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Art Nouveau

  Art Nouveau (French, ‘New Art’), known in Germany as Jugendstil (‘Youth Style’), was a style of decorative art and architecture practised throughout Europe and North America, and was prominent in the 1890s. It was the last great decorative design style of the 19th century. Art Nouveau relies on observed rather than formalized plant-forms and swirling, tendril-like patterns, which are applied not merely in painting and sculpture, but in furniture (for example, the work of Galle and Majorelle), cutlery, lamps, street signs and ironwork, such as the Métro stations in Paris. Its naturalism perhaps springs from the work of William Morris and the Arts and Crafts movement, but it lacks that movement\'s self-imposed restraint, derived from imitation of medieval styles and forms.

As a medium of artistic expression, Art Nouveau was largely dead by the 1920s, killed off by the postwar climate of austerity and classicism, not to mention its own excessive tendrilizing and exaggeratedly naturalistic forms. Its frivolity lived on in Art Deco, and had a major influence on the design of Hollywood musicals and comedies in the 1930s and early 1940s. Nonetheless, for all its exaggeration, some practitioners of the Art Nouveau style in its heyday during the 1890s and 1900s, such as Charles Rennie Mackintosh and Henry van de Velde, did design restrained pieces, whose simplicity chimed in well with industrial design and achieved for Art Nouveau a certain ‘classicism’ and dignity of its own. CMcD KMcL

Further reading Peter Selz and , Mildred Constantine (eds.), Art Nouveau: Art and Design at the End of the Century.



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