Art Nouveau and Art Deco are similar movements that can be easily confused. Both movements were born at the turn of the 20th century during major world events and were the beginning of a modern era. Artists began creating works that held onto the craftsmanship of historic arts but modernized to keep up with an ever-changing world. Each art movement represents distinct styles that influenced visual and graphic arts, architecture, and design. To understand the differences between them, let’s individually talk about each style.
Translating to ‘New Art”, Art Nouveau began in Europe in the 1800’s. This movement was the first of the two to break out. The peak of Art Nouveau happened at the beginning of the 1900’s and died off by 1910. The style is inspired by natural and organic elements. Lines and edges are soft and curvy. The term “whiplash curves” is used to describe dramatic curving lines that fold over themselves. Natural colors like muted greens, browns, and deep reds were used. Art Nouveau was a movement that aimed to modernize styles of the past and bring a higher standard of quality to art pieces. Major artists of the Art Nouveau movement include Arthur Heygate Mackmurdo, Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec, Aubrey Beardsley, and Hector Guimard.
Though it did not last long, Art Nouveau was a widespread movement in response to radical changes of the time. After the Industrial Revolution, major technological advances and urban growth created the beginning of modernism. During a time of mass-production, artists sought to preserve the hand-crafted, unique works of past centuries while still using modern, organic inspirations. Over time, elements of Art Nouveau evolved to into simpler forms of modernism, but it remains a fundamental concept in contemporary design.
Art Deco, also known as ‘style moderne,’ started in the 1920’s. It was influenced by the modern movement of Art Nouveau. This style developed and became popular in Europe and North America in the 1930’s. Because it was at its peak during the Great Depression, Art Deco is sometimes referred to as depression moderne. Art Deco became so popular at this time that it began taking hold of major fashion trends. It is a sleek and elegant design, though anything but traditional. Art Deco symbolized sophistication and wealth. It was a refreshing change from eclectic styles of the past.
Like Art Nouveau, a higher standard of quality was brought to the table with expensive materials and craftsmanship. These materials, however, differed in that they were man-made and not natural. Mediums like plastic, glass, and metals were popular. This style focuses on clean, geometric lines and simplistic repetition. Bold, contrasting colors give Art Deco pieces a fast-paced edge. Mass-production was increasing rapidly during this era, and buildings went up just as quickly to suit the new, modern design. One of the most well-known Art Deco architectural pieces is the Chrysler Building in New York City.
Art Nouveau vs Art Deco
Though they stand for the same principles of modernization and quality, Art Nouveau and Art Deco have very different distinguishing features. One flows beautifully, with natural elements and soft, curving lines. The latter uses angular lines and geometric shapes to stand out from art styles of the past. The following lists cover the most distinguishable features of each art movement:
- Late 1800 – early 1900s.
- Elements of nature such as animals, bugs, vines, plants, flowers, and wood.
- Inspired by ethereal beauty and flowing lines.
- Curving and dramatic lines.
- Soft and muted greens, blues, and yellows; deep reds and rich browns.
- 1920 – 1930’s.
- Geometric elements of different shapes such as circles, pyramids, zigzags, rectangles, and squares.
- Made with man-made materials like plastic, glass, as well as metals.
- Inspired by “the fast life.” Airplanes, cars, and other modern industry icons were popular.
- Bold colors and bright, vivid hues that were commonly combined with black for extreme contrast.
Although both movements were alike in their commitment to modernization, the styles themselves are very different. In fact, they are almost opposite. The next time you find yourself in a conversation about an art piece from the early 1900’s, don’t get caught confusing the two. Refer back to our list to compare pieces and understand the incredible significance that each movement has made in our art styles today.