art nouveau

An overview of art nouveau

In my previous post I wrote about cubism, a movement that ran parallel with art nouveau. Unlike cubism, art nouveau is for everyone, not just an artistically intellectual elite.  Since this late 19th/early 20thcentury exquisitely sensual style influenced so many elements of everyday life this article will have to be an over view.  The movement lasted about twenty years from 1890 to 1910.

There are many names associated with all elements of design of this period, but hopefully I can introduce you to new ones for each of the areas we look at. Jewellery will be covered in a separate article.  

The Gothic Revival of the earlier part of the 19thcentury had become an international movement and at the end of the century, the art nouveau movement was a rebellion against the formal ideas of backward looking concepts in architecture and in art, and embraced the mystical concepts of the Symbolist poets and artists.  The Impressionists had challenged the snobbish reliance on historical or religious narrative that were the only accepted genres by the French Academie des Beaux Arts, and given the public a new view of modern life.  Unlike the gothic revival, the Impressionists did not have any influence on architecture, but the practioners of art nouveau were to influence all forms of design.

            Art nouveau had different names in different countries. In Germany and the Nordic countries it was known as Jugendstil; in Austria it was known as Secession; Spanish Catalonia called it Modernisme; the Russians called it Modern; in Italy – Stile Liberty; Portugal – Arte Nova; the French, Belgians and Netherlanders and the most of the rest of the world all called it Art Nouveau.  

The movement developed out of the Arts & Crafts movement started by William Morris (1834-1896) in 1861.   Morris was reacting to the poor quality of mass production of  ‘stuff’ and wanted to produce objects that were both beautiful and exquisitely crafted. Morris believed that art was not just for the elite, but for everyone.  High minded ideals are unfortunately expensive to produce, but believe it or not, it was Morris’s ideas that led to the movement we know as art nouveau.  

The sinuous naturalistic and geometric forms can be found on furniture, in aspects of interior design, metalwork, jewellery, and glass such as that created by Emile Gallé and René Lalique, and in ceramics, textiles and various graphic arts.  Theoreticians such as the Frenchman, Emile Viollet le Duc (1814-1879) and Britain’s John Ruskin (1819-1900) had an international influence. In England, the gothic revival of Augustus Welby Northmore Pugin (1812-1852) and later, William Burgess (1821-1881), had held sway for decades.  The honesty of construction and good line was fundamental to the original ideals of both the gothic revival and the arts and crafts movements.  

For the Scottish it is the designs of designer Charles Rennie Mackintosh that immediately spring to mind.  An example is his iconic design for the Glasgow School of Art now sadly a burnt out skeleton; and the designs for stained glass for The House of an Art Lover, by his wife,  Margaret Macdonald Mackintosh.

 In architecture the concepts were embraced by three architects now considered the founding fathers of the architectural style.  The work of Paul Hankar (1859-1901), Victor Horta (1861-1947and Henry van de Velde (1863-1957)first appeared in Brussels in the 1890s.  In Paris, those building the Metro were quick to take up the new form.  Architect Hector Guimard (1867-1942) designed the entrances to the stations and if you visit Paris, they are still there.

By the 1890s, ironically thanks to mass production, even if you could not afford Henri van de Velde, Paul Hankar or Victor Horta to design your house, you might have a Tiffany lamp, an Emile Gallé vase or perhaps a piece of furniture decorated with naturalistic carving in the art nouveau style made by a lesser known manufacturer.  

Today Brussels is synonymous with Art Nouveau despite other cities seeing an explosion of the style during the period 1890-1910.  Why?  It was in Brussels that the first building was built in the new style by Victor Horta in 1983.  This was La Maison Tassel and since architecture is the most expensive art form, it is why Brussels is acknowledged as the capital of Art Nouveau.  

World Heritage site: Hotel Tassel, Brussels. (Source Wikipedia)

In 1894, Henri van de Velde had been developing his ideas in relation to the decorative arts.  He believed that architecture and interior design should be a work of art.  Van de Velde published a pamplet, le Deblaiment d’Art, telling the world of his ideas.  When I first read this I wondered why people thought it was a revolutionary concept since in Georgian England Robert Adam (1728-1792) had also had a similar idea. Adam’s muse was the classical designs of Andrea Palladio (1508-1580), who in turn had been inspired by the Roman architect, Vitruvius (80-70BC-?15BC).  Adam’s eye for detail where the plasterwork, the furniture, even down to the lock plates, reflected an overall design concept was similar to van de Velde’s in that building and that interior design should be an artistic creation. The difference lies in that Adam’s clientele – the rich.  None of his creations were affordable by the lower classes. By the end of the 19th century, manufacturing processes were being used to create expensively previously hand crafted elements of buildings. This allowed the designs by Horta and his fellow architects to be replicated, used for inspiration and produced for elements of more humble dwellings built by anonymous builders wanting to include something new to make the houses appealing.

