Sandwiched between the beginning and end of the Arts and Crafts movement–which occurred around 1880 – 1920–Art Nouveau was a very short-lived period of design. In stark contrast to the more rigid rectilinear designs of previous periods, the artists and architects of the Art Nouveau period focused on lines and shapes that more closely resembled the elements found in nature.
Some of the more common features of the movement include rosettes, curling vines, flowers and plants, and birds–doves and sparrows, in particular. In fact, furniture (as well as all other art) of the Art Nouveau period commonly has no straight lines at all.
Beyond its emphasis on curvilinear, natural shapes, Art Nouveau style can also be identified by its fine, high-shine finish, complex and intricately detailed accents, asymmetry, and beautiful “whiplash curves”–curving lines that bend back on themselves. Additionally, pieces commonly have heavily embroidered tapestry fabric, mohair, or leather upholstery in an array of gem tones and pastel, natural colors.
Although often called the “first modern style,” Art Nouveau, in many ways, is suggestive of other well-known design periods and styles, such as Gothic and Japanese. These influences can be seen in the heavy reliance on stylized elements of nature, such as trees and other plants. Art Nouveau does, however, noticeably deviate from previous design periods, as well as the periods and styles that were soon to emerge. More expensive Art Nouveau furniture was quickly replaced by cheaper, mass-produced styles that resulted from World War I’s rapid advances in manufacturing technology.