Art Nouveau

Influences & Inspirations


As the new style of Art Nouveau emerged, the movement became known by different names across Europe: Art Nouveau or Jugendstil, Modernista, Secession, Glasgow Style, stile Liberty, Szecesszió, and stile Floreale. There was some common ground within the different national interpretations. The spirit of the Arts & Crafts movement, as well its designs, moved around Europe. Nature was a universal inspiration in Art Nouveau and treated in complex ways. Insects, crustaceans, reptiles, fish, butterflies, dragonflies, insects, orchids, irises, water lilies, poppies, tulips and many other exotic flora and fauna appeared on glassware, ceramics, interiors and in books and illustrations. The passion for all things Japanese was a trend of the era.

The Arts & Crafts Movement

Textile designer, artist, writer, poet, publisher, architect and socialist William Morris (1834-1896) was the defining figure of the British Arts & Crafts movement. His craftsmanship ideals and use of stylised floral and organic forms resonated with many Art Nouveau artists. Intimately connected to the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood and inspired by the writings of Ruskin, Morris rejected the tawdry production values and dehumanising aspects of industrialisation. In 1888, the Arts and Crafts Exhibition Society (president Walter Crane) held its first shows and C.R. Ashbee set up the Guild and School of Handicraft in London’s east end. Arts and crafts communities spread across Europe, led by individuals such as Sweden’s Carl and Karin Larsson, Helsinki architect Saarinen (designer of the Finnish pavilion in 1900) and the Darmstadt Artists’ Colony in Germany.


Japan’s long period of exclusion from the west ended in the mid 19th century, and from 1862 the work of Japanese craftsmen could be seen at world trade fairs. Woodblock prints, porcelain, textiles and lacquer work had a profound impact on many western art movements, including Art Nouveau. Bamboo, carp, wisteria and cherry blossom became part of the decorative repertoire. Siegfried Bing (1838-1905), a naturalized Frenchman from Hamburg, ran an import-export business from the 1870s and edited the influential monthly journal Le Japon Artistique. In December 1895, he opened a gallery in Paris. The gallery sold jewellery, paintings, ceramics, stained glass, and furniture from designers including Tiffany, Georges de Feure, Eduard Colonna and Eugène Galliard.

World of Nature

The natural world was the most important organic inspiration for Art Nouveau. The sensuous lines and organic forms were designed to communicate the tranquillity and calming affects of nature. The drawings were also analytically accurate, reflecting advances in biological knowledge. Botanical drawings of Henri Bergé were directly transposed onto Daum Frères glassware. Ernst Haeckel (1834-1919) was a German zoologist, a proponent of Darwinism and consultant to the British Challenger expedition, exploring the deep-sea environment. Watercolours and drawings from his journeys and the 1904 publication Kunstformen Der Natur were landmarks in the field of naturalist illustration. They were explicitly referenced by Art Nouveau artists and designers including Emile Gallé and Jugend publisher Georg Hirth.