The difference between Art Nouveau and Art Deco explained!

Frederick Gentis, Co-founder Gallerease
Frederick Gentis
30 Articles1 Curated artwork

The difference between Art Deco and Art Nouveau is often confusing. Whereas most people are vaguely familiar with the historical and stylistic developments in painting and sculpture, design movements receive much less attention throughout the average high-school curriculum.


Rule of thumb to recognize the difference between Art deco en Art Nouveau

As a rule of thumb, Art Nouveau is the more organic style whilst Art Deco tends to be more polished. However, they were established in different époques with different motives.

 Art Nouveau vase, by Daum Frères, circa 1900

Art Deco vase by Daum Nancy, ca. 1925, Antes Art 1900

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.

A nice example of 'applied' Deco style, combining beauty and functionality in an everyday design

A nice example of 'applied' Deco style, combining beauty and functionality in an everyday design

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 seek out a revival of good craftsmanship.

Characteristics of Art Nouveau

Art Nouveau became the label that was given to the modernist movement that erupted from this desire. 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.

The Parisian art gallery La Maison de l‘Art Nouveau, which was owned by the avant-garde art collector Siegfried Bing (1838-1905), was one of the first galleries to display and publicize about a large collection of works that were created during this movement. Hence why its name is often credited to this source.

Art Nouveau pendant/ brooch 1890, available at Adin Fine Antique Jewellery
Art Nouveau pendant/ brooch 1890, available at Adin Fine Antique Jewellery

Art Nouveau 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. The hype surrounding Japanese prints at that time, especially its floral and curved patterns, formed another very important influence. Art Nouveau designs were applied to a wide range of disciplines, from graphic arts to furniture, interior decoration, architecture and the fine arts, exemplified at its best by Gustav Klimt’s work.  


Portrait of Adele Bloch-Bauer I, also called The Lady in Gold or The Woman in Gold by Gustav Klimmt, 1907
Portrait of Adele Bloch-Bauer I, also called The Lady in Gold or The Woman in Gold by Gustav Klimmt, 1907

The Paris Exposition Universelle of 1900 gave Art Nouveau a major boost. It was held to celebrate the achievements of the past century and to accelerate development into the next and displayed many technological innovations and the latest artworks. The fair visited by nearly 50 millions people was a real record!


Overview of

Overview of "The Paris Exposition Universelle in 1900"

In Germany, the style was popularised and promoted by a magazine called Jugend illustrierte Wochenschrift für Kunst und Leben, which is the reason why in Germany (and most Nordic countries) this style is also known as "Jugendstil".

In Austria, Art Nouveau was first popularised by artists of the Viennese Secession movement, which led to the name Sezessionstil.

Even in English speaking countries, different terms were used to describe this decorative style; in the United States it was referred to as the Tiffany Style and in the United Kingdom people also spoke of the Glasgow Style.

Despite the large diversity across different countries and areas of design, the common denominator of Art Nouveau was a determination to push beyond the historical boundaries.

Art Nouveau Hotel Céramic Paris

Detail of the façade of the Hotel Céramic, Paris

Art Nouveau artists wanted to create a new reality, a modern world with its own vocabulary. The style is characterised by the raw force of nature, showing dynamic, whiplash curves and motifs. Nowadays, Art Nouveau is considered to have paved the way for the modernistic art and design styles of the 20th century. A great number of its monuments are also listed as UNESCO World Heritage, including the historic centre of Riga and Hotel Tassel in Belgium.

Characteristics of Art Deco

Just before the First World War, Art Nouveau had already started to fade out, making way for a more modernistic aesthetic: Art Deco.

Decorative artists experienced a rise in status following the turn of the century; similarly, a rise in wealth and social as well as technological progress gave birth to the widespread luxury industry. This golden combination solidified the Art Deco movement.

Art deco 'Nude Hoop Dancer' by Andre Marcel Bouraine (Briand), c.a. 1925, by gallery 'Het Ware Huis'

Art deco 'Nude Hoop Dancer' by Andre Marcel Bouraine (Briand), c.a. 1925, by gallery 'Het Ware Huis'

Art Deco truly embraced the influence of the industrial revolution. Art Deco designs were therefore more symmetrical and streamlined, attempting to make machine-made objects more aesthetically appealing to everybody.

William van Alen’s Chrysler Building can therefore be seen as an Art Deco icon. The use of curved forms and bold colours was also very typical.  

Art Deco image of the Chrysler building New York
Typical example of Art Deco, 1930, The Chrysler Building, New York

Art Deco was also highly influenced by the contemporary artists of that period, especially by the abstract shapes and forms of the Cubists, notably Pablo Picasso and Georges Braque.

Glass enjoyed an important status throughout the Art Deco era, it became a staple of the luxury industry. René Lalique's work is especially symbolic of this period. Art Deco was adopted by designers and architects around the globe and has left behind an impressive legacy in a great number of cities.


René Lalique, vase 'Archers', 1921
René Lalique, vase 'Archers', 1921 available through Lennart Booij Fine Art and Rare Items

Contrary to Art Nouveau, the definition of the Art Deco movement derived from a single source: the Exposition Internationales des Arts Décoratifs et Industriels Modernes that took place in 1925. In France, Art Deco was referred to as Style Moderne. 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.


'Dancer with Thyrsus' by Pierre le Faguays, 1925 

'Dancer with Thyrsus' by Pierre le Faguays, 1925 

Unfortunately, Europe was hit by the Great Depression during the 1930's. The average wealth plummeted, leaving many Art Deco enthousiasts to no longer be able to afford its rich materials, luxury items and furniture.

In terms of architecture, Art Deco also had a difficult time competing with modern architecture, as epitomised by the work of Le Corbusier and the German Bauhaus movement.

Le Corbusier was a brilliant spokesperson for modern architecture, he considered a house to be no more than "a machine to live in". He also famously declared the decorative arts to be a dying medium.

Photo of Le Corbusier

Photo of Le Corbusier

Le Corbusier's ideas were eventually adopted by architecture schools and the aesthetics of Art Deco were slowly abandoned. After World War II the style had gone completely out of fashion, with certain areas of industrial design remaining as the only exception.

Summary and where to buy Art Nouveau and Art Deco?

Hopefully the difference between Art Nouveau and Art Deco has now become clear to you. Aside from the aspect of timing, what sets these two design movements apart largely comes down to aesthetics. The organic and flowing forms that define Art Nouveau were a clear response to artist's desire to break free from rigid classical and hierarchical structures, whereas the bolder and streamlined designs of Art Deco reflect the glamorization of the industrial revolution.

Are you searching for a specific Art Nouveau artist, like: Emile Gallé, Daum FrèresClement Massier?  Or are you interested in more information about Art Deco artists? They can be seen here, like: René Lalique, and Camille Fauré!

If you would like to buy please have a look at a wide variety of Art Nouveau or Art Deco artworks which are available for sale at Gallerease!

Written by Frederick Gentis on 12 Jan 2021, 12:00 Category EducationalTagged Background information