The term Art Nouveau is French and means New Art. It was an extraordinary movement in art history from the end of the nineteenth century and lasted from about 1880 to 1915. The style is characterized by using organic, ornamental shapes and patterns and by integrating all aspects of art and design.
Art Nouveau was an International modern art movement and had different names in different languages. In Germany it was called Jugendstil, in Italy Stile Liberty, in Austria Sezession and in Spain Modernista or Modernismo. It had its major success in decorative and applied arts. The World's Fair in Paris in 1900 was a demonstration of its general public acceptance.
Art historians tend to interprete this new movement as a natural reaction to the Industrial Revolution. Creating art in this new style required a high level of craftsmanship. Thus it was in contrast to mass-produced goods made by machines and the objects consequently were rather expensive and unaffordable by the average man in the street. The new style was reserved for the wealthy.
Around 1860 commerce with Japan began to develop. Before that time, Japan had lived in complete seclusion for centuries. European artists saw Japanese woodblock prints for the first time and were mesmerized. Japanese art became very fashionable in Europe and European artists like van Gogh, Gauguin or Toulouse Lautrec were influenced by it. The use of large, flat colored areas and designs without any use of perspective, show the Japanese influence.
Like Impressionism, Art Nouveau was a rebellion against classical and traditional art. The movement was very successful in going beyond the borders of fine art and spreading into commercial and decorative arts. Famous artists like Alphonse Mucha or Gustav Klimt, went into such fields as high fashion and jewelry designs.
Art Nouveau originated in England from the Arts and Crafts movement. Aubrey Vincent Beardsley became the best known artist of the new art movement. Beardsley was unique in every aspect. From his early childhood he suffered from a very poor health. He started as a self-taught artist. Beardsley died at the age of only 26.
France is the country where the word Art Nouveau originated when Samuel Bing, an art dealer, opened a shop in Paris and called it La Maison de l'Art Nouveau.
There were a few more names in France. It was also called Style Moderne or Style Nouille. The latter means literally Noodle Style and got its name from the noodle like hair style that many of the women wore that were depicted on posters and prints.
France was more or less the only country where the new art movement could establish itself in public life. The wonderful subway entrances of the Paris Metro are the best examples. Posters in the new style were dominant in advertising. And artists like Galle and Guimard were famous.
In Austria and Germany the new art movement had a hard stand against a conservative society. Towards the end of the nineteenth century several groups of avant-garde artists formed Jugendstil associations in Munich, Vienna and Berlin. Especially in the Austrian empire, the Sezession movement was started as an obvious rebellion against the rigid art world.
In Vienna Gustav Klimt was the driving force and the chairman of the Wiener Sezession.
The Italians named the style Stile Liberty after an English company, Liberty Ltd., which was active in the commercial sector. The Italian version was centered in Milan and Turin in Northern Italy. In Spain the word arte noven was used. The center was in Barcelona and concentrated on prints and posters.
Author: Dieter Wanczura