What is art nouveau?


From the 1880s to the outbreak of the First World War, Western Europe and the United States experienced the emergence of Art Nouveau, often referred to as the “New Art.” This influential movement drew inspiration from the untamed facets of the natural world, leaving an indelible mark on various artistic disciplines, including applied arts, graphic design, and illustration.

Characterized by sinuous lines and the distinctive “whiplash” curves, Art Nouveau found its roots in botanical studies and illustrations of marine life, notably exemplified by German biologist Ernst Heinrich Haeckel (1834–1919) in his seminal work “Kunstformen der Natur” (Art Forms in Nature, 1899). Influential publications like “Floriated Ornament” (1849) by Gothic Revivalist Augustus Welby Northmore Pugin (1812–1852) and “The Grammar of Ornament” (1856) by British architect and theorist Owen Jones (1809–1874) advocated for nature as the primary wellspring of inspiration, challenging a generation of artists to break free from conventional styles.

The flowing lines of Art Nouveau can be seen as a metaphor for the sought-after freedom and liberation from the weight of artistic tradition and critical expectations. The movement’s embrace of organic forms reflected a desire for a departure from established norms, symbolizing a profound shift in artistic expression during that transformative era.