Art Nouveau versus Art Deco
While most people are vaguely familiar with historical and stylistic developments in painting and sculpture, design movements have received much less attention over the years. Hence why Art Nouveau and Art Deco, two very distinct movements with similar names, are often still confused.
As a rule of thumb, Art Nouveau is the more decorative style whilst Art Deco tends to be more polished.
However, they were established in different époques with different motives.
For many centuries, art academies dominated the general concept of art all over Western Europe. Hierarchically speaking, painting and sculpture were therefore regarded as the “highest” forms of art, whereas design and the decorative arts were seen as “lower” forms, causing a widespread gap between the fine and applied arts. Towards the end of the nineteenth century, after yet another neo-classical uprising, the desire to abandon these strict historical styles and hierarchies grew larger.
At the same time, the industrial revolution had caused production to become highly mechanized. This, in turn, made artists want to seek out the revival of good craftsmanship.
Art Nouveau became the label that was given to the modernist movement that followed. It’s difficult to pinpoint the exact moment or location of its establishment, because there were several similar movements taking place all over Europe at the time. But between 1890 and 1914 Art Nouveau prevailed.
Artists drew their inspiration from organic and geometric forms, creating elegant and flowing designs with a distinct emphasis on contours, filled in with muted tones. Such designs were used in the graphic arts as well as for furniture, interior decoration, architecture and the fine arts, exemplified at its best by Gustav Klimt’s work.
Gustav Klimt, The Tree of Life, 1909, Museum of Applied Arts, Vienna.
Contrary to Art Nouveau, the Art Deco movement was established officially at the ‘Exposition Internationale des Arts Décoratifs et Industriels Modernes’ in Paris in 1925.
Art Nouveau quickly became passé, and the influence of the industrial revolution was widely embraced. Art Deco designs were therefore more symmetrical and streamlined, attempting to make machine-made objects more aesthetically appealing to everybody. William van Alen’s Chrystler Building can therefore be seen as an Art Deco icon. The use of curved forms and bold colours was also very typical.
Art Deco remained the decorative art style during the 20’s and 30’s and was in a sense more eclectic, as it encompassed elements from different styles.
Chrystler Building, William van Alen, 1930, at 405 Lexington Avenue, Manhattan, New York.