As the 20th century arrived, an entirely new trend of decorative art that had begun in several countries in the 1880s was receiving recognition.
In France, it was referred to as "Le Guimard," in Germany as "Jugendstil," in England as the "Studio Style." However, a German art dealer in Paris who began to display the earlier works labelled it "Art Nouveau" or "New Art."
In viewing, Art Nouveau, whether the two-dimensional work of paintings, posters or drawings, or the three-dimensional sculpture, ornaments or artifacts, the distinctive characteristic is the decorative sweep of graceful lines, weaving curves that separate patterns with a juxtaposition of objects in such a subtle manner as to be accomplished without being noticed.
Outstanding artists associated with the Art Nouveau style are Aubrey Beardsley (1872-1893), Dante Rossetti (1828-1882), William Morris (1834-1898) and of course Louis Comfort Tiffany (1848-1933).
The beginning of the new style emerged from the illustrations and paintings of earlier artists who tended to look towards the future. William Blake (1757-1827), a true romantic in his visual interpretations of the Bible, Milton and Virgil, filled his paintings with a mass of swirls and decorative patterns. Such exuberance would not be seen again to the introduction of Art Nouveau some 70 years after his death.
Blake's illustrations created a coalition between the real and the unreal that enhanced the text of the story. His work was carried on by Dante Rossetti when he joined with other Raphaelites William Holman Hunt (1827-1910) and John Everett Millais (1829-1896).
Of these three, Rossetti was the Bohemian, the most romantic of the group.
A review of Hunt's "Shadow of Death" reveals the realistic trends that would be seen in the coming Art Nouveau. Rossetti's "Beata Beatrix" demonstrates the romantic and dream-like qualities so prominent in illustrations, stained glass and sculpture at the end of the century.
The artists of the Art Nouveau style concentrated primarily on minor arts such as furniture, tapestries, illustrations, posters, wall-paper and glass rather than gallery paintings.
William Morris, painter, poet, craftsman and lecturer, may be considered the prototype of the Art Nouveau artist. In 1881, with his radical social outlooks, he was concerned that art should be made for the people and by the people. He established a company which produced works by Rossetti, Burne-Jones, and Madox Brown.
Everything they produced was Art Nouveau. Wall decorations and leather bookbindings incorporated stylised flowers and plants and emphasised the two-dimensional flat pattern effect that is recognised as the graphic characteristic identifying the Art Nouveau.
Although Toulouse Lautrec (1864-1901) has never been directly connected with Art Nouveau, his posters of Jane Avril and the many scenes at the Moulin Rouge contain the same flowing, romantic lines and flat pattern.
The Art Nouveau style was short-lived, a movement that came as a buffer against the over-ornate Victorian period that had made a cult of comfort and catered to the nouveaux riches. The new style came at a convenient time. It lent itself to a period when artistic achievement was wrestling with communal effort and sound design. The artist and architect began to reevaluate art for these over-decorated luxuries of the rich for the unity of art with the ordinary person.
Art Nouveau has had a significant influence on Modern and Contemporary Art of today. Although Art Nouveau rejected symmetry, it represented a form of applied design and was kept simple and basic, a characteristic that could be termed as organised abstractionism.
Within the last few years, many of the principles of Art Nouveau have been incorporated In new commercial art such as pop posters, vinyl record albums, automobiles and t-shirts.