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Using the Art Nouveau Style in Design


January 20, 2020

What is Art Noveau?

Encyclopædia Britannica describes Art Noveau as being an ornamental style of art that flourished between 1890 and 1910 in Europe and the United States. You’ll find elements of this style across many different mediums in architecture, interior design, jewelry design, posters, and more. It was deliberately created to be different from existing art styles of the time.

Art Noveau curves

History of Art Noveau

Art Noveau only lasted about 20 years, depending on who’s timeline you’re going off of. It certainly wasn’t an artistic movement that lasted a long time in the grand scheme of things, but it’s influence on other artistic movements is hard to deny, especially to Art Deco, Bauhaus, and modernism. Art Nouveau was inspired by past artistic movements, including the Arts and Crafts movement, Aestheticism, and Japanese art (like wood-block prints).

Art Noveau Waves

Art Noveau has been known by many names in different countries, including:

Jugendstil (Germany)

Sezessionstil (Austria)

Stile Floreale (Italy)

Modernismo (Spain)

Each country contributes its own unique take on the style.

Inspired in part by the Industrial Revolution, this multi-disciplinary approach to the Art Nouveau aimed to revive good workmanship. At the time, it was argued that decorative arts were made as poor interpretations of past styles. Craftsmen and artisans of Art Nouveau didn’t believe in being frivolous. Instead, they thought that the function of an object should dictate it’s final form.

Important Elements of Art Noveau

The following are some elements to look for when trying to spot a work of Art Nouveau:

  • Organic, flowing lines; asymmetry
  • Forms resembling stems and blossoms of plants
  • Geometric forms, like squares and rectangles
  • Unruly aspects of nature
  • Handcraftsmanship
  • Quality
  • Traditional techniques
  • Functionality
  • Insect wings
  • Distinctive typography

Major Art Nouveau Artists

Draw inspiration from these notable Art Nouveau artists:

Alphonse Mucha

Alphonse Mucha was a Czech artist who used the Art Nouveau style to design commissioned pieces that doubled as ads. Some of his famous customers include Job cigarette papers and several notable theatrical productions. His commissioned works are as beautiful as his decorative paintings–it’s hard to tell that they’re actually marketing mediums!

Alphonse Mucha Job Cigarettes

Hector Guimard

Many argue that France was the birthplace of (or at least an extremely influential country for) the Art Nouveau movement. It makes sense, then, to recognize a prominent French artist who helped to define and expand the movement. Hector Guimard is most well-known for his Paris subway designs, which serve as a perfect example of Art Nouveau in architecture.

Subway Gate Noveau

Antonio Gaudi

Antonio Gaudi was a Spanish-Catalan architect who was the inventive creator of several decadent structures in Catalonia, including the famous Sagrada Familia Basilica. The influence he took from nature is apparent in everything he does, including the organic shapes he uses in the buildings he designed.

Sagrada Familia

Incorporating Art Nouveau into Design

There are couple easy ways to get in touch with your inner Art Nouveau artist:

  • Spend the day outside. Bring your sketchbook and take in your surroundings! Nothing is more inspiring to an Art Nouveau artist than the great outdoors and the beautiful plants, animals and insects that make it up.
  • Look through a book of Art Nouveau art distraction-free. As with drawing inspiration for any type of art form, it helps to expose yourself to the work of the masters. It also helps if you can get away from your computer and other daily distractions to get the most out of your time with these masterpieces.
  • Create something useful. Does your design have a use besides just pure entertainment and visual stimulation? Art Nouveau artists sought to be functional in some manner.
  • Add in some flowers. If all else fails, start drawing pretty outlines of flowers. They make a nice foundation for a beautiful Art Nouveau design!

How will you add an element of Art Nouveau into your next t shirt design project? We’d love to hear your thoughts!


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