Art Nouveau appeared at the turn of the 20th century all at once, everywhere. A style defined by sinewy, organic lines and an overtly decorative flair, it was called Modern Style in Britain, Style Nouille in Belgium, Wiener Jugendstil in Germany, and Tiffany Style in the United States. So what on earth was it, and how did it spread so fast?
The decades before 1900 were a perfect storm of aesthetic developments and cultural evolution, leading to a global Art Nouveau takeover. We don’t usually go for bullet points at Obelisk, but there’s a lot to cover. Here are just a few of the influences:
So Art Nouveau was the complex child of illustrators, artists, Japanism, industrialization and enterprising magazine salesmen. But it exploded at the Exposition Universelle, the Word’s Fair held in Paris in 1900. Nearly 50 million people flooded into the city to see modern marvels like the escalator, diesel engines, and Matryoshka dolls. But the real highlight of the Exposition was the ‘new art’ — which was built into the event itself. The grand Porte Monumentale entrance and many of the pavilions were designed in the organic, ‘whiplash’ style, and perhaps most importantly, the Union Centrale des Arts Décoratifs — a decorative arts organization showcased purchasable art nouveau furniture and housewares, sending people all over the world back to their homes with a piece of the movement.
Perhaps because Art Nouveau grew so quickly, it also faded from popularity incredibly fast. By 1910, the style had evolved from organic floral into geometric angles — which would ubiquitous 1920’s aesthetic Art Deco.
Reed Enger, "Art Nouveau, Out with the old, in with the sexy," in Obelisk Art History, Published March 11, 2015; last modified May 20, 2021, http://arthistoryproject.com/timeline/modernism/art-nouveau/.
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