The name synonymous with the sponsorship of art nouveau was Samuel (Siegfried) Bing. Born in Germany in 1838, Bing became a naturalised Frenchman in 1876. 

Samuel Bing – the man who gave the name to the movement. (photograph :Wikipedia)

First importing Japanese art and other aspects of Asian art, Bing’s interest filtered into the work of, and influenced the other movements such as the Symbolists and the post-Impressionists.   His workshops, salons and exhibitions of paintings soon became exhibitions of furniture and other artworks  and by 1895 his gallery was known as L’Art Nouveau – La Maison Bing 

Bing sponsored the work of avant garde artists such as Frenchmen August Rodin(1840-1917), Toulouse Lautrec (1864-1901), Paul Signac  (1863-1935) and Eduard Vuillard (1868-1940); the Norwegian artist, Edvard Munch (1863-1944); the American Louis Comfort Tiffany (1848-1933); the Belgian architect and furniture designer Henry van de Velde (1863-1957) and many others. 

However, let us start our overview of art nouveau by looking at the graphic arts.

            For those of us who remember the 1960s who can forget the Athena posters where various artists of the art nouveau movement enjoyed a revival and in particular the work of Czech born, Alphonse Mucha. By the 1890s, the sinuous, free flowing, naturalistic forms of art nouveau were being seen all over Paris in the work of Mucha.  His posters advertised many items including plays, cigarette papers and perfume and these brought him to the attention of the public. 

            Mucha had been in Paris since 1888 making a living as an illustrator.  He had first enrolled in atelier Academie Julien where foreign  students were welcome. Then in 1889, he joined the Academie Colarossi founded by the Italian sculptor Filippo Colarossi.   Both ateliers were progressive and took in women students allowing them to study the male nude.   Academie Colarossi also employed the first female art teacher, Frances Hodgkins (1869-1947) in 1910.  But I digress!

Mucha had met and become a friend of Paul Gauguin in 1893 when they shared a studio after the French artist had returned from Tahiti for a year.  Mucha continued to earn a reasonable income as an illustrator and then in December of 1894 Mucha had one of those strokes of luck that every struggling artist dreams of.  

On 26thDecember Mucha happened to be correcting proofs at the printing firm, Lemercier, that printed the posters for the plays performed by the great Sarah Bernhard.  Because the play, Gismonda, in which she starred was extending its run into the new year, Bernhardt was insisting that the new poster be ready by 1stJanuary.  Mucha was not one of Lemercier’s regular artists, but because he had already done work for Bernhardt illustrating the Christmas supplement of the magazine, Le Gaulois, with images of the actress, and the regular Lemercier artists were on holiday, Mucha got the job.  

Poster for Gismonda 1894. Alphonse Mucha. Source Wikipedia.

 This was the beginning of Mucha’s association with the actress and receiving the commission for a series of many posters advertising plays in which Bernhardt starred.  As a result of his association with Bernhardt, Mucha was commissioned to create advertising posters for  JOB cigarette papers, the publishing houses Cassan and Champenois, the railway to Monaco and Monte Carlo, and many more.  

Mucha’s commercial success allowed him to paint seriously and for the 1900 Paris Universal Exposition he created these panels for the Bosnia-Herzegovinia pavilion.   This region was now under the aegis of Austria, and the government conferred the title of Knight of the Order of Franz Joseph I  on him and the French government awarded him the Legion d’Honneur because of his prodigious output of work for this and various other exhibitors.

Mucha’s murals for the Bosnia-Herzogovinia pavilion for 1900 Paris exhibition

Mucha’s original concept for the pavilion was for a group of murals depicting the suffering of the Slavic inhabitants of the Bosnia-Herzogovinia region caused by the occupation by foreign powers. Needless to say, the Austrian government weren’t too keen on this so Mucha changed his idea to depict a future society where the various religions of the region lived in harmony.  These murals seems to more lascivious than religiously harmonious!

