art nouveau to art deco

by Richard Whitehouse

Chrysler Building. New York (1928-1930)
 William Van Allen

art nouveau

The Art Nouveau style appeared in the early 1880s and was gone by the eve of the First World War.  For a brief, brilliant moment, Art Nouveau was a shimmering presence in urban centres throughout Europe and North America.  It was the style of the age--seen on public buildings and advertisements, inside private homes and outside street cafés--adorning the life of the city.
Art Nouveau was a response to the radical changes caused by the rapid urban growth and technological advances that followed the Industrial Revolution. This timeline establishes a counterpoint between major moments in the development of Art Nouveau and world events to provide a context for understanding the style's many and varied influences.  
Art nouveau embraced all forms of art and design: architecture, furniture, glassware, graphic design, jewellery, painting, pottery, metalwork, and textiles. This was a sharp contrast to the traditional separation of art into the distinct categories of fine art (painting and sculpture) and applied arts (ceramics, furniture, and other practical objects).

René Lalique French (1860-1945)
Dragonfly woman corsage ornament, c. 1897-1898 gold, enamel, chrysoprase, moonstones, and diamonds Calouste Gulbenkian Foundation, Lisbon

Art nouveau flourished in a number of European countries, many of which developed their own names for the style. Art nouveau was known in France as style Guimard, after French designer Hector Guimard; in Italy as the stile floreale (floral style) or stile Liberty, after British art nouveau designer Arthur Lasenby Liberty; in Spain as modernisme; in Austria as Sezessionstil (secession style); and in Germany as Jugendstil (youth style). These diverse names reflect the widespread adoption of the movement, which had centres in major cities all over Europe—Paris and Nancy in France; Darmstadt and Munich in Germany; Brussels, Belgium; Glasgow, Scotland; Barcelona, Spain; Vienna, Austria; Prague, Czech Republic; and Budapest, Hungary. 

  Charles Rennie Mackintosh Scottish (1868-1928) Ladies' Luncheon Room from Miss Cranston's Ingram Street Tearooms, 1900 Glasgow Museums, Art Gallery and Museum, Kelvingrove.  

Velde, Henry Clemens van de (1863-1957), Belgian architect and designer was one of the most successful and important practitioners of the art nouveau style. Inspired by the English Arts and Crafts movement led by William Morris, he rebelled against the moribund styles of Victorian Revival architecture and industrial design. His own house at Ukkel (1895, near Brussels) was an early art nouveau landmark. His difficulty in finding suitable furnishings for it led him to design his own furniture, his intent being to raise the applied arts to the status of the fine arts. 
Van de Velde's success led to commissions for other houses, mainly in Germany, in which the architecture and furnishings—all incorporating sweeping art nouveau curves—were closely integrated. The fullest expressions of his style were found in a Paris shop, Maison de l'Art Nouveau (1896), and in the Folkwang Museum (1902) in Hagen, Germany. As a founder of art schools in Germany and Belgium—his Weimar School of Arts and Crafts (1907) later became the celebrated Bauhaus—van de Velde was the most influential of art nouveau architects.
II. Britain 
Art nouveau in Britain evolved out of the already established arts and crafts movement. Founded in 1861 by English designer William Morris, the arts and crafts movement emphasized the importance of handcrafted work. Morris's devotion to handmade articles was a reaction against shoddy machine-made products that were flooding the English marketplace as the industrial revolution expanded. The arts and crafts movement also promoted a totally designed environment in which everything from wallpaper to silverware is made according to a unified design. British art nouveau designers of the 1890s shared Morris's dedication to handcrafted work and integrated designs. To these principles they added new forms and materials, establishing the aesthetic of the art nouveau style. 
One of the earliest examples of art nouveau in England is a chair designed in 1882 by British architect Arthur Mackmurdo, which exhibits the curving lines associated with the style. Likewise, the fabric designs of Arthur Lasenby Liberty, who opened a shop called Liberty & Co. in 1875, also illustrate an interest in organic forms and curving, decorative patterns. 
In 1888 British designer Charles Ashbee established a workshop and school for artisans in London. Ashbee's furniture and metalwork designs reflect the more rectilinear (straight-lined or right-angled) version of art nouveau style. In the graphic arts, Aubrey Beardsley drew illustrations for periodicals such as The Yellow Book (1894-1895), and for an edition of the play Salomé (1894) by Irish-born writer Oscar Wilde. Beardsley's vigorous use of line and distinctive double-curves known as whiplash lines have become equated with British art nouveau in the popular imagination. 
III. Belgium and France 

Art nouveau architecture in Brussels flourished in the work of Belgian designers Victor Horta and Henry van de Velde. As did Mackintosh in Glasgow, these Belgian designers sought to create a new style, free from the historical references of prevailing traditions. They utilized standard wrought iron and cast-iron technology, but employed it to create distinctly new forms. In the Hôtel Tassel in Brussels (1892-1893), Horta not only revealed the structural column that supports the second floor, but transformed its cast-iron form into a plantlike stem that terminates in a burst of intertwined tendrils as it connects with other structural elements.

