Art Nouveau Style | How to create the Art Nouveau look

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How to decorate in the Art Nouveau style

People often get the Art Nouveau and Art Deco styles muddled up. I did it myself when I was a student. The first thing to do is understand the patterns, colors and designs of each era. This article on Art Nouveau will detail the patterns, motifs, colors and influences of this era. A concise outline of the Art Nouveau movement will give you some knowledge to help you make informed decisions.
The Art Nouveau movement lasted for about thirty years until 1910. This was a style were natural forms were used for inspiration and used in an original way. The most popular Art Nouveau motif was peacock feathers. The hallmark of the style are the curved undulating lines known as whiplash lines, plant like forms and highly stylized curvilinear designs. The style is often described as sinuous, rhythmical and dream like.

Art Nouveau Motifs and Patterns
  • Floral motifs (often abstracted)
  • Delicate female forms
  • Peacocks
  • Insect wings
  • Bird feathers
  • Shells
  • Vines
  • Flowers, (Poppy, wisteria, water lilies, Japanese lotus….)
  • S curves
  • Whiplash lines
Colors were muted and delicate. Natural vegetable dyes were used in wallpaper, chintzes and other materials. Art Nouveau is considered by many as primary a decorative style. The influence of Japanese print is also evident in the designs.

Art Nouveau Colors
  • Pastels
  • White
  • Off white
  • Olive
  • Mustard
  • Sage
  • Brown
  • Lilac
  • Gold
  • Peacock blue
Art Nouveau Wallpaper patterns
  • Stylised long stemmed poppies and lilies
  • Lancet shaped leaves
  • Slender blooms
Stencils were also used. The Stencil Library is a great resource for Art Nouveau stencil patterns. They have a brilliant range from many historical eras. In 1904 Cowtan and Sons an English decorating company used flatten white or enameled white paint. This treatment was also used by Charles Rennie MacIntosh who created a number of white rooms.

Art Nouveau tiles

Pictorial tiles during Art Nouveau era were popular in Belgium and France. Illustrations by Czech artist Alphonse Mucha were used as the basis for the designs. This influence did not appear in England until 1920's and 1930's. The Art and Craft influence continued in the States. However the use of plain tiles was also popular. Victor Horta in his own house in Brussels (now the Horta Museum) used plain white tiles on the walls and the ceiling in a brick like fashion. Tube- lining was used to create motifs on plain tiles. The technique used similar to piping icing on a cake. The raised lines of the pattern give the tile a 3D appearance. Kenneth Clark Ceramics has a tube -lining tulip border tile available.

Art Nouveau Tiles
  • Pastel shades
  • Plain tiles or individual tile designs set among plain tiles
  • Patterned tiles were mainly used in a row at dado height or as a random insert
  • Highly stylized abstracted floral tiles
  • Art Nouveau style panels were used to create complete interiors in Europe
  • Panels also on facades of buildings
  • In America and England individual floral designs on individual tiles or arranged in small panels up to dado height.
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The Rookwood Pottery in Cincinnati Ohio, Carter & Co and Poole Pottery in Dorset England, the Yorkshire Tile Company and Minton Hollins are some of the firms who have produced Art Nouveau tiles.

Art Nouveau Decorative Items

One of the icon items of Art Nouveau era is the Tiffany lamp created by Louis Tiffany. He studied art and went on to set up the interior decorating firm of Louis Tiffany & Associated Artists in New York. The firm still decorated in the Victorian styles with Arts and Craft influences. In 1885 the main focus of the business was glass art work so a new name was created Tiffany Glass Company. Tiffany designed windows for American churches for example Trinity Church Boston. They also moved into designing art glass for homes, clubs and other corporations.
The ‘Four Seasons' glass panels establish an international reputation for Tiffany. His work was displayed in Bing's Art Nouveau shop in Paris. His work included landscape, floral and semi abstract designs. Vases, bowls, paper weights were design in iridescent colorful glass called Favrile, Cyprite, Cameo and Lava. Tiffany lamps were made from metal bases with glass shades similar to stained glass and leadlight windows. Designs were natural forms, peacock feathers and insect wings. Some of the names of Tiffany's work include ‘Trumpet Creeper' lead glass and bronze table lamp and his ‘Peacock' and ‘Cockatoo' glass panels, an electric light with a colored shade called ‘Dragon Fly'
Art Nouveau had an impact on silver ware, pewter, painting, sculpture posters, advertising and ceramics design. When looking for decorative items remember to select items with beautiful flowing lines and curved forms.

Eco Friendly Way

Interior decorating in older styles can be a very eco friendly way to decorate. Visiting second hand shops, antique deals, garage sales and looking online can be a great way to find your Art Nouveau treasures. The most important thing is to have a clear idea of what you want, what you want to spend before you start looking. I recently saw some tiles from this era for sale on eBay at a very reasonable price.

Art Nouveau Flooring

Parquetry was often used in the Art Nouveau era. However Horta used mosaic tiles in swirling S curved patterns on the floor of his Tassel house. Linoleum was also popular. The trendy colors in matting in early 20th century were natural, white, olive and light brown. The Axminister loom was invented in USA in 1876. Brinton in England developed the Gripper version in 1890. These inventions allowed large carpets to be made in unlimited colors. Floral designs became the hallmark of British designers. Owen Jones' book the ‘Dictionary of Ornament' 1856 and Christopher Dresser's ‘Principles of Design' in 1879 continued to influence design. As did William Morris' designs in particular the acanthus leaves and poppies design.

The Main Features of the Art Nouveau Style
  • Muted delicate colors
  • Flowing curved lines
  • Natural forms
  • Tiffany lamps
  • Glassware
  • Pewter
  • Silver ware
  • Peacock feathers
  • Stained glass panels
  • Furniture with curving lines and rounded forms
  • Upholstery in Art Nouveau themes
  • Smooth plain tiles
  • Stenciled walls and ceilings
  • Ironwork
  • Electric lighting
Unfortunately Art Nouveau has been a most misunderstood style and is often dismissed as a decorative side line. Yet the original work of architects Hector Guimard in France and Victor Horta in Belgium is easy to recognise. Many of Victor Horta's buildings are now on the World Heritage list. In Vienna Josef Hoffman developed the ‘Vienna Secession' movement influenced yet different from Art Nouveau. This style was less curvaceous more rectilinear and straight lined in its forms. Charles Rennie MacIntosh, in Scotland, Antionia Gaudi in Spain and Louis Sullivan and Tiffany in the US each developed and expressed a form of Art Nouveau. There was a revival of Art Nouveau in the 1960's and exhibitions of the style continue to inspire new generations.

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