In addition, he produced displays for the perfumier Houbigant and the jeweller George Fouquet. However, we will look at jewellery next time when we explore the work of the designer René Lalique and his contemporaries.  

Everyone knows the work of Gustav Klimt, especially the Beethoven Frieze (1902) created for the interior of the Vienna Secession building, but how many people know the work of Finnish artist, Akseli Gallen-Kalella (1865-1931)?  

Gallen-Kallella is famous for his illustrations of the Finnish epic, Kalevala, an 19thcentury epic poem of some fifty plus folk stories told over 22,795 verses.  This is similar to the sagas of old and reminiscent of the Boewulf and also the earlier Greek epics of Homer such as his Iliad and Odyssey.  

In 1884 he too went to Paris and enrolled at Academie Julien where he became friends with other Nordic painters and the writer August Strindberg.  For me, his Boy with a Crow(1884) below (Source Wikipedia), has elements of the The Hind’s Daughter(1883) by Sir James Guthrie (1859-1930) who was one of leaders the Scottish group, ‘The Glasgow Boys’.  

Since Guthrie did not study in Paris, and it was not until the the 1890s that Gallen-Kellala came to London, unless The Hind’s Daughter (right – source Wikipedia) was exhibited in Europe after 1883 perhaps this is pure serendipity. However, someone else can dig around exhibition catalogues to either prove or disprove this connection.

Ten years later our Finn was in Berlin where his works were exhibited with those of Edvard Munch.  This adventure brought him into the circle of the Symbolists – a movement that was influential in France and Belgium and ran from 1892 – 1897 in parallel with the early days of Art Nouveau.  This movement was confined to literature and art and had a Gothic twist.   The mystical and metaphysical themes explored by artists such as Odilon Redon (1840-1916), Carlos Schwabe (1866-1926) and influenced many others such as Gauguin, Mucha, and Klimt who are more associated with post-impressionism and art nouveau.

In 1901 our Finnish artist painted the mural Kullervo Goes to War, which is one of the scenes illustrating the epic Finnish poem, Kalevala.  

Kullervo Goes to War. 1901. Gallen-Kellala. Helsinki University
(Source Wikipedia) 335x687cms.

Gallen-Kellala had gone to Siena in 1898 to study the art of fresco painting and it was here he saw the work of medieval artist, Simone Martini (1284-1344).  It was Martini’s fresco of Guidoriccio da Fogliano at the siege of Montemassi that is said to have inspired Gallen-Kellala’s 1901 mural, now in the music hall of Helsinki University

Fresco: Guidoriccio da Fogliano at the siege of Monetemassi: Simon Martini (1284-1344)
Palazzo Publico, Siena. (Source Wikipedia).

After the death of his daughter in 1895 Gallen-Kalella’s work takes a darker and a passive aggressive turn as seen in The Defense of the Tampo (1896 Turku Art Museum).  Like Mucha, Gallen-Kalella was commissioned to create murals for the interior of the Finnish pavilion for the Paris Exposition of 1900, but unfortunately these have not survived.

The Defence of the Tampo 1896. Gallen-Kallela. (Source Wikipedia)

This is just a small selection of the graphic art work of this period, but take a look at the work of Aubrey Beardsley.  As a teenager I had a poster of his peacock skirt pasted on to my bedroom wall. Thank heavens my parents had no idea of what his illustrations for an edition of Lysistrata were like.  I didn’t either until many years later and they are enough to raise the odd eyebrow!  

Architecture & interior design

In Brussel’s, La Maison Tassel by Victor Horta (1861-1947) had led to the rich and famous commissioning houses that reflected this new style that incorporated new technology and mass manufacture and combined decorative and fine art.  Cast iron is not the first thing that springs to mind for a staircase, but how else would you get those flowing lines of this famous staircase except by creating a mould and filling it will liquid metal?  The flowing design is reflected in the mosaic tiled floor and painted walls. 

The staircase at HotelTassel (Source: Wikipedia)

At the end of the 18890s, Horta received a commission to design a town house for Armand Solvay, the son of the wealthy industrialist and chemist, Ernst Solvay. This must have been a dream as Horta was given a virtually unlimited budget so was able to use marble, onyx, tropical woods – in fact, every luxury material you could imagine.  Horta designed every facet of this building down to the doorbell.  For the staircase he collaborated with pointillist artist, Théophle van Rysselberghe (1862-1926), but unfortunately there are few photos of the interior.  Hôtel Solvay was aquired by the Wittamer family during the 1950s and  still has the majority of the original furniture and other contents, all designed by Horta as part of the overall design.  Hotel Solvay (together with three other Horta houses in Brussels) has been declared a World Heritage site by UNESCO, but since this one is still in private hands you will have to make an appointment if you want to see over it.

