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Art Nouveau

stile floreale, stile Liberty, l'Art Nouveau, art nouveau movement, Sagrada Familia

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Art Nouveau (from French for “new art”), movement in Western art and design, which reached its peak during the 1890s. Hallmarks of the art nouveau style are flat, decorative patterns; intertwined organic forms such as stems or flowers; an emphasis on handcrafting as opposed to machine manufacturing; the use of new materials; and the rejection of earlier styles. In general, sinuous, curving lines also characterize art nouveau, although right-angled forms are also typical, especially as the style was practiced in Scotland and in Austria.

Art nouveau embraced all forms of art and design: architecture, furniture, glassware, graphic design, jewelry, painting, pottery, metalwork, and textiles. This was a sharp contrast to the traditional separation of art into the distinct categories of fine art (painting and sculpture) and applied arts (ceramics, furniture, and other practical objects).

The term art nouveau comes from an art gallery in Paris, France, called Maison de l'Art Nouveau (House of New Art), which was run by French dealer Siegfried Bing. In his gallery, Bing displayed not only paintings and sculpture but also ceramics, furniture, metalwork, and Japanese art. Sections of the gallery were devoted to model rooms that artists and architects designed in the art nouveau style.

Art nouveau flourished in a number of European countries, many of which developed their own names for the style. Art nouveau was known in France as style Guimard, after French designer Hector Guimard; in Italy as the stile floreale (floral style) or stile Liberty, after British art nouveau designer Arthur Lasenby Liberty; in Spain as modernisme; in Austria as Sezessionstil (secession style); and in Germany as Jugendstil (youth style). These diverse names reflect the widespread adoption of the movement, which had centers in major cities all over Europe—Paris and Nancy in France; Darmstadt and Munich in Germany; Brussels, Belgium; Glasgow, Scotland; Barcelona, Spain; Vienna, Austria; Prague, Czech Republic; and Budapest, Hungary.


The art nouveau movement in Spain is best exemplified in the work of Catalan architect Antoni Gaudi i Cornet, whose designs represent a highly personal response to the art nouveau ideas of his time. Gaudi created one of his most eccentric works in the Templo Expiatorio de la Sagrada Familia (Church of the Holy Family, begun in 1883, construction ongoing) in Barcelona. Dominated by four disproportionately tall spires, the church appears to be a fantastical outgrowth of the earth. Floral designs cover the building facade, and broken tiles glitter on the rippling surface of the towers. In his Casa Mila apartment complex (1905-1907, Barcelona), Gaudi created the illusion of a limestone reef hollowed out by centuries of seawater. Although the entire complex was executed in cut stone, there is not one straight line in the facade.


Weisberg, Gabriel P., B.A., M.A., Ph.D.

Professor of Art History, University of Minnesota. Author of "Beyond Impressionism: The Naturalist Impulse", "Art Nouveau Bing: Paris Style 1900", and other books.

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