What are Art Deco and Art Nouveau?  We asked a bunch of people and no one got it 100% correct, not even us.  So before you read on, let me pose the question to you.  Without looking it up, what comes to mind when you think of Art Deco? How about Art Nouveau?

To start us off, let’s look at some of the incorrect answers we received from family, friends, and our own office.  Overall, these concepts are a little scattered and were often contradictory to themselves.  Art Nouveau was associated with simple clean-lined buildings, interpretive art styles (Mondrian, Van Gogh, and Dalí), and geometric lines.  Art Deco was associated with classical building elements, flowing nature forms and elaborate patterning, bright colors, heavy Brutalist building types, and Midcentury Modern design.

What Art Nouveau is Not

collage of art and buildings that are mistaken for Art Noiveau
What Art Nouveau is Not:  Top Left: Artwork like Mondrian, strong lines and lots of color.  Top Center Left: Ranch houses. Top Center Right: Modernist artwork. (Dalí, Salvador. The Persistence of Memory. 1931. Museum of Modern Art, Manhattan, New York. MoMA - Art and Artists. 2021. Web.) Top Right: Bright colored Googie designs. (Cogart Strangehill, CC BY-SA 2.0, via Wikimedia Commons) Bottom Left: Flappers! Bottom Center Left: Impressionist art.  Bottom Center Right: The Guggenheim Museum.  Bottom Right: Geometric lines and gold inlays.

What Art Deco is Not

collage of art and buildings that are mistaken for Art Deco
What Art Deco is Not:  Top Left: Corinthian columns and traditional trim work Top Center Left: Organic and nature themed. Top Center Right: Colorful, floral, almost 1960’s theme wallpaper. (Domincspics, CC BY 2.0, via Wikimedia Commons) Top Right and Bottom Left: Brutalist architecture, St Joseph’s Le Havre spire by Auguste Perret and the National Assembly Building of Bangladesh by Louis Kahn.  Bottom Center Left: Paisley designs. Bottom Center Right: Colorful midcentury modern interior spaces.  Bottom Right: The Streamline Moderne style of the Pan-Pacific Auditorium.

Art Nouveau

“It is by the value of tones, the coloured surface and the harmony of lines that I can reach the spirit and wake up the emotions” – Maurice Denis, 1891

collage of images that represent the Art Nouveau style
This is Art Nouveau: Flowing lines, modern materials, and natural influences.  Top Left: Tassel House by Victor Horta.  Top Center Left: Castel Béranger entrance, by Hector Guimard (Groume, CC BY-SA 2.0, via Wikimedia Commons) Top Center Right: Handrail detail (Haeferl, CC BY-SA 3.0 Austria, via Wikimedia) Top Right: Cornice detailing by Louis Sullivan and Dankmar Adler (Carptrash, CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia)  Bottom Left: Old England department store by Paul Saintenoy (Trougnouf (Benoit Brummer), CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons) Bottom Center Left: Hôtel van Eetvelde by Victor Horta (EmDee, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons) Bottom Center Right: Abbesses Metro station entrance by Hector Guimard (Iste Praetor, CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons) Bottom Right: Jugendstil door handle.

When: Approx. 1890 – 1910s

Where: This style stayed within Europe for the most part, there are a few buildings elsewhere but the movement never caught much traction outside of Europe.

Why: This style was a reaction against the scholarly art of the 1800’s and its rigid division between the fine and applied arts.  Art Nouveau is inspired by natural forms, asymmetry, dynamic lines, and modern materials.  It looked to find a style that would unify architecture, furniture, and art to inspire and uplift people, melding the whole world into a total work of art.

Art Deco

We know that man is never content with the indispensable and that the superfluous is always needed. […] If not, we would have to get rid of music, flowers, and perfumes […] !” – Paul Follot

collage of images that represent the Art Deco style
This is Art Deco: Intricate high-end detailing, glitz and glam, and geometric forms.  Top Left: General Electric Building by Cross & Cross.  Top Center Left: Weil-Worgelt Study (Alavoine, No Restrictions, via Wikimedia Commons) Top Center Right: Niagara Mohawk Power Building by Bley & Lyman (Peter Dutton, CC BY 2.0, via Wikimedia Commons) Top Right: Villa Empain entrance by Michel Polak (Georges de Kinder, CC BY-SA 2.0, via Wikimedia)  Bottom Left: Interior ceiling decoration of the Fisher Building by Albert Kahn (Király-Seth, CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia)  Bottom Center Left: Cincinnati Union Terminal by Fellheimer & Wagner (Ɱ, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons) Bottom Center Right: Chrysler Building elevator by William Van Alen (Elica.rolle, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia) Bottom Right: American Radiator Building by John Howells & Raymond Hood (Jean-Christophe BENOIST, CC BY 3.0, via Wikimedia)

When: Approx. 1920 – 1930s

Where: Within its relatively short life span the movement could be found across the globe and was truly an international style with many works produced outside of where it began in France.

Why: Art Deco began as pushback against the informality of the Art Nouveau style.  Inspired by the fine craftsmanship of the past, Art Deco used bold geometric forms, symmetry, repetition of form, and bright colors to modernize art and architecture.  Art Deco is a style of sumptuousness aiming at sleek sophistication, designers continued to focus on the use of modern materials but began to use them for their luxury, celebrating societal and technological progress with exuberance and glamour. 

Mistaken no more

How did you do?  Were you able to associate the right things with the two styles?  If so, bravo! If not, you are in good company, and hopefully now we can all be a little better at identifying which style is which. 

Have Questions? Get In Touch.

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