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Art Nouveau

Art Nouveau, centered in Western Europe, began in the 1880s as a reaction against the historical emphasis of mid-19th-century art. The movement was short-lived and did not survive World War I. Art Nouveau originated in London and was variously called Jugendstil in Germany, Sezessionstil in Austria, and Modernismo in Spain. In general it was most successfully practiced in the decorative arts: furniture, jewelry, and book design and illustration.

The movement was a revolutionary style that broke free from the rigid confines of 19th-century academic art. The style was richly ornamental and asymmetrical, with themes fraught with symbolism. Practitioners often imbued their designs with dreamlike and exotic forms.

Art Nouveau was a rebellion against the sterile historicism and mass production of the Industrial Revolution. Artists like Alphonse Mucha and Antoni Gaudí embraced new materials like iron and glass, crafting objects that were both functional and stunningly expressive.

The outstanding designers of Art Nouveau in England include the graphic artist Aubrey Beardsley, Walter Crane, and the Scottish architect Charles R. Mackintosh; in Belgium the architects Henry Van de Velde and Victor Horta; in France the architect and designer of the Paris métro entrances, Hector Guimard, and the jewelry designer René Lalique; in Austria the painter Gustav Klimt; in Spain the architect Antonio Gaudí; in Germany the illustrator Otto Eckmann and the architect Peter Behrens; in Italy the originator of the ornamental Floreale style, Giuseppe Sommaruga; and in the United States Louis Sullivan, whose architecture was dressed with art nouveau detail, and the designer of elegant glassware Louis C. Tiffany.

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Did You Know?

Did you know that Art Nouveau was as much a movement in the visual arts as it was in architecture and design in general? While relatively short lived, it was very pervasive.

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