Art Nouveau

1880–1910


Art Nouveau Inspiration

The predominant style of decoration in the 1880s and early 1990s. Named for the Samuel Bing’s Parisian gallery, Maison de l’Art Nouveau, opened in 1896. Beginning in England with roots in the Pre-Raphaelite movement, Art Nouveau was a decorative revolt against the rigid styles and mass production of prior movements. Grounded in a revival and elevation of the art of craft, prevalent features include sensuous lines, asymmetry and natural motifs derived from Japanese design.

Butterflies, dragonflies, serpents and the sinuous female form abound. Beneath the facade of romantic naturalism, the femme fatale worshipped by Symbolist painters and poets came to life in the decorative arts. This fin de siècle decadence attracted liberated female clients from the demimonde–including Sarah Bernhardt and Natalie Barney–both avid collectors who rocked the jewels of Rene Lalique.

Designers eschewed faceted diamonds in favor of humble opals, horn, moonstones and vibrant enamels. The period’s leading French exponents were Rene Aliquot, Maison Vever, Georges Fouquet and Lucien Gaillard. The British version, as expressed in the Arts and Crafts style, was led by Charles Ashbee, Henry Wilson Charles Rennie Mackintosh and Charles Rennie Mackintosh.

Further Reading:

Art Nouveau Jewellery and Fans, Gabriel Mourney, 1913

Jewelry and Metalwork in the Arts and Crafts Tradition, 1993

Pre-Raphaelite to Arts and Crafts, Charlotte Gere and Geoffry C. Munn, 1996

The Magic of Jewels and Charms, George Frederick Kunz, 1915

View the Wanton Art Nouveau collection >