The Art Nouveau movement began in Europe at the end of the nineteenth century and peaked in the beginning of the twentieth. Art Nouveau means “new art”. The phrase first appeared in the 1880s to describe the work of artists influenced by the Arts and Crafts movement which also incorporated themes from Japanese art and Celtic designs. These artists introduced organic elements such as animals and plants together with floral embellishments and gracefully flowing lines. The movement became popular in 1895 when Siegfried Bing opened L’Art Nouveau, an art gallery in Paris which featured the new style.
A large part of Art Nouveau’s popularity was its blending of art with ordinary life. Art Deco patterns were incorporated into everyday objects such as glassware, textiles, cigarette cases, ceramics, furniture, jewelry, combs and other adornments, and had a strong influence on architecture and interior design as well. Whorls and curlicues were featured in doors, arches, and windows and moldings displayed the floral patterns typical of Art Deco. Interior decorators incorporated the shell and flame motifs borrowed from the Rococo style, and added new natural elements inspired by grasses, insects, ocean waves and seaweed.
Art Nouveau was introduced in Paris in 1894 by Czech artist Alphonse Mucha, best known for his posters and advertisements. His first successful project was a theater poster he designed to advertise a play starring Sarah Bernhardt, the most famous actress in Paris at the time. His poster of the play Gismonda became an instant sensation when it appeared on the streets of Paris. This success led to a contract between Mucha and Bernhardt, and he subsequently designed jewelry, costumes, posters, and theater sets. His posters featured women with long, flowing hair adorned with flowers, and surrounded by curving lines and other organic elements. The style spread throughout Europe, promulgated by such notables as Aubrey Beardsley in England, Charles Rennie Mackintosh in Scotland, Antonio Gaudí in Spain, and Victor Horta in Belgium. Art Deco also achieved popularity in the United States, where Louis Comfort Tiffany incorporated the style in his leaded glass lamps which featured patterns of animals, insects, and plants on brass stands.