Art Nouveau

By Karen Parr-Moody


Art Nouveau is a French term meaning “new art” that describes a period of the decorative arts that began in the 1800s and lasted until the Art Deco movement that followed World War I. It is best known for its sinuous lines inspired by nature and the female form. It overlapped the Arts and Crafts movement (which got its name in 1888) and was coined to describe the philosophy of an avant-garde group of Belgium artists called Les Vingt (French for “The Twenty”).


Les Vingt advocated the unification of all arts, including painting, sculpture, literature, music, and furniture and costume design. Due to this diversity, a wide variety of Art Nouveau works may be found scattered throughout the halls of the original GasLamp, as well as in GasLamp Too. One such example is the Art Nouveau vase in the photo, right; the clean and gently curved lines at the base are typical of the style ($68; Booth B-234).


Furniture maker Gustav Stickley and architect Frank Lloyd Wright were associated with the Arts and Crafts movement, whose practitioners abhorred excessive ornamentation and favored strict, horizontal lines. The movement also championed handcraftsmanship as a reaction to industrialization. Like Arts and Crafts, Art Nouveau was geared toward sleekness in design, but it was tempered by feminine lines that gave it a particular style of graceful ornamentation. The Art Nouveau picture frame, photo left, features graceful lines in the floral detail that are typical of the style; it also encases an illustration of the period ($89; Booth B-200).


By the year 1900, during the World’s Fair in Paris, Art Nouveau was established as the new decorative style of the twentieth century; it is still closely associated with France. The style includes stylized motifs and silhouettes derived from nature, fantasy and Japanese art. Also, due to the emerging discoveries in Egypt and North Africa, Art Nouveau is also influenced by Islamic art.


Visitors to GasLamp can usually find Art Nouveau collectibles among the graphic art or decorative categories, but on occasion Art Nouveau furniture may also be found. GasLamp vendor Ed McLaurin, who operates Booth B-310, occasionally features items that represent the transitional phase between the Art Nouveau and Art Deco movements (he specializes in Art Deco).


Louis Comfort Tiffany, known for his decorative stained glass work, was the American artist most associated with the Art Nouveau movement. In France, René Lalique was known for his jewelry and glasswork, which incorporated female figures often styled as fairies or sirens. Czech artist Alphonse Mucha (1860 – 1939) was known for his highly stylized paintings of women in the Art Nouveau style. Other members of the movement were Aubrey Beardsley, Emile Galle, Henry van de Velde and Charles Rennie Mackintosh. (“J'ai baisé ta bouche Iokanaan,” the 1893 Beardsley engraving from the Victoria and Albert Museum, is seen at right; it was created for Oscar Wilde’s play “Salome” and is one of the earliest Art Nouveau images.)



The slag lamp, as seen in the photo, below left, was extremely popular during the Art Nouveau and Arts and Crafts periods ($475; Booth B-106). The filigree floral and leaf designs that decorate this particular lamp base and shade comprise the nature-inspired motifs of both movements. Around the lamp’s shade is a framework of sleek lines and flowers.


Slag glass, also known as marble glass or malachite, is a type of opaque, streaked press glass that originated in England in 1878. Slag lamps were made by many companies, including Louis Comfort Tiffany, Roycroft and Steuben. The photo, right, features another slag lamp from Booth B-106 ($125).


The bronze statue in the photo, below left, is entitled “Woman in Wind” and was originally created by the French sculptor Auguste Moreau ($1,375; B-221). Standing almost three feet tall, this statue is typical of Art Nouveau in its depiction of the female form. With her hair and clothes tossed about by the wind, she represents the newfound portrayal of women in art that was also captured by America’s "Gibson Girl" illustrations by Charles Dana Gibson from the 1890s to around 1915. Such women were symbolic of the liberated, yet feminine, women of the era.  


Moreau, son of sculptor and painter Jean Baptiste Moreau, possessed a style that was both realistic and graceful, perfect for the Art Nouveau era. He died in 1917, around the time that Art Nouveau began to cede to the Art Deco movement.


Art Nouveau was underscored by a cult of nature, so it is a wonderful attraction for collectors who like to celebrate nature through everything from lamps to wallpaper. So if flora, fauna and romantic women are what tempt you, then look no further than the graceful lines of Art Nouveau.


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