   Louis Majorelle French (1859-1926)
 and Daum Frères. French
 (firm active 1878 onward)
Orchid desk
 mahogany, gilded bronze, and glass.  

Similarly, French designer Hector Guimard designed entrances for the Metro stations in Paris (1898-1901) using simple metal and glass forms decorated with curvilinear wrought iron. These are especially memorable examples of art nouveau's delightfully curving naturalistic forms. 
An interest in organic forms is also found in the work of French glass designer Émile Gallé. Working from his hometown of Nancy, Gallé produced a variety of glassware decorated with leaves, vines, and flowers. He fused layers of different coloured glass and then cut designs into the glass to reveal the colour he wanted, a technique that also added greater depth to the design.
IV. Germany and Austria 

Art nouveau took hold in a number of German-speaking cities, the most prominent of which were Munich, Darmstadt, and Weimar in Germany, and Vienna in Austria. Known as Jugendstil (German for “youth style”), art nouveau was promoted in Munich through periodicals such as Die Jugend (The Youth). 

Vilmos Zsolnay.
 Hungarian (1828-1900) 
Vase, 1899, earthenware with metallic luster glaze
 The Minneapolis Institute of Arts, Gift of the Norwest Corporation.


At the head of Munich's Jugendstil movement was Hermann Obrist, a Swiss designer who created a sensation with an exhibition of his embroidery in 1896. Not only did this exhibit challenge the separation between fine and applied arts, but it also introduced the Munich public to the lively organic forms of art nouveau. Obrist's designs, although based on natural forms, often evolved into mysterious shapes that suggest a fantasy world. 
The work of German architect August Endell shares this visionary quality. Endell sought to create intense, dynamic forms that would evoke a strong response in the viewer. His plaster relief sculpture for the exterior of Munich's Elvira Photo Studio (1896-1897) does just that. Part dragon, part flying sea creature, part tidal wave, the theatrical relief expands the organic forms of art nouveau into the realm of visionary fantasy. 
Stylistic trends in Vienna took a significantly different direction.  Led by Austrian artist Gustav Klimt, young artists and architects formed a group called the Wiener Sezession, or Vienna Secession, in protest against the entrenched conservatism of the art establishment in Vienna. As did their counterparts elsewhere in Europe, Secession designers rejected historical styles; but in Vienna they expressed this through an increasing simplification of form. Rather than embracing the writhing organic forms of Endell or Obrist in Munich, Viennese artists moved towards the restrained geometric designs exemplified by the work of Charles Rennie Mackintosh. 
V. Spain 
The art nouveau movement in Spain is best exemplified in the work of Barcelona architect Antoni Gaudí y Cornet, whose designs represent a highly personal response to the art nouveau ideas of his time. Gaudí created one of his most eccentric works in the Templo Expiatorio de la Sagrada Familia (Church of the Holy Family, begun in 1883, construction ongoing) in Barcelona. Dominated by four disproportionately tall spires, the church appears to be a fantastical outgrowth of the earth. Floral designs cover the building façade, and broken tiles glitter on the rippling surface of the towers. In his Casa Milá apartment complex (1905-1907, Barcelona), Gaudí created the illusion of a limestone reef hollowed out by centuries of seawater. Although the entire complex was executed in cut stone, there is not one straight line in the façade.
VI. United States 
In the United States, art nouveau evolved naturally from the craft tradition of the early 19th century. American furniture, glass, metalwork, and jewellery had long been adapted from European models. Travel between the United States and Europe fostered a continuous exchange of ideas, and by the 1890s American designers were making significant contributions to art nouveau ceramics, glassware, and architecture. International expositions in the United States not only highlighted American products but also attracted European visitors who were curious about design trends emerging in this new marketplace. 
Foremost among American art nouveau innovators were Rookwood Pottery of Cincinnati, Ohio, and Tiffany Studios of New York City. Rookwood was well established by the 1890s, producing a wide range of elegant pottery decorated with softly coloured natural forms. The glassware of Louis Comfort Tiffany probably constitutes the best-known American examples of art nouveau design. Using his patented Favrile glass (iridescent glass produced by exposing hot glass to metallic fumes), Tiffany designed stained glass windows, lamps, and a variety of other glass objects. The intense colour, fluid organic forms, and innovative techniques incorporated in his designs positioned Tiffany as a leader in international art nouveau design. 

