art nouveau (ärˌ nōvōˈ) [key], decorative-art movement centered in Western Europe. It began in the 1880s as a reaction against the historical emphasis of mid-19th-century art, but did not survive World War I. Art nouveau originated in London and was variously called Jugendstil in Germany, Sezessionstil in Austria, and Modernismo in Spain. In general it was most successfully practiced in the decorative arts: furniture, jewelry, and book design and illustration. The style was richly ornamental and asymmetrical, characterized by a whiplash linearity reminiscent of twining plant tendrils. Its exponents chose themes fraught with symbolism, frequently of an erotic nature. They imbued their designs with dreamlike and exotic forms. The outstanding designers of art nouveau in England include the graphic artist Aubrey Beardsley, A. H. Mackmurdo, Charles Ricketts, Walter Crane, and the Scottish architect Charles R. Mackintosh; in Belgium the architects Henry Van de Velde and Victor Horta; in France the architect and designer of the Paris métro entrances, Hector Guimard, and the jewelry designer René Lalique; in Austria the painter Gustav Klimt; in Spain the architect Antonio Gaudí; in Germany the illustrator Otto Eckmann and the architect Peter Behrens; in Italy the originator of the ornamental Floreale style, Giuseppe Sommaruga; and in the United States Louis Sullivan, whose architecture was dressed with art nouveau detail, and the designer of elegant glassware Louis C. Tiffany. The aesthetics of the movement were disseminated through various illustrated periodicals including The Century Guild Hobby Horse (1894), The Dial (1889), The Studio (begun, 1893), The Yellow Book (1894–95), and The Savoy (1896–98). The works of Beardsley and Tiffany were especially popular.
See definitive studies by R. Schmutzler (1964), M. Rheims (1966), A. Mackintosh, Symbolism and Art Nouveau (1978).
The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright © 2012, Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.