Mad About . . .

10 Things You Need to Know about…. Art Nouveau

21st May 2020
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I started this series on different design styles at the beginning of the year and thought it was time to revisit it as, it seems to me, that while everyone has been writing about Art Deco for months, it’s the natural, curving forms of Art Nouveau that fit more with the current zeitgeist. And, in researching this post, I also realised that every time you stick Art Nouveau into Google you get many more results for Art Deco. So, I couldn’t help but wonder (you know the voice by now…) why are the two styles so often confused and why, in this period of lockdown which seems to be all about hearing the birds sing and falling pollution levels, is Art Deco with its black and gold geometric lines and homage to the engine more popular than the soft trailing patterns of Art Nouveau? I’m predicting a new trend that will spring up out of this period of global lockdown.

art nouveau reproduction tile

art nouveau reproduction tile via etsy

So here are 10 Things You need to know about Art Nouveau

1 Art Deco came after Art Nouveau. The latter was the first modern style and rather than looking back – as previous eras had done (Georgian neo-classicism was often based around the Greeks and Romans, the Victorian Gothic revival) this movement took inspiration from what it saw around it – in particular the natural world.

French architect Hector Guimard at the turn of the 20th century

French architect Hector Guimard at the turn of the 20th century

2 It divides broadly into two looks – the curving flowing lines and trailing flowers of the Czech Alphonse Mucha and the more linear look of Scottish designer Charles Rennie Macintosh. From this, as well as Futurism and Cubism, would come the later decorative Art Deco style with its sleek geometric shapes, love of black and gold and homage to the jet engine. Nouveau began at the turn of the 20th century and was killed off by the War whereas Deco was born out of a reaction to the austerity that followed the First World War and is characterised by luxurious materials – silver, jade, ivory and lacquer.

art nouveau inspired cushion by the curious department

art nouveau inspired cushion by the curious department

3 In contrast, Art Nouveau used stylised natural forms and flowers including roots, leaves and seedpods. Tall pre-Raphaelite girls had long hair and and there were lots of elongated sinuous forms. Think also Lalique and Tiffany glass, the illustrations of Aubrey Beardsley and the architecture of Victor Horta as well as Gaudi. Also peacocks – both colour and shape. You will see the shape in the top tile again and again in art nouveau design.

anna hayman designs are a modern take on art nouveau

anna hayman designs are a modern take on art nouveau

4 But it’s the colours that lead me to suspect an imminent revival: mustard, sage green, mint olive and lilac. There has been a lot of talk of lilac recently and, of course neo-mint was named as the colour of the year for 2020 by WSGN back in 2018. And it’s also the colour of a certain book, which I honestly thought I had come up with on my own but this proves that I must have been subliminally influenced all along.

vintage sideboard covered in William Morris paper by the pheasant pluckers wife

bureau covered with william morris paper by the pheasant pluckers wife

bureau covered with william morris paper by the pheasant pluckers wife

5 William Morris was the founder of the Art Nouveau Arts and Crafts movement in the UK and his trailing wisteria, thistles, pomegranates and tendrils are all typical of the style. And returning to our walls and even furniture now. See the image above – and in the interests of promoting small businesses at this time you can see more pieces by The Pheasant Plucker’s Wife here.

6 If you live in a period property with a tiled fireplace you are often likely to see Art Nouveau tiles trailing down the sides. And I’ll give you a sneak preview of tomorrow’s house hunter with its Grade II listed Art Nouveau tiles in the kitchen… drop by tomorrow to see the rest of this gorgeous apartment.

7 Ross Taylor, co-founder of The Curious Department, which creates both Art Deco and Art Nouveau designs, said to me yesterday: “Lockdown has forced people to reconnect with nature and the outdoors, whether its leisurely walks or craving outdoor space if you live in a flat and this season we are expecting to see a resurgence in the natural forms of Art Nouveau as people attempt to invite the outdoors in.

flora wall light by rothschild and bickers is art nouveau inspired

flora wall light by rothschild & bickers is art nouveau inspired

8 Art Nouveau was resurrected in the 1960s with an exhibition at the V&A dedicated to Beardsley and it was briefly influential in the design of psychedelic music albums of the period too. But this time round the colours were bold and vibrant – check out some of the old Pink Floyd posters to see what I mean. The original themes of long hair and peacock feathers were all briefly revived.

art nouveau inspired wallpaper by the curious department

art nouveau inspired wallpaper by the curious department

9 One of the most popular places to see Art Nouveau is in the Paris Metro system where many of the most distinctive stations were designed by French architect Hector Guimard at the turn of the 20th century.

10 Art Nouveau was wiped out by WWI and the pandemic that followed. As a quote from Christopher Wray, the lighting company, says: “There’s no way to know just how many talented artists were wiped out by [that] war and the epidemic of flu that immediately followed it. We know, for example, that a great many wonderful poets, literary geniuses and photographers were killed because of the excellent works they left behind in the trenches before heading off to their last battle.”

sea green art nouveau vase from rockett st george

sea green art nouveau vase from rockett st george

I have said before over the last few weeks, I wonder if the trends that were building at the start of 2020 will die out to be replaced by new ones by the end of it as our circumstances changed beyond all recognition perhaps our tastes will too. Anyone feeling it for Art Nouveau?


Art Nouveau style pink velvet armchair pink floral wallpaper and curved cane room divider

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  • karen kosenski 10th June 2020 at 5:28 am

    That Art Nouveau tile from Etsy is beautiful, and I had already read your Art Nouveau House Hunter with the beautiful green and white tiles (getting out of order with my reading) but am now imagining doing a kitchen or bath with those tiles.

  • Elena 9th June 2020 at 5:12 am

    Interesting article and series. Thanks, Kate.

  • run 3 22nd May 2020 at 8:52 am

    Loved this article.

  • Erin 21st May 2020 at 7:43 pm

    This article has made me realise I like art deco best when it veers down art nouveau lines. Still, I do feel like the Rockett St George vase is more art deco than art nouveau, but now I’m a bit confused as to why I hold fast to that opinion when it’s clear that I don’t really know what I’m talking about!

  • Felicity 21st May 2020 at 7:28 pm

    Loved this article. Classic Kate 🙂

  • Emma Gavin 21st May 2020 at 10:55 am

    I think this is my favourite article of yours thus far.. and I think I’ve read them all! Thank you!

    • Kate Watson-Smyth 21st May 2020 at 11:00 am

      Well that might be my favourite comment and I’ve read all of those too! Thank you though. I’m so glad that the blog continues to interest and inform so many of you. It makes all the hard work worthwhile.

  • Kate Pickford 21st May 2020 at 10:41 am

    Well I’m relieved to read this. The idea of an Art Nouveau resurgence is much more appealing than a neutrals trend! I find nowhere more restorative than my garden, and bringing the beauty of nature inside with florals and greens sounds like the perfect response to all that’s happening in the world.

    • Kate Watson-Smyth 21st May 2020 at 11:01 am

      Well it is currently a revival only in my head so far (!) but I think it definitely feels right for the time so I hope it does come to pass.

  • Tara Kaufmann 21st May 2020 at 10:14 am

    I love Art Nouveau and am old enough to remember its revival in the late 60s. That Biba mirror everyone seemed to have – in fact everything Biba – the peacock feathers, the Klimt posters. My very young hippy mum hung out with other artistic types in our grotty bit of south London. One day one of them painted a huge Aubrey Beatdsley-style figure up the side of the post office. It was stunning and so sad when it got painted over.

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