Blog Archives

Art Noveau (1890-1910)

Today we’ll take a look at another piece of design history as it pertains to furniture that was around during the same era as the Arts and Crafts movement which we discussed in our last blog.  This movement was called Art Noveau and was a naturalistic style characterized by intricately detailed patterns and curving lines.  While it did find its way to the States (where it was also referred to as “Tiffany style” due to its association with Louis Comfort Tiffany), this movement is most often associated with France where the period truly began in 1890 and is seen as the first truly original design style to come along in almost a century.  Art Noveau is also considered a “total” style, embracing architecture, graphic design, interior design and the majority of the decorative arts, including furniture.  According to the philosophy of the style, art should be a way of life.

Although Art Nouveau acquired distinctly localized tendencies as its geographic spread increased, some general characteristics are indicative of the form.  One description described it as “sudden violent curves generated by the crack of a whip”, which became well known during the early spread of Art Nouveau.  Subsequently, not only did the work itself become better known as The Whiplash but the term “whiplash” is frequently applied to the characteristic curves employed by Art Nouveau artists.  Nature was advocated as a source of inspiration for artists looking to break away from styles of the past.  The unfolding of Art Nouveau’s flowing line may be understood as a metaphor for the freedom and release sought by its practitioners and admirers from the weight of artistic tradition and critical expectations.

Art Nouveau was a concerted attempt to create an international style based on decoration. It was developed by a brilliant and energetic generation of artists and designers, who sought to fashion an art form appropriate to the modern age. During this extraordinary time, urban life as we now understand it was established. Old customs, habits, and artistic styles sat alongside new, combining a wide range of contradictory images and ideas. Many artists, designers, and architects were excited by new technologies and lifestyles, while others retreated into the past, embracing the spirit world, fantasy, and myth.

Although international in scope, Art Nouveau was a short-lived movement that was a precursor of modernism, which emphasized function over form and the elimination of superfluous ornament. Although a reaction to historic revivalism, it brought Victorian excesses to a dramatic finale. Its influence has been far reaching and is evident in Art Deco furniture designs, whose sleek surfaces are enriched by exotic wood veneers and ornamental inlays. Dramatic Art Nouveau—inspired graphics became popular in the turbulent social and political milieu of the 1960s, among a new generation challenging conventional taste and ideas.

To learn more about the exact styles incorporated into Art Noveau furniture, visit this handy guide here. And be sure to stop by our showroom today so we can help you find your personal furniture style!