What is it?
The origins of Art Nouveau can be traced back to the revival of interest in medieval life and gothic architecture in mid-19th Century England which led to the Arts and Crafts Movement. Artists and designers such as William Morris and Edward Burne-Jones moved away from industrialism, seeking a return to simple craft work created out of natural materials and manufactured by one person or a small group. The Arts and Crafts movement brought the return of handcrafted, artisan-made pieces such as wallpaper, furniture, stained glass, tapestries, pottery and tiles. These designs sought to display the beauty of the materials and the skill of the craftsman.
The design came from the same search for new forms in nature but took a more artistic path using sweeping sinuous curves and more radical designs. Materials such as cast iron and steel, glass and ceramics were widely used. This design style developed throughout Europe and parts of the United States with different countries showing many distinct styles.
What’s the difference between Art Nouveau & Art Deco?
Just before the Second World War the popularity of Art Nouveau had already started to fade. After the hardships and destruction of the First World War, people were looking for something new and exciting that also brought a taste of luxury. Art Deco left the preoccupation with nature and embraced the influence of industrialisation and improvements in lifestyle that modern manufacturing brought. Designs became symmetrical and streamlined and this extended to practical objects as well as architecture and interior design, making machine-made objects more aesthetically appealing.
In terms of style it is organic and flowing, designs relating to ideas from nature. In Art Deco design forms are streamlined and stylised and there is a glamorisation of the industrial from small practical items to factory designs such as the Hoover building near London.
What was Art Nouveau Architecture like?
What Colours Were Typically Used in Art Nouveau?
Art Nouveau encompassed not just architecture but also all types of art and crafts. Posters such as those by Mucha using shades of brown with touches of subtle green or blue, paintings by Toulouse- Lautrec blacks and browns with ochre yellow and earthy reds. Paintings by Gustav Klimt using shining gold, but still shades of brown and very subtle accent colours.
The bright colours in Tiffany glassware are those of flowers, birds and dragonflies and even ceramics use natural colours like the iridescent colour of a bird’s feathers.
You’ll also find many of these colours in the external and internal architecture of Art Nouveau buildings, and while many buildings have earthy tones for the exterior, some use shades of green and blue. Inside, designers were bolder, using these colours on the walls, to create sweeping bannisters, and in the furniture.
What Wallpaper Designs were typically seen in Art Nouveau?
Following William Morris, many designers took part in the development of wallpaper in Great Britain such as Christopher Dresser, Walter Crane and Charles Voysey. Much of the growing popularity was due to the work of the Silver Studio in London which reached its peak at the turn of the century supplying manufacturers with decorative designs. In the 1890s British wallpaper designers also played a part in the development of Art Nouveau in Europe. Some of the great European architects used British wallpapers in their interiors.
In France, artist Eugene Grasset produced wallpaper designs based on flowers and plants, and in Germany Hermann Obrist specialised in floral patterns. Designs used repeating floral motifs with the sinuous leaves and stems typical of Art Nouveau.
What Furniture Designs Were Typically Used in Art Nouveau?
Art Nouveau architects often designed the furniture to match the style of the buildings they were to reside in. Looking at the work of Charles Rennie Mackintosh and Victor Horta, it is evident that the furniture is an integral part of the whole effect, not just pieces added later.
In much of the design the influence of the Arts and Crafts movement can be seen and that of the Japanese style that had become popular in Europe in the 1890s. It also borrowed from the Rococo furniture of the 18th Century.
Unlike furniture made by the Arts and Crafts movement most Art Nouveau furniture was produced in factories but designs were intricate and curving and therefore expensive.
Art Nouveau Styles for the Modern Era
Look for furniture with curving lines and rich polished wood. Metal work such as bedsteads, tables and bookshelves that echo Art Nouveau design. You could use reproduction tiles to bring Art Nouveau to a modern bathroom.
Use lighting – pendants, sconces and table lamps are appropriate using stained or etched glass shades or of course a reproduction of the famous Tiffany designs. Textiles with nature-inspired designs in a muted colour palette are widely available as are art nouveau posters and prints.
Wallpaper can bring an instant and stunning effect to a room, and you’ll find both subtle and bold designs from talented wallpaper designers. You can choose from a mural-style, which will be a bold artistic statement and allow the classic Art Nouveau style to shine, or choose a repeating pattern, which is a great backdrop for modern or Art Nouveau furniture.
The Most Important Element: Preparation
Any cracks or wall damage will need repairing with a proprietary filler and once dried, sanded back with 120 grit abrasive paper then one coat of primer applied.
With the walls prepared, you can begin to hang your chosen wallpaper. If you have not done this before, starting your wallpaper hanging career with intricately designed patterns is going to be a serious challenge. You’ll not only need to hang the wallpaper properly, but you’ll need to line up the design perfectly, which is a challenge.
While this may be a challenge you’re willing to take on at £15 a roll, many of the best Art Nouveau styles cost much more, and so it’s recommended to use a professional who can get it right first time around.
Wallpaper transforms a room, but poorly applied wallpaper isn’t forgiving, especially if there are metallics in the paper or if it’s in an area that receives a lot of light.