Art Nouveau was an art and design movement that grew out of the Arts and Crafts movement of the late 19th Century. Art Nouveau highlighted curvaceous lines, often inspired by plants and flowers, as well as geometric patterns. Art Deco was a sprawling design sensibility that wound its way through numerous early 20th Century art and design forms, from fine art and architecture to fashion and furniture, as well as everyday appliances and even modes of transportation.

Arts and Crafts Movement

The Arts and Crafts movement, a precursor to Art Nouveau, focused on hand craftsmanship in the decorative arts and was personified by influential textile designer William Morris.

In Art Nouveau, the style of an object is not predetermined and imposed but developed organically through the process of creation, an idea derived from Scottish architect Charles Rennie Mackintosh.

Mackintosh believed style came from function, and structures should be built from the inside out. One of his best-known buildings is the Glasgow School of Art, finished in 1910.

Art Nouveau was embraced by architects through the use of curves, iron and glass in designs. The result was buildings like Antoni Gaudí’s sinuous, organic Casa Battló in Barcelona, Spain, completed in 1906.

Art Nouveau in the Visual Arts

Mackintosh’s ideas had a significant effect on the visual arts. Austrian painter Gustav Klimt adopted his abstract patterning, indicative of winding plants, as backgrounds for figurative paintings. Illustrator Aubrey Beardsley brought Art Nouveau to book design, illustrating Sir Thomas Mallory’s La Mort d’Arthur and serving as art editor of the popular Yellow Book magazine in England.

Posters were the main medium through which Art Nouveau was spread. Czech artist Alphonse Mucha’s images of sultry, glamorous women captured the public imagination. His 1894 poster Gismonda, created for entertainer Sarah Bernhardt, brought him his first huge success.

Art Nouveau in Design

Art Nouveau featured object designers rather than sculptors. The best-known is Louis Comfort Tiffany, a former painter who created decorative items for his affluent customers.

Tiffany’s chief innovations were with stained glass, which was crucial to the design of his most famous offering, the Tiffany lamp. Tiffany is also known for his jewelry, boxes, clocks and pottery designs. Clara Driscoll, who worked for the Tiffany from 1888 to 1909, designed most of Tiffany’s most famous lamps, as well as many other items for the company.

French vase maker Emelie Galle formed the influential “Ecole de Nancy” in his hometown of Nancy, France, with bronze sculptor Louis Majorelle, to gather Art Nouveau masters of various disciplines like furniture design and jewelry-making.

By the end of World War I, Art Nouveau had dissipated as a force in the art world. Modernist movements took its place, most notably Art Deco.

Introducing Art Deco

Art Deco was announced to the world in the 1925 Exposition Internationale des Arts Décoratifs et Industriels Modernes in Paris, not as a new movement but one that had been in development for more than a decade.

The exposition was a World’s Fair-styled spectacle lasting six months and covering 57 acres in Paris. A popular show based on the exposition toured the United States the following year.

In 1927, Macy’s department store held an influential Art Deco exhibition highlighting eight architects, including Raymond M. Hood, chief designer of Rockefeller Center, and Joseph Urban, set designer and architect of Mar-A-Lago in Palm Beach, Florida.

Art Deco Spreads

The rise of Art Deco coincided with the scramble to erect skyscrapers, and its influence is felt across America.

Designed in 1928, the Chrysler Building is considered one of the most iconic and most ubiquitous examples. The work of architect William Van Alen, its stainless steel spire with a scalloped base make it instantly recognizable.

Art Deco was the design choice for movie theaters of the era, such as Grauman’s Egyptian Theater in Los Angeles and Radio City Music Hall in New York City.

Art Deco was also the guiding principle for stylish transportation, such as Bugatti Type 57SC Atlantic automobiles, trains like Henry Dreyfuss’ 20th Century Limited and luxury liners like the Queen Mary.

Art Deco permeated people’s personal lives in its effect on furnishings and decorative items. The design works of Emile-Jacques Ruhlmann in furniture, Jean Besnard in pottery, Rene Lalique in glass, Albert-Armand Rateau in metal, Georges Fouquet in jewelry and Serge Gladky in textiles were just a few to have major and lasting impacts.

Images of Art Deco

In the visual arts, Art Deco promoted a sophisticated sensibility. French painter Jean Dupas is well-known for his murals and print advertising. His famous Les Perruches was shown at the 1925 exhibition. Polish painter Tamara de Lempicka was renowned for her portraits of the rich and famous.

Like Art Nouveau, the graphic arts were crucial in embedding Art Deco in the public imagination and defining the culture linked to it. Charles Gesmar is best known for his posters of French entertainer Mistinguett, which gave identity to the Jazz Age. French artist Paul Colin’s posters of Josephine Baker were prime factors in launching Baker’s career. Jean Carlu pulled inspiration from Cubism and gained fame with his poster for Charlie Chaplin’s 1921 film The Kid.

Art Deco also shaped the public view of travel. Ukranian artist Cassandre specialized in transportation posters, most notably his 1935 poster of the French cruise ship Normandie, and is also known for his distinctive advertising work.

Animals were a popular subject among Art Deco artists. Paul Jouve’s paintings and sculptures focused on African animals. Sculptor Francois Pompon’s famous bronze Polar Bear statue debuted at the 1925 exhibition.

Art Deco in Sculpture

Art Deco sculpture frequently found homes in public view. Paul Manship’s most famous work, 1933’s Prometheus, rests in the fountain at Rockefeller Center. Italian-Brazilian sculptor Victor Brecheret found fame with his Monument to the Banderas in Ibirapuera Park in São Paulo, Brazil, which was started in 1921 and completed in 1954.

The imposing, 98-foot tall, 700-ton Christ the Redeemer sculpture on the 2,300-foot peak of Corcovado mountain in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, was designed by French sculptor Paul Landowski, with the face by Romanian sculptor Gheorghe Leonida. The statue was completed in 1931 and can be seen from just about anywhere in the city.

American sculptor Lee Lawrie is one of the most-seen and lesser-known Art Deco artists. His work adorns buildings across the United States—the National Academy of the Sciences in Washington, D.C., the Los Angeles Public Library, the Nebraska State House, Rockefeller Center in New York City and many other locations.

The Federal Art Project of the Works Progress Administration (WPA) is also credited for spreading the Art Deco form in the United States with artists like Rockwell Kent, Diego Rivera and Reginald Marsh.

Art Deco Wanes

Art Deco was often aligned with the tastes of the wealthy. The 1929 stock market crash redirected the movement towards mass production.

By the early 1930s, an updated Art Deco called Streamline Moderne (or Art Moderne) took hold in America, simplifying designs and, in architecture, focusing on one story structures to better service more common building needs like gas stations and diners. By World War II, Art Deco and Art Nouveau had fallen out of favor and were largely replaced by Modernism.


Modern Art: Impressionism To Post-Modernism. Edited by David Britt.
Art Nouveau. By Jean Lahor.
The Spirit and Splendour of Art Deco. By Alain Lesieutre.
Art Deco. By Victor Arwas.
French Art Deco. Metropolitan Museum of Art.