Styles & Periods

Styles & Periods

Art Nouveau

Art Nouveau can be understood as a response to Impressionism on one hand, and the Industrial Revolution on the other. As the name "New Art" suggests, Art Nouveau was the self-conscious usher of a "modern" style. Indeed, it was style itself that most concerned Art Nouveau's practitioners. The Impressionists broke with tradition in their methods, but their aim, to depict nature realistically, was shared with the Old Masters. Art Nouveau seems to have more in common with the delight in geometry of Islamic art than with the study of shadow, light and perspective that preoccupied Western art for so long. Art Nouveau, like all art styles, was a response to its environment. In late-19th century America and Europe, the Industrial Revolution resulted in the mass production of cheaply made goods and in the shoddy ornamentation of buildings, whose cornices and moldings often seemed stuck to the buildings. With the Arts and Crafts movement, John Ruskin and William Morris attempted to bring craftsmanship back to production. Art Nouveau was another response to the difficult propositions put forth by a new manufacturing mode. Rather than a return to a more medieval model of craftsmanship, Art Nouveau developed a sensitivity to design itself and to the possibilities particular materials offered. Iron and glass were approached with an artistic eye instead of simply a utilitarian one, and the result was the sweeping, elegant curves of Art Nouveau architecture. In architecture, Victor Horta was a proponent of Art Nouveau; in the visual arts, Gustav Klimt, Aubrey Beardsley and Alphonse Mucha were leading practitioners. Louis Comfort Tiffany's glasswork also exhibits the style.


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