Characteristics of Art Nouveau Furniture


Art Nouveau is a design style that flourished during the late 19th and early 20th centuries and permeated architecture, decoration, furniture and the visual arts. Developed in Europe, the movement celebrated "art for art's sake" and emphasized fluid, undulating shapes inspired by nature. Its decorative, ornamental style led to individualized furnishings as well as Antonio Gaudi's architecture and paintings by Gustav Klimt and Toulouse-Lautrec. Collectible home accessories in the same style are Lalique glassware and Tiffany lamps

Organic Forms

  • Art Nouveau is based on organic forms meant to evoke nature. Instead of sharp lines and right angles, the style features gentle arches, elongated curves and fluid-looking edges that flow together. The look can present challenges, especially when dealing with flat tables and chair legs. Art Nouveau furniture overcomes the straight lines with chair and table legs that bow gracefully instead of standing stick-straight. Bookcases and cabinets are designed to feature tree-like limbs that appear supple and asymmetrical, rather than rigid or uniform. Organic, relaxed forms and naturalistic principles are the central characteristics of furnishings in the Art Nouveau style.

Whiplash Curves and Subtle Colors

  • Elongated and exaggerated curves, called whiplash curves by fans of the look, set Art Nouveau apart from other furniture styles. Art Nouveau designers used extreme or exaggerated curves on everything from glass bowls to concrete buildings. Often the inlaid designs or patterns resemble swirls and plumes of smoke or rippling water. Carved paneling and stylized patterns are typical of the look, as are elaborate wrought iron details that appear as woven vines that drip with tendrils. The delicate ornamental look is offset by the style's general emphasis on modern materials, such as glass and metal. To unify the look, the Art Nouveau color palette features soft, luminescent neutrals and earthy pastels, such as mauve, lilac and salmon.

Flowing Plant Forms

  • Idealized, illustrated botanicals and animal life are another significant characteristic of Art Nouveau. The motifs, drawn entirely from nature, include highly-stylized florals and sinuous vines that form repeating patterns. Chair backs, cabinet doors and tables legs feature embellishments, such as inlaid tiles or basic relief carvings of birds, insects, peacock feathers and deep-sea organisms. Metallic trim, on cabinet door handles, clock faces and picture frames also evoke entwined tree branches and filigreed foliage. Sofa and chair fabrics, typically made with a high degree of sheen, often feature elongated pale irises and lilies.

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