Art Deco & Art Nouveau
There’s a memorable scene in the comedy film “Something About Mary,” in which Matt Dillon’s character—who is impersonating an architect– is asked whether a building style is “Art Deco,” or “Art Nouveau.”
“Something About Mary” 20th Century Fox
That character may be like a lot of us should we find ourselves in the same situation– trying to cover his lack of knowledge with some bluster and misdirection. Most people have heard of both Art Deco and Art Nouveau, but the truth is, more people than not likely can’t summarize the difference.
If you yourself would like to impress the room the next time you’re watching Antiques Roadshow, here’s a super-quick trick to identifying Art Deco and Art Nouveau:
Deco: Sleek and streamlined
Art Nouveau (means ‘new art’) and Art Deco both represent modernist elements. Art Nouveau is the older style, having emerged from about 1880 until just prior to World War I, while Art Deco came into its own between the two World Wars.
Art Nouveau was a response to the Industrial Era, featuring naturalistic yet stylized forms, and geometric shapes like arcs, parabolas, and semi-circles. Think La Tour Eiffel or the Paris Metro stations and you’ve got it.
Living things from nature were also often featured: insects (including the famous Tiffany dragonfly lamps), flowers, even weeds. Sometimes mythical fairies were used, as in the Lalique example below:
Rene Lalique: Sublimona. Picture credit: static.guide
Art Nouveau also famously appears in the Gaudi architecture in Barcelona, Spain:
Antoni Gaudí’s Casa Batlló,. Image from Pommie Travels.
Nouveau gives way to Deco
After the sacrifices made throughout what was then called “The Great War” years, it’s not surprising to see the “Jazz Age,” giving birth to opulence and extravagance, all of which are reflected in the Art Deco aesthetic. The name itself came from the Exposition Internationales des Arts Décoratifs et Industriels Modernes which was held in France in 1925.
Think streamlined shapes with modern materials like chrome, stainless steel, and glass. Expensive materials like gold, ivory, and lacquer were used for accents. Bold shapes—broad curves, sunbursts, & zigzags—are found throughout Art Deco. The Chrysler Building in mid-town Manhattan may be the single most famous example, along with the Miami Beach Art Deco District of hotels.
Art Deco furniture is typified by the Barcelona chair, designed by famed architect Mies van der Rohe—and still a sought-after and utilized design today.
Design inspiration not only reflects the sentiment of the times but can also provide an insight into those times decades later. And when design inspiration ignites an entire movement—history is made.
Art Deco and Art Nouveau both influenced art and artists, buildings and architects, visionaries who designed both indoors and out. Great works of both schools exist today and continue to inspire architects, designers, and contractors.
Roos International salutes Art Deco and Art Nouveau and is proud to have been fostering Design Inspiration for over 30 years now.
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