Art Nouveau and Art Deco

By Terry Reuther Quillen


The story of art and design in Europe is punctuated by upheaval of one sort or another. So it is with both Art Nouveau and Art Deco. (Photo, right: A pair of iconic images: New York City's Art Deco Chrysler Building and an Art Nouveau Metro subway station in Paris.)


Art Nouveau, which was popular from the late 19th century up until World War I, sprang forth as a form of resistance to the Industrial Age. Seen most often in the decorative arts, Art Nouveau is all swirls and flourish. With a feminine sort of swagger, Europe's creative class expressed its defiance to the clang of machinery and the factory smoke stacks.


Among the practitioners of Art Nouveau were William Morris, whose designs appeared everywhere from fabric to the endpapers of books, and Alphonse Mucha and Gustav Klimt, who both celebrated the curves of the feminine form in their work.


Then came the "Great War" and a sea change in design trends. Steeled by the hardships of World War I, Art Deco artists and designers across the U.S. and Europe, but especially in France, squared their shoulders and took on the Industrial Age on its own terms.


They managed to infuse a sense of elegant design into geometric shapes and repetitive motifs, echoing the movement of machinery. Some of the names associated with Art Deco are painters Eduard Vuillard and George Braque, decorative artist Eugene Grasset and fashion's Paul Poiret.


Both GasLamp and GasLamp Too currently have some outstanding examples of Art Nouveau and Art Deco design. At GasLamp Too, Booth T-707, there are what appear to be several original period Art Nouveau pieces. The sculptures of two women show the quintessential lines of the movement, as do the wall sconces (photo, left).


The highly collectible Hull line of American pottery also features the graceful and dreamlike lines of Art Nouveau. While there are examples throughout both malls, Booth B-106 at the original GasLamp has some particularly pretty ones (photo, right). Meanwhile, an old Stewart Wagner radio speaker at GasLamp Too in Booth T-314 appears to have the feminine lines of Art Nouveau.


Early Depression Glass also exhibits the geometric lines of Art Deco. There are some stunning examples of the Manhattan design at GasLamp Too in Booth T-268. (At top and bottom left: Manhattan glassware, Booth T-268, GasLamp Too; at right, an unidentified Depression Glass sugar bowl from the author's collection.)


You would almost expect to find Hercule Poirot pouring tea at his Whitehaven Mansions apartment from the Art Deco tea set in Booth T-314 at Gaslamp Too (photo, below right). The many geometric facets that decorate the items’ surfaces are tailor-made for the movement.


The Big Ben Moonbeam clock in booth B-101 at Gaslamp, photo below left, was manufactured in the 1950s by Westclox – certainly later than the heyday of Art Deco design – but its design undoubtedly draws its lines from the genre.


With Art Nouveau, Europe's artists took one last pass at the romantic, even sensuous point of view, while the Art Deco movement found a new and thoroughly modern aesthetic. It is too bad that the art of those eras could not shield Europe from the darkness that would overtake it in the second World War.

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