Art Nouveau is a style that arose in the second half of the 19th century and united different branches of advanced art under common stylistic principles. This is not only a painting style; it is manifested in design, fashion, and architecture. When someone talks about the Art Nouveau style, listeners most often imagine the delicate entrances to the Paris Metro or paintings by Gustav Klimt and Mucha’s posters of soft women covered in flowers and ornaments. However, this style influenced the aesthetics of the entire 20th century, and its influence can be traced to contemporary art and design. Art Nouveau is a style that never died and remains relevant to this day.
Art Nouveau is an ornamental style of art that emerged in its purest form and became popular in America and Europe from the 1890s to the 1910s. In French, Art Nouveau is translated as “new art,” as the style attempted to modernize design, moving away from the outdated canons that dominated most of the 19th century. The floral elements of the Arts and Crafts movement leader William Morris inspired the decorativeness of the movement. He turned to floral ornaments as a counterweight to industrialization’s inhuman and mechanized aspects (Li, 2018). Another source of inspiration was Japonism, a movement that borrowed and adapted Japanese traditional art’s decorative repertoire and style (Farré, 2021). Popular plant and animal images, such as bamboo, wisteria, sakura, carp, etc., were brought from Japanese art and culture. Special attention deserves the influence of Japanese stained glass windows on creating plastic and natural forms in design and architecture (Farré, 2021). Moreover, Art Nouveau artists turned to the natural world, combined with the analyticity of biological knowledge. For example, decorator Henri Bergé applied botanical designs to thin glassware, combining physical precision and artistic subtlety.
Wavy asymmetric lines at the heart of paintings and designs became the hallmarks of Art Nouveau. These lines sought to be as different as possible from the angular geometrics of industrial objects and to return a sense of naturalness. Art Nouveau images are filled with natural decorative elements woven into lines. The design used a free combination of iron, ceramics, glass, brick, etc. In the 1910s, the artistic community became crowded within Art Nouveau and was generally abandoned due to its narrowness and old-fashionedness. However, the style influenced the development of art; it always manifested itself in one way or another in individual elements and was periodically rehabilitated within other movements.
The Art Nouveau movement was successful and significantly impacted society because it challenged the academic system and old norms. Moreover, this style showed that mass media and crafts could be innovative, creative, and as sophisticated as academic art. This fits well with the start of mass production and cemented Art Nouveau’s success in media, design, architecture, jewelry, and household items. The new design became popular, quickly replicated, and distributed as it caused aesthetic pleasure (Ngondonga, 2021). It can be said that Art Nouveau created and redefined the relationship between fine and decorative arts, creating contemporary ideas about design.
Art Nouveau showed how graphics and design can use emotionality, naturalness, and sexuality. Society was amazed and captivated by the idea that household or wardrobe items could be erotic and evoke an emotional response. Humanity needed a visually appealing design for mass-produced products. This opportunity was seized by the Czech artist Alfons Mucha, who painted a poster for the play “Gismonda,” depicting the sensual and enticing image of Sarah Bernhardt (Sence, 2016). Up to this point, the culture had not used imagery that was so sexy that it assured would-be marketers that sex sold well.
Mucha repeated his success in an advertisement for Job cigarettes, in which in the foreground is a seductive woman enjoying a cigarette and attractively biting her lower lip. The brand name receded into the background, woven into the elements of the background decor. This was an unusual decision, as it was believed that advertising should be practical and the product logo should be read immediately (Sence, 2016). However, Mucha combined the enjoyment of the visual beauty of fine art and the practicality of advertising, as the poster did not let go of the viewer’s attention and encouraged them to buy cigarettes. Advertising became an art for the masses, and Mucha’s posters were torn off the street and taken home (Sence, 2016). Art Nouveau helped to lift many of the prohibitions of censorship to introduce into mass culture sexual images that free the female body from traditional prohibitions.
Art Nouveau stylistics has returned to history many times, the most striking of which was the revival of the hippie culture of the 1960s. The poster art of this time became known as “Art Nouveau on Acid” and was used to decorate psychedelic rock concert posters (Vox, 2019). The flexible lines and floral patterns fit in perfectly with the aesthetic of the 60s generation and were modified with rich, flashy colors and more psychedelic and floating shapes. In addition, the original sensuality and sexuality of Art Nouveau also appealed to the hippie generation, who sought to draw attention to the problems of their contemporary world through the use of emotions.
Art Nouveau has dramatically influenced modern design because contemporary art uses and incorporates elements from all previously created styles. First, Art Nouveau produced a unique, recognizable set of ornaments, designed templates, fonts, and images, which are often used as decorative elements, copied or synthesized with other techniques to get a new vision. For example, there is a Japanese manga, “Moon Child” at the intersection of Art Nouveau styles and a manga created by artist Reiko Shimizu (Ngondonga, 2021). Any interior design magazine includes Art Nouveau apartments in their selections as this style never goes out of fashion entirely. In 2022, the online magazine “Impressive Interior Design” published a new piece of interiors in the Art Nouveau style, which indicates an undeniable undying interest in it (Art Nouveau interior design, 2022). Refined beauty and natural lines combined with practicality and functionality captivate people anytime.
Second, Art Nouveau left a more important mark on design – the philosophical perception of design as art for the masses. This is the idea that seeing and creating beauty in everything is vital, not just in sophisticated and elitist works of art. The functionality and practicality of things can and should be combined with beauty and sophistication (Ngondonga, 2021). Art Nouveau broke the line between fine and applied arts, making everyday objects and designing things another type of creative expression available to many people. Ideas in the field of advertising and design, based on a focus on the feelings of a potential buyer, became the basis of the philosophy of design and marketing. Modern design practices are built on emotional impact, “sex sells,” visual appeal, and practicality.
Art Nouveau was a revolutionary style that set itself and fulfilled an utterly new task – understanding the industrial revolution, the fruits of industrialism, and the emerging modern world order. This style was forced to combine the incongruous – using industrial materials to create graceful works inspired by nature. Art Nouveau became famous for its frequently used and recognizable decorative elements and a new design ethic – art for the masses (Ngondonga, 2021). He helped develop an approach to inclusive design for socially engaged, flexible, relevant, and effective design outcomes.
Farré, N. G. (2021). The adoption of Japanese imagery in Catalan Art Nouveau stained glass. Journal of Japonisme, 6(2), 95-158. Web.
Art Nouveau interior design with its style, decor and colors. Impressive Interior Design. (2022). Web.
Sence, S. (2016). Art Nouveau’s influence. The News Record. Web.
Li, N. (2018). The interaction between artist and poster design taking the lithograph poster during Art Nouveau Movement in France as an Example. In 4th International Conference on Arts, Design and Contemporary Education (ICADCE 2018) (pp. 167-171). Atlantis Press. Web.
Vox. (2019). Where the 1960s “psychedelic” look came from [Video]. YouTube. Web.
Ngondonga, M. (2021). Art Nouveau design: Art and design for the people. 99designs. Web.