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Published on : Wednesday, February 10, 2016
Art Nouveau captivated urban centers in Europe and North America beginning in the 1890s. The style permeated everything from graphic arts to architecture, interior design, and decorative arts. A number of characteristics define the style: a reverence for nature with an emphasis on organic designs; the use of “whiplash” curvilinear lines; and a seemingly limitless portrayal of the female form, with artists depicting women as ethereal, sensual nymphs. Motifs were interpreted in both realistic and stylized fashions.
A vibrant group of artists and designers fostered the style, such as painter and illustrator Alphonse Mucha, architect Victor Horta, art glass pioneers Emile Gallé and Louis Comfort Tiffany, and furniture maker Louis Majorelle. Referred to as Jugendstil in Germany, Sezessionstil in Austria, Glasgow Style in Scotland, and Modernisme in Spain, each country’s interpretation of the style varied. All of its proponents, however, encouraged artists, architects, and designers to create innovative, modern designs. Designers emphasized the creation of holistic decorative interiors and sought to bring artistic design into daily life. The 1900 Paris Exposition Universelle celebrated all aspects of the new ‘modern style.’ Visited by fifty-one million people, the fair displayed Art Nouveau architecture, furniture, jewelry, ceramics, graphic arts, glass, textiles, and metalwork.
Art Nouveau’s popularity waned by the start of the First World War. Many began to shun the style’s excessive use of ornamentation, considering it overly elaborate. Decades later, the style experienced a popular revival in the 1960s, particularly in San Francisco when psychedelic poster artists began emulating the work of Art Nouveau graphic artists.