used term for the entire style. Thus the term "Art Nouveau" was created.
Part of the evolution of Art Nouveau were several international fairs which presented buildings and products designed in the new style. So, the 1888 Barcelona Universal Exposition marks the beginning of the Modernisme, with some buildings of Lluís Domènech i Montaner. The Exposition Universelle of 1900 in Paris, presented an overview of the 'modern style' in every medium. It achieved further recognition at the Esposizione Internazionale d'Arte Decorativa Moderna of 1902 in Turin, Italy, where designers exhibited from almost every European country where Art Nouveau was practiced.
The style was most popular in Europe, but its influence was global. Hence, it is known in various guises with frequent localised characteristics. Other local names were associated with the characteristics of its forms, its practitioners and their works, and schools of thought or study where it was popular. Many of these terms refer to the idea of "newness". Before the term "Art Nouveau" became common in France, le style moderne ("the modern style") was the more frequent designation. Arte joven ("young art") in Spain, Modernisme in Catalonia, Arte nova in Portugal ("new art"), Arte nuova in Italy (also "new art"), and Nieuwe kunst ("new art") in the Netherlands, ("new", "contemporary") in Russia - all continue this theme. Many names refer specifically to the organic forms that were popular with the Art Nouveau artists: Stile Floreal ("floral style"), Lilienstil ("lily style"), Style Nouille ("noodle style"), Paling Stijl ("eel style"), and Wellenstil ("wave style").
The origins of Art Nouveau are found in the resistance of the artist William Morris to the cluttered compositions and the revival tendencies of the 19th century and his theories that helped initiate the Arts and crafts movement. However, Arthur Mackmurdo's book-cover for Wren's City Churches (1883), with its rhythmic floral patterns, is often considered the first realisation of Art Nouveau. About the same time, the flat perspective and strong colors of Japanese wood block prints, especially those of Katsushika Hokusai, had a strong effect on the formulation of Art Nouveau. The Japonisme that was popular in Europe during the 1880s and 1890s was particularly influential on many artists with its organic forms and references to the natural world. Besides being adopted by artists like Emile Gallé and James Abbott McNeill Whistler, Japanese-inspired art and design was championed by the businessmen Siegfried Bing and Arthur Lasenby Liberty at their stores in Paris and London, respectively.
Art Nouveau in architecture and interior design eschewed the eclectic revival styles of the 19th century. Though Art Nouveau designers selected and 'modernised' some of the more abstract elements of Rococo style, such as flame and shell textures, they also advocated the use of very stylised organic forms as a source of inspiration, expanding the 'natural' repertoire to use seaweed, grasses, and insects. The softly-melding forms of 17th-century auricular style, best exemplified in Dutch silverware, was another influence.
As an art style, Art Nouveau has affinities with the Pre-Raphaelites and the Symbolist styles, and artists like Aubrey Beardsley, Alphonse Mucha, Edward Burne-Jones, Gustav Klimt and Jan Toorop could be classed in more than one of these styles. Unlike Symbolist painting, however, Art Nouveau has a distinctive appearance; and, unlike the artisan-oriented Arts and Crafts Movement, Art Nouveau artists readily used new materials, machined surfaces, and abstraction in the service of pure design.
Art Nouveau did not negate machines, as the Arts and Crafts Movement did. For sculpture, the principal materials employed were glass and wrought iron, resulting in sculptural qualities even in architecture. Ceramics were also employed in creating editions of sculptures by artists such as Auguste Rodin.
The style was the first major artistic stylistic movement in which mass-produced graphics (as opposed to traditional forms of printmaking, which were not very important for the style) played a key role, often techniques of colour printing developed relatively recently.
Two-dimensional Art Nouveau pieces were painted, drawn, and printed in popular forms such as advertisements, posters, labels, magazines, and the like. Japanese wood-block prints, with their curved lines, patterned surfaces, contrasting voids, and flatness of visual plane, also inspired Art Nouveau. Some line and curve patterns became graphic clichés that were later found in works of artists from many parts of the world.
The jewelers of Paris and Brussels defined Art Nouveau in jewelry, and in these cities it achieved the most renown. Contemporary French critics were united in acknowledging that jewelry was undergoing a radical transformation, and that the French designer-jeweler-glassmaker René Lalique was popularizing the changes. Lalique glorified nature in jewelry, extending the repertoire to include new aspects of nature -- such as dragonflies or grasses -- inspired by his encounter with Japanese art. The jewelers were keen to establish the new style in a noble tradition, and for this they used the Renaissance, with its works of sculpted and enameled gold, and its acceptance of jewelers as artists rather than craftsmen. In most of the enameled work of the period, precious stones receded. Diamonds were usually subsidiary, used alongside less familiar materials such as molded glass, horn and ivory.
Like the American economy, American art and literature flourished during the Gilded Age. The new millionaires desired greatly to furnish their mansions with beautiful things. Consequently, patronage for the American arts was at a higher level than any previous era. Painters depicted a realistic look at the glories and hardships of this new age. Writers used their pens to illustrate life at its best and its worst. The net result was an American Renaissance of arts and letters.
Many wealthy Americans yearned to have their image captured for posterity by having their portraits painted. James McNeill Whistler and John Singer Sargent were the most sought after portrait artists of the time. Lured by the idea of working among European masters, both moved to England. Their works endure as among the finest in the genre. Another expatriate American was the impressionist Mary Cassatt, who moved to Paris to work with the masters Monet and Renoir. Beyond any artist of the age, she captured women and children at their tender best.
Perhaps the most famous of the postwar American painters was Winslow Homer. Homer gained fame during the Civil War for his realistic illustrations of Union soldiers, which often graced the covers of Harper's Weekly magazine. After the war he became a serious painter. Life in the American countryside was made real to those who flocked to the cities. His later years were marked with a fascination of the New England coast. Probably no American painter captured the majesty and power of the sea like Homer.
Art Nouveau architecture made use of many technological innovations of the late 19th century, especially the use of exposed iron and large, irregularly shaped pieces of glass for architecture. By the start of World War I, however, the stylised nature of Art Nouveau design -- which was expensive to produce -- began to be disused in favour of more streamlined, rectilinear modernism, which was cheaper and thought to be more faithful to the plainer industrial aesthetic that became Art Deco.