Furniture Styles

Furniture > European > French > Art Nouveau

Art Nouveau Furniture

1878 - 1905

The rise of art nouveau furniture dates its origin from 1878, when a body of enthusiastic architects in Vienna, led by the Wagner, produced a style of design arising from the use of natural floral forms and an opposition to straight lines.

Art Nouveau Chair
Art Nouveau Chair, 1900.
Carved walnut, upholstered in embossed and stained leather.
This dining chair was shown at the Paris Exhibition of 1900 by the enrepreneur and art dealer Siegfried (Samuel) Bing. In 1895 Bing founded a gallery in Paris, which he called 'L'Art Nouveau', which showed modern design.

The underlying principles of art nouveau furniture were based upon nature forms, and eventually introduced designs which suggested the Gothic as well as Japanese curved and sinuous tree trunks and idealized, elongated and exaggerated vines, and long beautiful curves and series of perplexing and confusing spirals and corkscrew terminals, which perhaps were not always suitable for furniture.

Display Case
Display Case, 1900.
Oak, with metal and glass.
The glass top showcase shows the spare, abstract motifs, based on natural forms, that were the hallmark of the style. Art Nouveau furniture was often made in tropical hardwoods, with very delicate carving. On this display case, the same motifs have been carried out in a more substantial fashion on the oak stand, which would withstand heavy use in a popular commercial gallery.

Art nouveau style furniture came to most attention at the Paris Exposition in 1900. In the Exhibition we see the full flowering of naturalistic principles. Motifs are the root of the tree, trunk, branches, leaves and vines twisted into all sorts of shapes.

Art Nouveau Armchair
Art Nouveau Armchair, 1900.
Carved walnut, stained green; back and seat covered with embroidered and painted mauve satin with a fringe.
This is by the cabinet-maker Louis Majorelle, one of the most influential designers of the Art Nouveau movement. The design is carefully wrought to give the effect of flowing, branch like forms.

Early expressions of the style were bold and often extravagant, but later pieces show a definite development of a really beautiful mode. Possibly the "curly furniture", as it has been termed, was a protest against the severely classical Napoleonic designs of the period of French reproduction furniture, but Art Nouveau was more than a protest. It was distinctly original and frequently daring, without offending the artistic instinct. In its more extravagant mood, all attempt at regular outline seems to have been abandoned, and the furniture is designed without regard to problems of construction.

Fire Screen
Fire Screen, 1900, by Emile Charles Martin Galle.
Ash, with applied floral decoration and marquetry in various woods; back veneered with maple.

Typical Art Nouveau furniture, as made in Paris, was unlikely to become popular in the widest sense of the word due to its considerable expense. Its curved lines were costly, and its irregularities, in which its beauty so largely consisted, force costs up at every stage of making. But the Art Nouveau movement became the parent of an original style in furniture, which retained the original ideals whilst eliminating the costly details. This is specially true regarding the effect of Art Nouveau on the furniture of England and America.

Later, in the early twentieth century, Art Deco furniture emerged as a reaction against this new art.

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