What Are the Characteristics of Art Nouveau Rugs?

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  • Written By: Andrea Cross
  • Edited By: PJP Schroeder
  • Last Modified Date: 18 September 2019
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Art nouveau, or new art, is a reactionary style of art and architecture that evolved from 1890 to 1910. Beginning in Europe, the style is characterized by shapes, elements, and colors inspired by nature, a form influenced by Japanese style. It was applied to numerous everyday items including furniture, wallpaper, and rugs, both in shape and in decoration. Art nouveau rugs have continued to be popular since their inception with periodic revivals and interpretations.

Curved, flowing lines are a fundamental characteristic of art nouveau rugs. These lines are used to compose a series of symmetrical forms and patterns, from the simple to the intricate. Curves are often contrasted with or contained by sharper lines. From delicate curls to robust, sinuous styles, the curves not only form patterns but also represent various elements of nature.

Flowers, grasses, and vines are commonly represented in this style of rug. They are present in literal form and suggested in stylized, flowing lines and patterns. Various birds, both local and exotic, are also typically portrayed, with peacocks being a particularly popular choice. More exotic creatures such as insects and butterflies are also sometimes included.


The colors of art nouveau rugs contrast with the former Victorian coloring of dark, heavy shades. They are inspired by those found in nature and commonly include shades of green, yellows, and browns. Oranges and creams are also popular and, in a contrast to the richer Victorian colors, are muted and downplayed with the intention of making a room feel lighter and more airy, akin to being outdoors.

Traditional composition of art nouveau rugs was influenced by that of Persian rugs, which also expressed an affinity to nature. The rugs are composed of an outer border surrounding a central design. Designs are normally intricately patterned and symmetrical, with the pattern repeating on the entirety of the rug. The patterns are typically composed of repeating flowers and vegetation, with elements such as birds used more as focal points in the center medallion.

Modern interpretations of art nouveau rugs still maintain a number of the original characteristics. Curved lines and shapes are still heavily featured, but the intricate, formulaic, symmetrical patterns have been replaced by more asymmetrical designs that, while still portraying some form of pattern, feature much less intensive repetition. Muted, natural color palettes are still often used, but more vibrant colors have crept in. At times, this style is combined with features of art deco and minimalism as the lines between the styles have become blurred over time.


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