Horta is generally considered as being the father of the sinuous, organic architural art nouveau style whereas the innovative Paul Hankar (1859-1901) had a more geometric form, but still adhered to art nouveau principles.  

“Paul Hankar / Architecte / Rue Defacqz 63,” chromolithograph published in Les Maîtres de L’Affiche, (Belgium, 1897), plate 91. (Source: Wikipedia)

The son of a stonemason, Hankar studied at the Académie Royale des Beaux Arts where he met Horta. Hankar trained as an architect under Henrik Beyaert from 1879-92 and was the lead architect on the Palaçio de Chávarri in Bilbao,Spain. Evidently no single window replicates another in this building – a nightmare for the factory manufacturing them.  

The poster is an advert by Adolphe Crespin for Hankar’s practice on Defacqzstraat that appeared in Les Maîtres de L’Affiche in 1897. In 1893 Hankar went independent and opened the offices for his own practice.  This is the year he commenced work on his own house.

The final of the three names that are considered the fathers of artnouvean is Henri van de Velde (1863-1957) who first trained as a painter in Antwerp and then in Paris at the atelier of Carolus-Duran. For whatever reason, van de Velde later retrained as an architect.

In 1888 he became familiar with the work of William Morris through his membership of ‘Les Vingt’ group, a group of Belgian artists, founded in 1883 by Octave Maus, who was a lawyer, entrepreneur and publisher.  In addition to the permanent twenty members, a further twenty artists of international renown were invited to exhibit at the annual exhibition. However, Les Vingts also had a close association with both music and literature as well as art during the ten years of its existence.  Concerts featuring the work of Debussy, Fauréand Chausson and lectures by the Symbolist poets such as Stephen Mallarmé and Paul-Marie Verlaine – a member of the Dacadence movement, were all very much part of Les Vingts whose ideals embraced the idea of all forms of the arts, literature and music as being part of a whole creative process and not isolated disciplines.  In 1888, the year van de Velde joined the group, exhibitors included Odile Redilon, Toulouse Lautrec, Whistler and Paul Signac.  It is not until 1892 do we see the name van de Velde among the list of exhibitors in the exhibitions put on by Les Vingts and this is for his embroidery designs.

Henri van de Velde designed his own house in 1895, and also designed the furniture, exhibiting his designs at La Maison Bing in 1896.  This exposure brought him international acclaim and his work was covered by various magazines. In Germany he featured in Innen-Dekoration and as a result received various commissions for interior design from German patrons.  

Van de Velde’s architectural style can be seen in the buildings he created in Germany, for instance the Villa Hoenhof in Hagen; the extension to Nietzsche’s house (1844-1900) in Weimar

Nietzsche Archives designed by Henri van de Velde (Source: Wikipedia)

and the Villa Eschein Chemnitz.  

Van de Velde was producing abstract designs, though still sinuous and flowing. Whereas Horta incorporates vegetal elements and Hanka goes towards the geometric, van de Velde likes the non-representational flowing lines as seen below in the cover for Nietzsche’s Ecce Homo, published in 1908 after the philosopher’s death.  

(Source: Wikipedia)

Settling in Weimar in 1899, by 1908 he had been asked by the Grand Duke of Weimar to found a school of craft and design. In 1907 the German Werkbund was founded and van de Velde was a great influence on this association that was to hoped would improve the relationship between industry and designers.  As a champion of individual style, van de Velde would go head to head with the champion of standardisation, Hermann Muthesis.

Vorta and Hankar developed their own styles and were extremely successful, but it was van de Velde who was to have the greatest influence on future design.  During WW1 van de Velde had to return to Belgium. In 1919 his Weimar school was amalgamated with the Weimar School of Fine Arts to become the Bauhaus,under Walter Gropius.  The concept of Bauhaus was for all arts to be brought together under one roof, which is very much along the lines of van de Velde, Hankar and Horta’s ways of design.   Gropius was one of three German architects van de Velde had suggested take over the Grand Ducal School of Arts & Crafts when van de Velde had to return to Brussels in 1915.  Strangely, at the beginning the Bauhaus did not have a department of architecture despite Gropius being an architect.  

