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Art Nouveau Architecture: Characteristics & Style

Art Nouveau Architecture: Characteristics & Style
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  • 0:05 Art Nouveau
  • 1:40 Architectural Style
  • 3:17 Characteristics
  • 4:57 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Stephanie Przybylek

Stephanie has taught studio art and art history classes to audiences of all ages. She holds a master's degree in Art History.

For centuries, architects have tried to make buildings reflect the world in which they lived. But how do you express modernity? In this lesson, explore the architecture style known as Art Nouveau and learn about some of its identifying characteristics.

Art Nouveau

Have you ever seen a building with curved doorways and windows or graceful elongated cast metal forms used for staircases and balconies? You might have been looking at Art Nouveau architecture. Art Nouveau was a design style that became popular in Europe and the United States in the late 1880s and early 1890s. The term 'Art Nouveau' is French and means 'new art.' Art Nouveau was a reaction against 19th-century academic styles and an expression of desire on the part of artists and architects to create a new style for the coming turn of the century. In other words, new art for a new age.

Art Nouveau involved a philosophy that beautiful things could benefit the people who saw them. The end of the 19th-century was a time of increasing industrialization and mass production of cheap, poorly-made goods. Artists, designers, and architects reacted against this trend and advocated a return to craftsmanship and a belief that art should be incorporated back into everyday life.

Art Nouveau was an expression of an idea known as Gesamtkunstwerk, the thought that all of the arts should be reintegrated. The Art Nouveau movement included fine artists and illustrators, textile and wallpaper designers, and glass and jewelry designers. It also included interior designers, furniture designers, and architects. Beauty and design were just as important to functional objects like buildings as they were in fine art, and architects became some of the most prominent practitioners of Art Nouveau.

Architectural Style

Throughout Europe, you can find excellent examples of Art Nouveau and its associated styles in places like Brussels, Belgium; Prague, Czech Republic; and even Aelsund, Norway, which was rebuilt largely in Art Nouveau style following a fire in 1904.The Art Nouveau movement began in France and spread through Europe, encouraged by similar ideas among groups of artists in many countries. In each place, the style differed slightly and was known by different names. Here are a few of those names, along with their locations and associated architects:

  • Art Nouveau (France): Hector Guimard's graceful, curving metal station entrances delight visitors to the Paris subway.
  • Glasgow Style (Scotland): Charles Rennie Mackintosh's distinctive design for the Glasgow School of Art combines a linear emphasis with Celtic elements.
  • Modernisme (Spain): Antoni Gaudi's fanciful and colorful Casa Batlló seems almost alive.
  • Vienna Secession (Austria): Otto Wagner's beautifully decorated Majolikahaus has ceramic tile work with a riot of pattern and color.

Art Nouveau in Barcelona. The Casa Batllo by Antoni Gaudi
Casa Batllo Art Nouveau

As a style, Art Nouveau rose quickly and declined by around 1910, but in its desire for modern expression and its use of non-traditional shapes and forms, it proved to have a more long-lasting influence. It's sometimes called the first modern style and impacted later styles like Art Deco and Modernism.

But what does Art Nouveau architecture look like? Let's cover some identifying characteristics.

Characteristics

You can identify Art Nouveau structures by their graceful, curving lines. Some structures seem almost organic, rising from the ground in swelling and undulating forms. In a form sometimes called a whiplash curve, lines stretch and then bend back on themselves, a hallmark of the style.

Example of elongated whiplash curves used on the entrance gate of an Art Nouveau building
Art Nouveau architecture example

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