Europa 1900
he gracefully sinuous Art Nouveau style entered forcefully into the public awareness of European cities toward the end of the 19th century and almost as quickly dissipated into the oubliette of architectural and design history within the same generation.  Though brief in duration, the organic lines of the style, inspired from natural motifs such as flowers and animals, has reemerged relatively recently with the aid of historical perspective, and today continues to incite visual passion.  Cities fortunate enough to have preserved a substantial legacy in art nouveau buildings and objects now avidly promote this heritage in the form of tourist attractions and objets d’art.  Barcelona, Brussels, and Glasgow, for example, overtly identify themselves with their hometown art nouveau creators Gaudi, Horta, and Mackintosh, respectively.   Art nouveau requires no didactic intellectualization to appreciate.  Its youthful energy and uninhibited confidence connect to the observer on an immediate and deeper emotional plane, as  profound art can do.  The seamless merging of ornate detail with simple, fluid and continuously curving lines packs a direct aesthetic power unleashed directly from object to admirer.  The exuberant, stylized lines and forms generate the illusion of rhythmic and restless movement.  You’ll know whether you like it when you see it, and if you’re on this site, you probably already like it!

he art nouveau movement represented a sudden schism from the Second Empire and neo-Something styles of architecture prevalent in Europe toward the end of the 19th century.  It has been argued that Art Nouveau was the first completely original style synthesized de novo rather than evolving stepwise from previous styles.  Even the rustic charms of the Arts & Crafts Movement led by William Morris in Britain, the most appropriate stylistic ancestor to art nouveau, hearkened back to ancient values and past traditions in its conception.  The brash irreverence of Art Nouveau provoked the ire of many art critics in its novelty and bold innovation, as revolutionary acts are wont to do.  If the objective of art critics and historians is to compare a new oeuvre with existing ones and to frame it in the proper perspective, then art nouveau must have p roven to be a vexing case study.

ike other art movements, the germination of art nouveau coalesced around fortuitous encounters of artists, in the context of swirling new ideas put forth amongst older traditional ideas, and catalyzed by large meetings such as the 1900 World exposition in Paris and the 1902 World design fair in Turin.  In the world of fine arts in Europe, the impressionist and post-impressionist movements drew inspiration from the natural curves of Japanese art, which glorified nature using a stylized abstraction that spawned admiration and imitation from western impressionist and post-impressionist painters (Japonisme).  Victor Horta in Brussels drew similar inspiration in his designs from the 1890s which in turn inspired Hector Guimard in Paris, decorator Henry Van de Velde in Brussels, and artists of the Ecole de Nancy such as Daum, Majorelle and Gall&e acute;.  Their elegant natural curves showed up on building facades, on interior design, furniture, windows, glassware, and even on ornamental jewellery.  The name art nouveau, taken from the name of a Parisian boutique run by Samuel Bing, came to encompass a global and unified vision under a single style, from public metal signposts on the street down to ladies’ earrings.  This universality of art nouveau became a hallmark of the style, as no object was too small or too mundane to receive artistic attention.    In Paris, the art nouveau style became inextricably associated with Alfonse Mucha’s portraits of society women and with Toulouse-Lautrec’s absinthe-binging and cabaret posters, all of which evoke the wild and stylish spirit of the Belle Epoque.  In deference to the Arts & Crafts movement in Britain, the principles of quality in materials and artisanal construction was similarly revered by art nouveau artisans, thou gh the painstaking care in crafting individual pieces by hand later played a key role in the demise of art nouveau at the hands of styles more suited for mass production.

eanwhile, art nouveau in other European nations evolved in parallel, if somewhat different, trajectories.  Barcelona’s rapid expansion in the late 19th century allowed architects such as Antoni Gaudi and Luis Montaner i Dolmenech of the Catalan modernisme school to bring to fruition their wild, exquisitely flamboyant visions of urban construction.  In central and Eastern Europe, the titles Jugendstil (youth style) and Secession style both suggested a sudden and refreshing break from earlier design conventions.  Unlike the perpetual curves in France and in Belgium, these lines descended more directly from the Arts & Crafts movement, taking their rectilinear base forms and adding flowing and striking design motifs and frequently incorporating mosaics and gold paint (think of Gustav Klimt’s sumptuous paint ings).  Notable Jugendstil cities include Darmstadt, Vienna, and Budapest.  Similarly, Charles Rennie Mackintosh spearheaded his Glasgow style in Scotland, intercalating impossibly elegant plants and roses designs into his vertically-oriented interior designs.  Mackintosh exerted a major influence on the Secessionists, who admired the grace and lightness of his designs, which at the same time were restrained by rectilinear shapes and angles.  The tension between curves and lines inherent in Mackintosh designed objects contributes strongly to their elegance.

hile some examples of art nouveau persist in most European cities that were developing at the beginning of the 20th century, relatively few cities contain high concentrations of brilliant art nouveau buildings due to the small window of time enjoyed by the movement.  Demand for art nouveau creations waned by 1910, and even established artists such as Guimard finished their professional years out of the spotlight, their works ignored by museums until the latter half of the 20th century.   Distinctly 20th century styles, such as Art Deco, Bauhaus, and the Modern style, were firmly entrenched by the 1920s, replacing the delicate curves of art nouveau with bold, unforgiving straight parallel lines, and zigzag bends worshipping the right angle.  These schools emphasized simpler, functional constructions tha t shunned the ornate motifs of art nouveau.  Several of the most prominent 20th century design artists had begun their trade in the art nouveau style.  For example,  Jugendstil artist Peter Behrens became one of the chief designers of the Bauhaus movement.

n active rehabilitation of art nouveau awareness was rekindled in the 1970s.  Many of the most fantastic art nouveau creations, created between 1900 and 1908, are now cherished and preserved by their host cities and you are invited to visit them!  I have created this web site as an album of art nouveau creations, focusing mainly on architecture and interior design, which I hope will encourage you to make the effort of visiting these fantastic and inspirational sites in your travels as well.