  Tiffany Studios American 
(firm active 1902-1932)
Jack-in-the-pulpit vase, c. 1902-1910, Favrile glass Private Collection  

VII. The Impact of Art Nouveau
Art nouveau represents the beginning of modernism in design. It occurred at a time when mass-produced consumer goods began to fill the marketplace, and designers, architects, and artists began to understand that the handcrafted work of centuries past could be lost. While reclaiming this craft tradition, art nouveau designers simultaneously rejected traditional styles in favour of new, organic forms that emphasized humanity's connection to nature. 

Jules Chéret French (1836-1932)
 La Loïe Fuller, 1893 lithograph 
Victoria and Albert Museum, London.


As art nouveau designers erased the barrier between fine arts and applied arts, they applied good design to all aspects of living—from architecture to silverware to painting. In this integrated approach art nouveau had its deepest influence. A variety of ensuing movements continued to explore integrated design, including De Stijl, a Dutch design movement in the 1920s, and the German Bauhaus school in the 1920s and 1930s. Although the stylistic elements of art nouveau evolved into the simpler, streamlined forms of modernism, the fundamental art nouveau concept of a thoroughly integrated environment remains an important part of contemporary design.

art deco

   Rockefeller Centre, New York (1932-40)  

  Art Deco belongs to a world of luxury and decadence, the golden age of the 1920s and 1930s. The very term conjures up a multitude of romantic images; huge ocean liners gliding effortlessly across moonlit seas; the sound of clinking cocktail glasses and the sound of a raucous jazz band emanating from a sumptuously decorated ballroom.

Despite this Utopian emphasis on luxury; Art Deco emerged in an era of economic slumps and depressions, social strife, hunger marches and the political battle between Communism and Fascism. It was against this troubled and traumatic background that Art Deco forged it’s own identity. Art Deco was essentially an eclectic style; it’s artists and designers plundering a diversity of historic sources. Simultaneously, however, it emphasised modernity, employing the latest industrial materials and techniques. It was this fusion of history and modernity that gave Art Deco its unique character. Ultimately, this world of exuberance, vitality and beauty was a world of fantasy, a world as escapist as any of the Hollywood musicals of the same era. It’s legacy, however, is one of great beauty, craft and imagination. It was a style used primarily in the design of buildings, furniture, jewellery, and interior decor. 

scarab brooches

Art deco is characterized by sleek, streamlined forms; geometric patterns; and experiments with industrial materials such as metals, plastics, and glass. The term art deco is a shortening of the title of a major Paris design exhibition held in 1925, Exposition Internationale des Arts Décoratifs et Industriels Modernes (International Exposition of Modern Industrial and Decorative Arts), where the style first became evident. Art deco quickly gained hold in the United States, where it reached the height of its achievement in architecture, especially in New York City's soaring skyscrapers of the late 1920s and early 1930s such as the Chrysler, Daily News, and Empire State buildings. Because many art deco buildings went up during a period of economic collapse known as the Great Depression, the style is sometimes known as depression moderne.

La Paresse (1924-25)
 George Barbier
 A scene of cultured decadence
  pochier print, based on watercolour of 1924


Art deco was also a product of the fertile artistic exchange between Paris, France, and New York City that occurred after World War I (1914-1918). American artists, writers, and musicians flocked to Paris after the war and brought with them a fresh approach to creative work. The French, who grounded their art in a firm grasp of tradition, absorbed something of the American spirit of improvisation. Later, American architects who had trained at Paris's École des Beaux Arts (School of Fine Arts) brought European influence to the design of New York's many art deco skyscrapers.

I. Bauhaus

Bauhaus the famous German school of design that had inestimable influence on modern architecture, the industrial and graphic arts, and theatre design. It was founded in 1919 by the architect Walter Gropius in Weimar as a merger of an art academy and an arts and crafts school. The Bauhaus was based on the principles of the 19th-century English designer William Morris and the Arts and Crafts movement that art should meet the needs of society and that no distinction should be made between fine arts and practical crafts. It also depended on the more forward-looking principles that modern art and architecture must be responsive to the needs and influences of the modern industrial world and that good designs must pass the test of both aesthetic standards and sound engineering. Thus, classes were offered in crafts, typography, and commercial and industrial design, as well as in sculpture, painting, and architecture. The Bauhaus style, later also known as the International Style, was marked by the absence of ornament and ostentatious facades and by harmony between function and the artistic and technical means employed.

