What Is Art Nouveau Architecture?

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Florine Tanner
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Art Nouveau was a late 19th- and early 20th-century aesthetic movement that was inspired by nature and produced an expressive style in architecture, interior design and jewelry.

Art Nouveau is an aesthetic movement of the late 19th century and early 20th centuries that is inspired by nature and is defined by organic shapes, sinuous lines and natural forms.

Art Nouveau’s influence on architecture, design and visual arts allowed for the creation of what are called total works of Art. Every element of a structure, from its windows to its doors handles to its decorative flourishes, can be harmonised to create an immersive Art Nouveau style.

History of Art Nouveau Architecture

Art Nouveau (“New Art”) was born in France and Belgium in the 1890s. It continued through the turn 20th century, until World War 1. Art Nouveau was popularized by the 1900 Paris Exposition Universelle. It spread to Europe and the United States.

Art Nouveau design was born out of a desire to challenge tradition and find new, more expressive forms of visual expression. The Arts and Crafts movement was influential in its emphasis on quality and craftsmanship. Art Nouveau architects and designers used Industrial Age technologies to create highly stylized designs with artistic qualities.

Art Nouveau is most popular in Europe and the United States. However, it can be used worldwide. Art Nouveau is known in many different ways. Art Nouveau was first used in Belgium. It is also used in France where it may be called Belle Epoque or Style Guimard. It’s also known as Modernism in Spain and Jugendstil (Youth Style), Germany. Art Nouveau is sometimes called Tiffany Style in the United States. This is due to the prominent work of Louis Comfort Tiffany (1848-1933), the glassmaker and jeweler who created the famous Tiffany lamp.

Art Nouveau architecture was replaced by Art Deco architecture. This style became the dominant in the 1920s and distinguished itself through its bold, striking geometric forms and high-profile skyscrapers like the Chrysler Building in NYC.

Key Characteristics of Art Nouveau Architecture

  • Art Nouveau is inspired by nature and features sinuous, sculptural organic shapes, curves, arches, and sensual ornamentation.
  • The most common motifs are stylized versions or leaves, flowers, vines and insects.
  • You will find decorative elements on both the inside and exterior of buildings such as intricate mosaic work, stained or curved glass and decorative wrought Iron.

Where To Find Art Nouveau Architecture

Art Nouveau architecture is an international style that originated in Europe and spread to the U.S. It has taken on many names and characteristics over time. These are some of the most prominent places you will find Art Nouveau style examples today.

Riga: Art Nouveau makes up a third of Latvia’s architecture. This is the largest concentration of Art Nouveau architecture anywhere in Europe. Albert Street is home to some of the most popular and beautiful examples of Mikhail Eisenstein’s architecture.

Brussels: Victor Horta, an architect and designer, designed the Hotel Tassel in early 1890s, which many consider to be the first Art Nouveau building in Belgium. It is now a UNESCO World Heritage Site. This belgian city’s other notable piece of Art Nouveau architecture is the Old England department store. It was built in 1899.

Paris: Hector Guimard, a leading Art Nouveau architect/designer, built 50 buildings between 1890-1830. But he is most famous for his curved glass and wrought-iron canopies which marked the entrances of the Paris Metro. These landmarks are still highly sought after today. However, much of Guimard’s work was destroyed by Art Nouveau in the 1960s. They are among the most photographed and loved landmarks in Paris. Their Art Nouveau curves remain an integral part of Paris’ design DNA.

While Paris is most well-known for its 19th-century Haussmannian architecture and art, one of Montparnasse’s most striking facades can still be seen at 31 rue Campagne-Premiere. This 1911 Art Nouveau building, designed by Andre-Louis Arfvidson in France, features sandstone tilework by Alexandre Bigot and was once home to world-renowned artists like Man Ray.

Barcelona: Barcelona’s most beloved buildings were designed by Antoni Gaudi (1852-1926), a Catalan architect whose work elevated Art Nouveau to new heights.

Austria: The 1898 Secession Building, designed by Joseph Maria Olbrich in Vienna, is an excellent example of Secession style. It is a variation on Art Nouveau. It is home to Gustav Klimt’s well-known Beethoven Frieze, one of Art Nouveau’s most prominent artists.

Scotland: The Glasgow School of Art was one of Charles Rennie Mackintosh (1868-1928), the greatest Scottish architects, was inspired by British Art Nouveau and mixed with Scottish flair.

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