During the 1930s van de Velde designed the Book Towerof Ghent University and in 1936 he was involved the design and construction of Ghent University Hospital.  These two buildings best describe how van de Velde moves with the times, embracing modernism and many of the ideas as promulgated by Gropius and Meis van de Rohre before the Bauhaus was closed by the Nazis in 1933, declaring their art as ‘degenerate’.

Van de Velde eventually settled in Switzerland and died in Zurich, aged 94.

In the 1890s, Horta, Hanka and van de Velde were all  designing expensive buildings with fancy interiors for themselves and elite members of society.  The mass production, so hated by Morris, made it possible for their designs to be available for all architects to put in even the lowliest of houses.  We see how both the sinuous and geometric designs filtered down to the humble artisan cottage in these two original fireplacesthat survived being thrown out in the 1970s when everyone was getting rid of these cast iron fire surrounds. Thanks to the modern technology of the industrial revolution, art nouveau interior design was for everyone, not just for the rich.  


Bing’s exhibition of van de Velde’s furniture in an 1896 exhibition in La Maison brought him international fame.  However, other designers were entering the market and creating furniture for a less elite clientele.  

In 1884 the designer Gustave Serrurier-Bovy (1858-1910) moved to London where he come into contact with Morris’s work.  Arthur Liberty had opened his shop at 218 Regent Street in 1875 and by 1884 it was thriving.  The shop, Liberty’s, is synonymous with Morris’s arts and crafts movement and next year will celebrate its one hundred and fourty fifth anniversary. 

Serrurier-Bovy studied the various books by Morris and you can see the influence of the English arts and crafts movement in the Serrurier-Bovy furniture sold in his interior decoration and furniture shop he opened in Liége on his return to France.  He went on to open branches in Brussels and Paris.  Serrurier-Bovey was a founding member of the Brussels Salon de L’Esthetique and was in contact with the artists in Darmstadt where the German art nouveau, known as Jugendstil, was developing.  

The more expensive pieces were worked in mahogany, and he used iron, bronze, copper and brass for his metalwork, but perhaps Serrurier-Bovy should be acknowledged as the inventor of the flat-pack.  In a Sotheby’s sale his Silex table and four chairswas estimated to sell for between £18,000 – £22,000 (approx $25,000-$30,000).  For anyone who has struggled with constructing a modern flatpack, you can blame Gustave S-B, but you can see from the photograph, his original flatpacks appear very easy. This is the table of the set that was auctioned at Sotheby’s.

Gustave Surrerrier-Bovey’s Silex table (Source Sotheby’s online catalogue)

Architect and designer Henri Guimard (1867-1942) is famous for designing the entries to the Paris Metro, but his name has fallen from the public eye. Many of his buildings were demolished after his death, but the panelling and furniture for his dining room and bedroomhave survived.  From this image you can get the feel for what it was like to be in an architect designed art nouveau dining room created for his house, Hôtel Guimard.

The Giumard dining furniture and panelling donated to Le Petit Palais by Adeline Oppenheim Guimard in 1948.


Guimard won many medals for his designs early in his career and unlike van de Velde, was a champion of standardisation in order that the new art form could be affordable by all.  He also considered structure and in his 1898 design for the Humbert des Romans concert hall devised a complex frame that was acoustically perfect.  Unfortunately the concert hall was demolished in 1905, like many of his buildings, but some of his edifices have avoided the demolisher’s wrecking ball. 

In 1909 Guimard married the wealthy American painter, Adeline Oppenheim, (1872-1960) and instead of changing her name to his, she added his name to hers and she became known as Adeline Oppenheim Guimard.  

Adeline & Hector Guimard. (Source: Wikipedia).


Adeline was an artist in her own right and exhibited at the Parison Salon. This painting of an elegant member of Paris society with her daughters was sold recently. This images gives us a peep into the work of another woman artist who  was a successful painter and living in Paris, who was new to me.  

A Sunny Afternoon’s Rest. Adeline Oppenheim Guimar.

The couple were canny enough to leave Europe in the late  1930s to escape the Nazis.  The name Oppenheim is that of a German-Jewish banking family and even though Adeline was not a practising Jew and American, if they had remained in Europe she would no doubt have been carted off to the concentration camps.  Henri Guimard died in New York in 1942.

