Rapid industrialisation during the 19th century generated a construction boom in many European cities. Art Nouveau architecture was a statement of national modernity and aesthetic taste, enabled by the materials - steel, iron and glass - and techniques of industrialisation. Fluid wrought-iron designs and architectural stoneware brought a distinctive and luxurious presence to building facades and bridges.
In Paris, architect and designer Hector Guimard (1867-1942) developed an abstract flowing style and his commissions included the Maison Coilliot in Lille and Castel Béranger in Paris. Guimard's designs for Metro stations in Paris, built for the 1900 Exposition Universelle, combined linear forms with industrial construction methods and they remain world famous today.
Architect and designer Charles Rennie Mackintosh (1868-1928) defined the Glasgow School, along with the Macdonald sisters and Herbert McNair – together, they were known as ‘The Four’. Mackintosh developed his own style, contrasting strong right angles and floral-inspired decorative motifs.
In Mackintosh's design for the interior of the House of an Art Lover in Glasgow, the rose motif frequently occurs in designs such as wallpaper, stained glass windows or furniture details. As with all of Mackintosh's works, the House was intended to be experienced as a unified work of art.
The Palais Stoclet in Brussels was commissioned by banker and art collector Adolphe Stoclet in 1905. It was designed by architect Josef Hoffmann and designed and built from 1905 to 1911.
The villa's decoration features the work of a number of important artists, including Koloman Moser, Gustav Klimt, Frantz Metzner and Richard Luksch. It is the ultimate expression of the Gesamtkunstwerk (‘total work of art’) ideal. Klimt's large-scale preparatory drawing, or cartoon, for the Palais Stoclet is shown below.
Elsewhere in Brussels, architects working in the Art Nouveau idiom included Paul Hankar, Henry van de Velde and Paul Saintenoy, but the most famous was Victor Horta (1861-1947). His work was defined by light, open-plan spaces, glass ceilings and the innovative use of ironwork.
Horta used curved ironwork, inspired by natural forms, in the interiors and on the exteriors of his buildings. His Hotel Solvay and Hotel Tassel commissions exemplify his complete approach to architecture: Horta designed every element, from door handles and furnishings to stained glass windows.
Art Nouveau architects and designers sought to create works which had a consistent visual vocabulary. It was desired that every element of the built environment, inside and out, should be designed in consideration of the whole. The organic contours of the outside of buildings were matched by equally compelling interiors.
The use of vegetal forms in metalwork, often seen in architecture, soon also appeared in silverware, lamps, and decorative items such as the elegant jug illustrated on the left, and the pewter tableware shown below.
In Barcelona, the Catalan form of Art Nouveau was Modernisme and architect Antoni Gaudí (1852-1926) created a highly individual organic style that drew on Gothic and Moorish traditions. Gaudí was appointed director of works for the Sagrada Familía church in 1883.
Gaudí worked on this extraordinary, unique and highly complex project until his death in 1926 and it remains under construction today. Learn more about the Sagrada Família with Dr. Beth Harris & Dr. Steven Zucker from smarthistory in the video below.