Art Nouveau was an exceptionally popular art movement in the late 1800’s, beginning around 1880 and lasting into the second decade of the 20th century.
It was so popular in fact, that many of us still recognize it when we see it, especially in posters like this one by Jules Chéret.
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And although commercial illustrations like Chéret’s are now some of the most recognized pieces of the Art Nouveau movement, Art Nouveau was very prominent in the architecture, sculpture, jewelry, furniture, and traditional paintings of that era as well.
It’s also pretty easy to spot an Art Nouveau inspired illustration or painting.
They often feature women (especially tall, slender, idealized women), flowing lines and curves, and lots of movement. It’s also common to see lots of flowers, vines, and interlocking, decorative patterns in an Art Nouveau piece.
Lefevre-Utile by Alphonse Mucha, is a prime example of an Art Nouveau painting. The subject is a woman of course, placed artistically against a backdrop of leaves, with flowers in her hair, flowing cloth, and heart-shaped patterns all around.
It’s a stunning painting, as are all of Mucha’s works, with layers of detail that you might not notice right at first—like the stylized birds which appear both on the woman’s sleeves and in the border around the painting itself.
And despite its name (which means “new art”) Art Nouveau was really a blend of both old and new—its extreme stylization was new, perhaps, but its organic forms and curvilinear lines had been around for a while longer.
You can see some of Art Nouveau’s inspiration in traditional Celtic knots, like the one to the left.
Celtic artwork is full of intricate patterns, often made up of one continuous line curving back and forth, under and over. The Art Nouveau movement embraced both the intricacy of the Celtic knot, and the simplicity of the line itself.
Art Nouveau also took some of its cues from Japanese wood-block prints, especially in the area of poster design.
Nowadays, Art Nouveau inspired artwork is almost as popular as it was a hundred years ago. . . and sometimes it seems like those classic posters of Chéret’s have never even gone out of style.