In 1930 the Bauhaus came under the direction of the architect Ludwig Mies van der Rohe, who moved it to Berlin in 1932. By 1933, when the school was closed by the Nazis, its principles and work were known worldwide. Many of its faculty immigrated to the United States, where the Bauhaus teachings came to dominate art and architecture for decades.

II. Decorative Arts

The first designers to contribute to the creation of art deco were French fashion designer Paul Poiret and French jewelry and glass designer René Lalique. Echoing the experimental glass of American designer Louis Comfort Tiffany, Lalique's glass designs of the 1910s featured continuous, flowing lines and subtle, unusual colours. The colorful and original designs created by artists Henri Matisse and Pablo Picasso for the Ballets Russes dance company in Paris were an additional influence on the emerging art deco style. Art deco designers also admired and borrowed from ancient art that was being unearthed by archaeologists at the time, especially the treasures of the ancient Egyptian king Tutankhamun (exhibited in Paris in 1922) and Maya and other Mesoamerican art.

The Aristocrats (1920s) Professor Otto Poertzel. This is one of the best examples of Art Deco sculpture and conjures up the archetypal woman of the period, tall, slender and extremely chic.


At the 1925 exposition several French masters unveiled work that created an international stir. Elegant inlaid wood furniture by Jacques Émile Ruhlmann, functional lacquerwork by Jean Dunand, silver jewellery by Jean Puiforcat, and glass vases by Lalique were hailed for their modernity and original lines. Ruhlmann designed a series of rooms for the exposition that had a far-reaching effect on American and European taste. Lalique later created a similarly streamlined decorative scheme for the luxurious French ocean liner Normandie. Both designs displayed clean abstract lines in metal, porcelain, enamel, and exotic woods, evoking what was viewed at the time as the speed and grace of machinery in motion.
III. Architecture

In architecture, the crowning achievements of art deco occurred not in Europe but in the United States. A trio of New York City skyscraper specialists set the stage for an explosion of creative activity during the 1920s and early 1930s. Architects Raymond M. Hood, Ralph Walker, and Ely Jacques Kahn produced many of the city's landmark tall buildings and inspired other designers with their innovations in form, materials, and decoration. A major influence on their work was a never-executed design by Finnish-born American architect Eliel Saarinen that he entered in the 1922 Chicago Tribune Building competition. Although his proposal did not win, it helped popularise the use of setbacks, the stepped building profile that became associated with so many art deco skyscrapers. New York's 1916 building and zoning ordinances also encouraged the use of setbacks in tall buildings to enable sunlight to penetrate to the canyonlike streets of the city.
The Impact of Art Deco

As the 1930s progressed, American art deco became increasingly identified with the imagery of technology and speed: It emphasized the use of modern glossy materials, smooth seamless surfaces, and aerodynamic horizontal lines. This sleeker version of art deco, known as streamlined moderne, supplanted the detailed geometric patterns of early art deco.


Silver tea & Coffee service (1934-39)

American designer Donald Deskey created interior furnishings and fixtures using new materials such as Bakelite (a type of plastic), chrome-plated metal, linoleum, and glass bricks. American designer Raymond Loewy brought art deco into people's homes with his streamlined design for the Coldspot refrigerator. Hollywood added to the style's popularity by featuring glamorous moderne interiors in motion pictures of the 1930s.
The art deco style remained influential well into the 1940s. Like many design styles that are now considered classic, art deco reflected a key moment in modern cultural history—the age of jazz, streamlined cars, elegant costumes, and those classic early skyscrapers.


Yet the greatest evidence of the enduring fascination with Art Deco resides in the influence the movement has had upon contemporary artists, designers and architects. A classic example of Art Deco revivalism can be seen in the M16 headquarters Building in London. With it’s slick, decorative and highly detailed façade it rises from the river Thames like the fantasy stage set to a 1930s Hollywood spectacular. This paean to the decadence and romance of the Deco period provides evidence of the endurance and popularity of the style that was Art Deco.


M16 Headquarters
  Vauxhall Cross, London (1988-93)
  Terry Farrell



  Richard Whitehouse is a silversmith & jeweller
 see his work at   and


.Photographs courtesy of Richard Whitehouse
web design by Marbeth Schon
 Copyright ©  Modern Silver magazine 2001

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