When Hotel Guimard was sold after the war, Madame Guimard gave her bedroom furniture to the Musée des Beaux-Arts de Lyon, the desk to the Musée de l’École de Nancy and the dining room furniture to Le Petit Palais.  Perhaps this was because she did not want to be reminded of the Nazi occupation of the property during the German occupation of the city during WW2.  I can imagine that coming from a Jewish background she wished to have nothing that had been touched by the Nazis, but rather than sell the contents, by giving it to museums her husband’s concept for rooms being a work of art remains intact.

 Adeline died in 1965 at the age of ninety three.

Glass and ceramics

Even if you were unable to afford an art nouveau house, after 1902 thanks to Gustave Surrerrier-Bovy the ordinary person could afford solid wooden furniture in a modern style. There were other cheaper renditions of furniture with the more flowing assymetric lines, but it is is the finishing touches such as the ceramics and glass items that were placed on sideboards.  

The original items are far more delicate, but despite the passage of time it is still possible to both see and buy original pieces of ceramics and glassware.  

When it comes to ceramics, Edmond Lachenal (1855-1948) is a name that springs immediately to mind.  He started training as a potter at the age of fifteen in the Paris studio of the noted ceramcist, Theodore Deck (1823-1891). Lachenal received an Honourable Mention at the 1873 World Fair in Vienna as a decorator in Deck’s workshop and as a result Deck made him a director – Lachenal was only eighteen years of age.

In 1889 the first gold medal came Lachenal’s way for his work exhibited at the Paris World Fair.  He was still producing work in Deck’s style.

 Like the other people of the art nouveau movement it is in the 1890s that Edmond Lachenal developed the style that brought him international acclaim.  By now Lachenal was influenced by the Japanese aesthetic.  Technically he was very innovative, and in 1893 he developed a series of matt glazes that became the hallmark of his work.  This finish was brought about by dipping a piece with a conventional glossy glaze into a bath of hydroflouric acid, which took the gloss away and produced a matt glaze.  This suited the floaty, mystical art nouveau designs and the Musée des Art Decoratifs purchased a Lachenal vase in 1894. This is his lizard vase from 1900, the same year as the Paris Exposition National

Source: Pinterest.

Various sculptors such as August Rodin,  worked with Lachenal  and the collaboration with Swedish sculptress Agnes de Frumerie (née Kjellberg)(1869-1937) between 1896-1906 was particularly successful. During this ten years they produced pieces where maidens, elves, all merged with large flowers, dancing nymphs all entwined with vines and leaves. 

In June 2018, the Nationalmuseum of Sweden acquired a piece called Struggle for Existence created in 1900.  It stands at nearly a metre tall and depicts the struggle for survival and the pursuit of wealth.  As Darwin observed about the strongest animals in the wild being the ones to survive, Frummerie mades a statement that modern life is where survival depends on the being the strongest and richest.  Frumiere’s signature is on the front, and Edmond Lachenal’s on the reverse.  The museum were able to acquire this piece thanks to a generous donation by the Hedda and Qvists N.D. Memorial fund because the institution does not government funding to purchase new acquisitions. (Source : National Museum of Sweden Press Release).

There were other ceramicists such as Eugene Baudin (1853-1918), but Baudin is better known as being a leftwing politician.

With the coming of electric light we have the side lamp and the American designer, Louis Comfort Tiffany (1848-1933) created some of the most beautiful at the insistence of Thomas Eddison.  Louis was a talented artist and designer.

In 1837 his father, Charles Lewis Tiffany together with John B Young had founded an emporium selling ‘fancy goods & stationery”.  Charles Tiffany was a jeweller and had an eye for what the public desired, or aspired to own and the emporium rapidly expanded into one selling luxury goods.  

It was Bing’s 1895 exhibitions that made van de Velde a success also contained works by the young Louis Tiffany, introducing the American to a Parisian market. 

Louis had visited London as a young man in 1865 and visited the Victoria & Albert Museum where he had perused the collection of antique Roman and Syrian glass and medieval stained glass.  This inspired him to improve glass making using modern methods.  Even though his glass items were mass produced, they were manufactured to a very high standard and hand finished.  Their jewel colours, Japanese and African aesthetics appealed and the original designs continue to be popular today.  The classic six dragonflieslamp continues to be popular today.

