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What Are the Characteristics of Art Nouveau Motifs?

Art noveau often features plant and flower motifs.
Art nouveau can be seen in architecture from the period.
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An asymmetrical use of fanciful curves, forms from nature and colors characterize art nouveau motifs. These motifs are used not only in artwork, but also to decorate functional objects and architecture. The art nouveau movement transitioned between Victorianism and modernism. Its practitioners included artists, craftspeople and architects.

Curved lines, most notably those called whiplash curves, are characteristic of art nouveau motifs. The curves are frequently sinuous and of varying widths, which tend to impart feelings of movement to the design. Some variants of this style, however, use repeating linear elements as well.

Depictions of nature are also common in art nouveau motifs. Beautiful nymphs, with long flowing hair, are popular subjects in this style. Flowers, leaves and tendrils are frequently used as part of the decoration. Birds and insects, especially dragonflies, are also common themes. Some colors that may be used in art nouveau motifs include olive green, orange, and peacock blue.

Art nouveau motifs are used not only in fine art, but also to enhance everyday functional objects. The motifs can be found in architecture, jewelry, glassware and other objects. This period is especially noted for the popularity of posters. Posters began to take advantage of newly developed color processes; they became prestigious, and a number fine artists were willing to create them. Frequently, the posters use flat expanses of color, emphasizing the medium’s two dimensions, rather than shaded tones, which implies three dimensions.

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Before the art nouveau movement, jewelers in the Western hemisphere typically used settings that featured precious gems. As part of this new movement, jewelers began to use less expensive stones and materials, yet the materials holding the stones were intricately crafted. In essence, the jewelry was prized for its artistry, and not only for its jewels.

Internationally, the art nouveau movement was popular for several decades, taking place between the 1890s and 1914. It has been largely considered a reaction and rebellion to the neoclassicism of the Victorian age. In addition, it is primarily considered one of the art movements that gave rise to modernism.

Some famous artists, craftspeople and architects who worked with art nouveau designs included artist Alphonse Mucha. His posters, particularly those with actress Sarah Bernhardt, remain popular. Louis Comfort Tiffany’s glasswork, such as the famed Tiffany lamps, also often incorporated art nouveau motifs. Rene Lalique, a famous jeweler of the period, created jewelry and glass work in the art nouveau style. Victor Horta was a Belgian architect who was considered a top designer in this style.

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clintflint
Post 3

@pleonasm - I would say that plants are a more distinctive characteristic than animals. You would very rarely find art nouveau that doesn't include some kind of plant motif, particularly flowers, but sometimes leaves or seed heads as well.

If you know anything about plant symbology, it's quite fun to work out what the artist was intending to say in their art.

Mucha, for example, did a series that were based on different seasons and included suitable flowers and fruits in each portrait.

pleonasm
Post 2

@pastanaga - I see a lot of owls as well, although they might not be as popular because they are more difficult to draw in a flowing style, since they don't have long tails. Fish are fairly common as well.

I can usually tell if art is supposed to be in this style because the main object is surrounded by a heavy, dark border with lighter lines within the border. But I guess there are other ways to distinguish it, since I can usually tell if a sculpture or piece of jewelry is art nouveau and of course those generally aren't going to have a heavy border.

pastanaga
Post 1

There are a few animals that seem to be the most popular for art nouveau pieces, like butterflies, dragonflies, peacocks, doves, herons and cats. Dragonflies in particular seem to be used a lot in glass pieces like Tiffany lamps and in combs.

They almost always seem to be of women as well. Traditionally, you hardly ever see men. It's always a woman dressed in a very flowing gown with stars or swirls around her and lots of long, flowing hair.

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