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The Art Nouveau architectural style developed in Europe between 1890 and 1914. This style grew out of a rebellion against classical ideals in architecture and art. It was based on the premise that nature was the best source of inspiration and aesthetic principals, or ideas about beauty. The major characteristics of Art Nouveau architecture and art were curved forms and ornate embellishments with shapes from nature. Art Nouveau styles were found not just in architecture and paintings, but in the decorative arts as well, making it accessible to many people.
Proponents of Art Nouveau architecture turned against references to classical Greek and Roman standards that had been popular during much of the 1800s. They were driven to throw off strict and formal philosophies of art. Instead, architects who designed Art Nouveau buildings found their inspiration in the expressive lines and shapes of nature, especially from flowers and other plant life.
Curved lines and arches dominated the exterior of Art Nouveau architecture. An example is Casa Batllo in Barcelona, Spain, which was redesigned by Antoni Gaudi between 1905 and 1907 in the Art Nouveau style. The exterior of Casa Batllo has curved, leaf-like balconies. The bottom of each balcony has a flower design that can be seen from the street, and the lower floors have undulating arches. Casa Batllo does not have many straight lines or geometric shapes, as even the corners of the building are curved.
Another example of Art Nouveau architecture is the Hotel Guimard, built by Hector Guimard in 1912 in Paris, France. Guimard built the house for himself and his wife Adeline Oppenheim. The windows of the Hotel Guimard are shielded by arches with root-like designs. A large balcony at the top of the building has an elaborate wrought iron railing with flowery elements. The entryway to the house has an arch with asymmetrical, floral designs.
Not only was Art Nouveau evident in external architecture but interior design displayed its standards as well. Ornate moldings with relief sculptures of plants, flowers and birds were characteristic of building interiors. Opulent, winding staircases were common as well.
Proponents of Art Nouveau intended it to be a non-elitist style of art that did not draw distinctions between fine arts like painting and sculpture, and applied arts like ceramics and metalworking. Art Nouveau style was applied to rugs, furniture, textiles, wallpaper, lamps and graphic design. For this reason, Art Nouveau was a style available to a wide number of people.
The other great city that springs to my mind for Art Nouveau architecture is Vienna. That city's style of Art Nouveau has many buildings that are blockier than what we might normally think of when we think of that style, but the exteriors are very highly decorated with that unmistakable Art Nouveau curviness. The Majolica House by Otto Wagner, for example, looks blocky from a distance but once you get closer you can see the beautiful ceramic floral designs on the exterior and the lovely iron balconies. The famous Secession Building is the city's other great example.
Do you have a favorite Art Nouveau building in the world?
There are many great examples of Art Nouveau architecture all around Paris in addition to the Hotel Guimard. The entrances to the Paris Metro are by the same architect and can be seen all around the city.
The large Tati building by Paul Auscher is still standing; its undulating balconies and voussoirs (the tops of the arches) make the building seem to ripple and that's why it comes to my mind as a fine example of the organic and curvy style of Art Nouveau.
If you want to experience a great Parisian Art Nouveau interior there are Maxim's and La Fermette Marbeuf restaurants, although you will have to pay quite a lot for the privilege.