A modern edition of the Tiffany 6 dragonflies lamp. (Source:

In 1894 Louis Tiffany had patented his process for producing irridescent glass and in 1896 it was begun to be produced in Queen’s, New York.  He originally called it ‘Fabrile’ which means handwrought, but changed it to Favrile because the word sounded more appealing, presumably .  Examples of Favrile glass it was exhibited at the 1900 Exposition International in Paris and Louis was awarded the grand prize.  A 1910 Tiffany Favrile lamp is an example is currently for sale at $9,900 (August 2019).

The medieval glass of England clearly gave Louis inspiration as can be seen in this window.  Using his irridescent glass, this window showing St John of Patmos’s vision the Holy City is in a church in Baltimore, Maryland and honours Malbie Davenport Babcock, a 19thcentury clergyman and writer.  There are a further ten Tiffany windows flooding this church with jewelled light. 

Tiffany stained glass window in Baltimore, Maryland of St John’s vision of The Holy City.

In 1902 Louis became a director of the company on the death of his father Charles. As at 1stJanuary 2017 Tiffany & Co now had an annual turnover of $4billion.

Back in Europe Emile Gallé (1846-1904), born in Nancy, had been working in his father’s factory since 1870 – at the end of the short Franco-Prussian War. This factory produced fine tin glazed pottery and furniture, and he became a director in 1877, but by then he had learnt the art of glass making and was experimenting with using one or two layers of different coloured glass on a clear base and either carving into it cameo fashion, or etching it.  He used plant motifs inthis early work as seen in this clematis vase.   It was the praise he received when his work was exhibited at Paris Exhibition of 1878 that brought him fame. 

Gallé’s experiments continued and included incorporating metallic foil and bubbles. His work is considered as being highly influential on the later glass workers.  The pieces were mass produced and his Nancy factory employed three hundred people.  Not only did he produce runs of his designs, there were individual commissions such as this vase now in Le Petit Palais.  

A wedding present for Princess Marguerite de Chartres, now in Le Petit Palais

This vase with lilies and daisies was commissioned by Countess Henri Greffulhe as a wedding gift for Princess Marguerite de Chartres.  Her name is represented by the daisies, the French for these being “marguerites”. The vase also has a quatrain by French poet Robert de Montesquiou inscribed on it.  The actual coloured body of crystal glass was blown and includes gold dust.   

Like Baudin, Gallé was politically minded and believed in education for all.  He organised evening classes for the working class people of Nancy and was treasurer of the Human Rights League of France.  Gallé stood up for Jewish born Alfred Dreyfus in his trail of 1898, as did many such as Émile Zola who wrote an open letter of support accusing the French government of anti-semitism and the unlawful jailing of this French army office.  Zola’s letter was published on the front page of the newspaper L’Aurore on 13thJanuary, 1898.  Gallé’s support could have cost him both his reputation and livelhood. 

In 1901 together with various other furniture designers and artists, Emile Galleé founded the Écôle de Nancy and the museum of the school has many examples of his work.

This is just a tiny example of the ceramics and glass being produced, but you can see how the Japanese influence and vegetal sinuous forms have wound themselves into the ceramics and glass of this period. 


While we have artists such as Mucha and Gallen-Kallella decorating the pavilions of Bosnia-Herzogovinia and Finland, provincial French furniture designer, Serrurier-Bovey, was commissioned to decorate and furnish the Pavilion Blue Restaurant of the 1900 Paris Exposition. This international event brought fame and fortune to many of our practitioners of the art nouveau styles in architecture, glass, ceramics and furniture. However, it is the furniture of Serrurier-Bovy’s that is perhaps the most enduring legacy of this period.  Thanks to him we have the ubiquitous flat pack. Whether we like them or not, his original Silex furniture now commands high prices at auction. Where would IKEA and many other companies, be without the flatpack?

The art nouveau style perfectly describes La Belle Époque. The architects, designers, furniture makers, glass makers, ceramicists all embraced modern technology, mass production and new ways of construction to produce beautiful buildings, art, objets d’art that were totally new. 

If you sit back and think about it,  this is the beginning of mass consumerism and our modern way of life.

©MVT 2019.

2 thoughts on “An overview of art nouveau”

  1. Hello Melanie! I enjoyed your article on the Art Nouveau designers. A note on Guimard’s wife, Adeline Oppenheim Guimard. She actually died in 1965 at the age of 92. She was institutionalized for the last years of her life. I am investigation this!


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