Can you distinguish Art Nouveau and Art Deco? (test your skills)
Both Art Nouveau (1880-1914) and Art Deco (1920-1940) embraced modernist elements and emerged as reactions to major world events; the Industrial Revolution and World War I, respectively. They are easy to distinguish if you know what to look for.
Two decorative styles that despite having very different characteristics are often confused. This is a brief guide so that the differences between art nouveau and art deco are understood.
Art Nouveau is based on the agile, the fluid, on the movement provided by curves and asymmetry. Art Deco seems obsessed with geometric shapes, with straight lines and angles, with mass and symmetry as constant values. But there is more than that.
Can you figure out which of the following 14 pictures are Art Nouveau / Art Deco?
(solution at the end of the article)
About the Chronology of the two art movements Art Nouveau came before than Art Deco, but it is urious to appreciate some similarities:
- Both emerged as a reaction to major world events: Industrialisation (Art Nouveau) and World War I (Art Deco).
- Both disappeared at the advent of a war: World War I (Art Nouveau) and World War II (Art Deco).
Some of the main differences between the two movements:
Art Nouveau is flowing and about curves. It looks to nature and organic elements for much of its inspiration. Flora is widely represented and also animals and insects, both real and imagined, decorate many pieces with bats, dragons, birds and dragonflies as popular motifs. You will find geometry in Art Nouveau, but usually in forms with curving rather than hard edges. Art nouveau is much more decorative, flowing, and floral.
Art Deco is sharp and based on straight lines and corners. It’s about perfect forms, circles and angles. Geometry plays a big part in Art Deco works made during the 1920’s and 1930’s. It was minimalistic and became even more so as the movement progressed through the years. It is considered the first genuinely industrialised style and is characterised by its pure geometric shapes.
After these short descriptions you may reconsider your guesses about the pictures :) If you want to read more about the characteristics of Art Nouveau and Art Deco continue reading...
Art Nouveau (1880-1914)
It means “new art” and embraced Europe’s new industrial aesthetic rather than challenged it. It featured naturalistic but stylised forms, often combined with shapes which were more geometric like parabolas, and semicircles. The movement used forms from the natural world that had not been used for long like insects, weeds, even mythical faeries.
Designs were are asymmetric and they replicated organic forms as trees and vegetation. Curved lines were prefered to straight parallel lines. In architecture the some straight lines were required but the architects tried to make them look visually organic in nature using ornamentation when necessary, and to be in harmony with the natural surroundings if possible. Women depicted in Art Nouveau pieces will often have flowing hair. Those in more provocative poses may have their hair down or even be nude draped in billowy folds of fabric.
The style unifies the styles that emerged in many countries in Europe at about the same time: in Austria it is known as Secessionsstil after Wiener Secession; in Spanish Modernismo; in Catalan Modernisme; in Czech Secese; in Danish Skønvirke or Jugendstil; in German Jugendstil, Art Nouveau or Reformstil; in Hungarian Szecesszió; in Italian Art Nouveau, Stile Liberty or Stile floreale; in Norwegian Jugendstil; in Polish Secesja; in Slovak Secesia; in Russian Модерн (Modern); and in Swedish Jugend.
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Gustav Klimt or Alphonse Mucha are two of the most popular artists and in the website we provide you with an agenda with the activities. For example we talked about the impressive exhibit that took place in Paris about Klimt‘s art or about who was alphonse Mucha, an amazing history.
Art Deco (1920-1940)
Art Deco took its name, short for Arts Décoratifs, from the Exposition Internationale des Arts Décoratifs et Industriels Modernes held in Paris in 1925. It emerged mainly in France and celebrated the dawn of the industrial age. The style adopted in Art Deco architecture was bold straight lines arranged symmetric like machines with equally bold colours unlike natural shades. Art Deco architecture also used lavish ornamentation in a way that was on your face reflecting the spirit of the times which was predominantly full of confidence enjoying the prosperity brought about by industrialisation and scientific advances. Art Deco also reflects the artistic movement of the era: cubism, fauvism, expressionism, etc.
The deprivations of the Great War years gave way to a whole new opulence and extravagance that defined the Jazz Age and the Art Deco aesthetic. The movement is characterised by streamlined and geometric shapes. It also used modern materials like chrome and stainless steel. If Art Deco dabbled with natural materials, they tended to be graphic or textural, like zebra skin or jagged fern leaves. As a result, Deco featured bold shapes like sunbursts and zigzags and broad curves.
The style has only one name, a factor that makes it easier to have all the documentation unified.
--> Solution to the quiz above: -------> 1, 3, 7, 8, 11 & 12 are Art Deco -------> 2, 4, 5, 6, 9, 10, 13 & 14 are Art Nouveau
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This is a general description on how the two movements look like but it is important to take into account that the transitional objects made during the World War I times and the revivals made in these styles through the decades make it more difficult to associate a piece of artwork with a specific movement.
How did these movements ended?
Art Nouveau was above all an affair of the great enlightened bourgeoisie, of industrial patrons of the arts and culture with aspirations of aesthetic elitism. With a few exceptions, it faded quickly after the end of the first decade of the twentieth century, so it was rather ephemeral.
Art Deco influenced the cinema of Fritz Lang, and then was quickly adopted by the Hollywood of the 20s, 30s and 40s as a characteristic style that evoked luxury and splendor. That was possibly another key to its success, and its ability to endure. That is why, despite languishing somewhat with the stock market crash of 1929, it took a long time to disappear completely, surviving even after World War II. Postmodernism suited it particularly well, and brought it back to the forefront at different times since the late 1960s, with a particularly notable upturn in the neo-deco eighties.
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