The idea of creating a new art, in the sense of a new artistic form, appeared very early, at the end of the 18th century and preoccupied theoreticians and artists throughout the 19th century. It was Johann Heinrich Füssli (1741-1825), a British Romantic writer and painter, who introduced the new forms, premises of the intensive use of the arabesque and the curved line by the Art Nouveau style.
Art Nouveau - called Tiffany in the United States, Arts and Crafts in England, Jugenstil in Germany, Stile Liberty in Italy, is an international art style. Its popularity between 1890 and 1910 was a reaction against the late 19th century academic art.
Art Nouveau, an ornamental style of art, was aimed at modernizing design, seeking to escape the eclectic historical styles that dominated much of 19th-century art and design. Artists drew inspiration from both organic and geometric forms, evolving elegant designs that united flowing and natural forms.
The emphasis of curved lines took precedence over color. The movement was committed to abolishing the traditional hierarchy of the arts, and was employed in architecture, interior design, jewelry, furniture, textiles, silver, lighting, fine arts and illustration.
The core of the new style was its rejection of industrial society. In all of the arts and crafts, from architecture and furniture, to graphics and glass, artists turned instead to the beauty of nature for inspiration.
The English art critic John Ruskin placed nature at the heart of aesthetic and ethical life. For Ruskin’s followers, as for the Art Nouveau decorators, nature replaced historicism and proposed an universal language available to all. In the pantheistic theories, man was no longer separated from nature. Thus, Art Nouveau could mix human and natural forms, in a new vision of the universe. The "new art" had an increased interest in the natural world and a true cult of nature, studied in its most various forms.
In France, Grassat defined the Art Nouveau style in his 1896 "La Plante et ses applications ornamentales" (The plants and their ornamental applications). The purpose was for him to find as many uses in design for different flowers and plants as possible.
Sources of Art Nouveau included Baudelaire and Mallarmé poetry. Another influence was the Symbolist movement, which emphasized the spiritual and sensual in opposition to the increasingly scientific bias of the new century. Art Nouveau honoured women, who were placed in erotic, mystical and occult situations. The woman was explored through posters, illustrations, sculptures, lamps and furniture. Among the most popular themes : the diabolical beauty, the sensual and the melancholic woman.
Famous, the leading names of the Belle Epoque are known worldwide: Daum, Gallé, Mucha, Majorelle, Horta, Gaudi, Guimard, Lalique, Grasset, Bugatti, Thonet... But many other artists and decorators working around 1900 were drawn by the Art Nouveau ideals: Mary Golay, Émile Vernier or Marcel Debut.
These artists embraced modern methods and invented new techniques of painting, drawing, carving, porcelain and glass working. One of the most famous inventions of the late 19th century was the bentwood furniture by Thonet.
The portraits, compositions and interior scenes were composed of dynamic, undulating lines, flat-colours and asymmetrical shapes. Each emphasized organic forms from the natural world.
Art Nouveau was a worldwide "total" art style. The 1900 Paris Exposition was the high point for the développement of the "new art". In 1900, 50 million visitors from all around the world saw showcased Art Nouveau architecture, design, ceramic, glass, furniture and decorative objects.
After the exhibition, France remained the center of the movement. Art Nouveau style went out of fashion before the First World War, and was replaced by Art Deco in the 1920s.