One of the many striking design features of Paris is the unique shape of several metro station entrances, which look like plants gently curving above the stairs:
Designed by Hector Guimard in 1900, these entrances are one of the best-known examples of a movement in European arts and design called Art Nouveau, which means “new art” in French. While it only lasted from about 1890 to 1910, Art Nouveau influenced almost every part of European life, from furniture and everyday objects to entire buildings, as well as fine arts, advertising, and jewelry. Many of its best examples can still be seen today in major European cities.
How do you spot Art Nouveau? Here are its key features:
– Curving lines inspired by the stems of plants
– An organic look and flowing design inspired by natural growth
– A degree of abstraction and stylization in the design, i.e. not trying to look like real plants
– A degree of simplicity in the design, i.e. not crowded with many decorations
The easiest way is to become familiar with the look, starting with a bedroom set by Gustave Serrurier-Bovy from 1899:
And a chair by Hector Guimard from 1903:
Many Art Nouveau buildings can be found in Brussels, Budapest, Paris, or Prague, but one of the most striking houses you can still visit today is the Casa Batlló in Barcelona, designed by architect Antoni Gaudí and built between 1904 and 1906:
For crystal work and jewelry, two major names stand out: Lalique and Daum, from the names of the founders of companies that still exist today. Here is a vintage brooch by Lalique:
And a crystal dish by Daum:
In terms of visual arts, Czech artist Alfons Mucha is one of the most important representatives of Art Nouveau. Here is a poster he designed in 1897:
So, if it is from the 1890-1910 period and if it uses flowing curves inspired by nature in a stylized way, chances are it’s Art Nouveau.