What is Art Nouveau?

Niki Foster
Niki Foster

Art Nouveau is a style of art that appeared in Europe during the late 19th century, though it's influence is global and continuous. The artistic style, which takes its name from the French, literally means "new art" and is characterized by the use of organic shapes and dramatic, curving lines that encompass many forms of art including paintings, glassware, furniture, and architecture. Many of its themes are taken from nature, though presented quite abstractly, and includes plants, flowers, and naturally curved lines. Some famous artists for this style include Aubrey Beardsley, Thomas Malory, and Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec. This stylistic choice was eventually replaced in the twentieth century, but its influence can still be seen in Europe and other parts of the world.

The influence of art noveau is seen in period architecture.
The influence of art noveau is seen in period architecture.


Besides nature, the Art Nouveau style also gleans inspiration from High Victorian, Roccoco, and Japanese art; in addition, this artistic style has affinities with the contemporary Pre-Raphaelite, Symbolism, and Arts and Crafts styles. The 19th century artistic style was succeeded in the 20th century by the emergent Art Deco style, which incorporated more geometrical shapes and had an even more stylized appearance; however, Art Nouveau still holds somewhat of an influence in certain decorative arts, especially jewelry. Art Nouveau had a few revivals throughout the Western world in the early 20th century, notably the artistic style known as Jugendstil in Germany and Scandinavia.

Art noveau often featured plant and flower motifs.
Art noveau often featured plant and flower motifs.

Art Forms

Commonly found in architecture and design, the art nouveau style can be seen in many of the world's cities, and perhaps most famously in the Parisian Metro stations. Many of the metro stations have cast iron supports that resemble plant stems on the exterior portions of the buildings, and others have detailed glass canopies designed in the "new art" style. While there were glass canopies designed in this artistic style, smaller glassware were created as well. This lead to jewelry being created in the new art style, which is still used today for jewelry design. Art Nouveau also frequently appeared in paintings, illustrations, and advertisements of the 19th century, as well as many furniture pieces.

Famous Artists

Rennie Mackintosh was a major Art Nouveau architect and furniture designer who worked in Scotland and England, and his work provides classic examples of the artistic style. Parisians Rene Lalique and Emile Galle, and the American designer Louis Comfort Tiffany are among the artists who helped extend the style to jewelry and various decorative arts. Aubrey Beardsley famously illustrated Oscar Wilde's play Salome, Thomas Malory's Le Morte D'Arthur, and the periodical The Yellow Book.

In the category of painters, Alphonse Mucha was a Czech painter best remembered for his "new art" poster designs, and Gustav Klimt was a Viennese painter and muralist noted for his heavy use of gold and mosaic-like designs. Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec became famous for his Moulin Rouge, Art Nouveau style, while Edvard Munch, a Norwegian painter, produced some of the darkest examples of the artistic style in his Frieze of Life series of paintings.

Stained glass is a prized medium in art noveau.
Stained glass is a prized medium in art noveau.
Niki Foster
Niki Foster

In addition to her role as a wiseGEEK editor, Niki enjoys educating herself about interesting and unusual topics in order to get ideas for her own articles. She is a graduate of UCLA, where she majored in Linguistics and Anthropology.

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Discussion Comments


I always thought that Art Nouveau was quite boring. Well, shame on me, because when I got to know it better I liked it so much.


Expanding architectural art and art from paintings and posters into something like art nouveau jewelry is a great idea. Why don't they do something similar with fashion? Wouldn't it be interesting to see art nouveau reemerge in a field like fashion design?


I love all art, but art nouveau holds a special place in my heart. I studied about it in college and have been visiting as many exhibits as I can get to. I've even experimented making my own piece of art nouveau! But nothing can be like Charles Rennie Mackintosh's art nouveau paintings, which are, by far, my favorites.

I encountered his watercolor paintings in an art exhibit in his native Scotland and was immediately struck by the elegance of his work and the unique way he portrayed nature. It's actually why I admire art nouveau so much. You see an image, like a simple flower, but the artist makes it look so sophisticated. I would love to own one of his pieces one day for my home.


I am a fan of art deco and art nouveau metalwork in architecture. I like the stylized look of the art forms, especially art deco. There is an old supper club in the Biltmore district of Phoenix that has always caught my eye. The building has those prominent art deco arches that are accentuated with those long straight lines that swoop into geometric curves. The windows and the rest of the building’s design matches to the style perfectly.

I always thought it would be a great location for an ultra-glamorous nightclub. I picture old Chicago when I see the building. The building is sited perfectly, and it would be a great place for someone to make a grand entrance. You could pull up in a classic Rolls limo and it would not look out of place at all. If I only had money!

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