Art Nouveau

Art Nouveau: History and Famous Artists

Art Nouveau was an art movement that took place in Europe and United States, that spanned from the 1890s until the 1910s. It is defined by its decorative, ornamental style and its influence on architecture and the applied arts.

Prominent artists of the era include Alphonse Mucha, Gustav Klimt and Aubrey Beardsley.

In this guide, learn about the Art Nouveau movement. Including the most famous artists of the movement, the history and important facts.

What is Art Nouveau?

Art Nouveau is an art movement and style that took place in the late 19th century and early 20th century.

The style diverged from artistic tradition; aesthetically, art from the period has flowing lines, organic shapes and patterns. Additionally, artists began focussing on applied arts such as printmaking rather than traditional techniques.

Artists began experimenting with different mediums such as woodblock and linocut, to create graphics that appeared simplified and less realistic compared to styles from previous art movements. 


Art Nouveau was popular between 1890 and 1910. It was a movement that took place over a relatively short period of time and ended during the First World War, when the Art Deco movement was popularised.


The precursors to the movement were William Morris of the arts and crafts movement and the Symbolists, who admired nature and the pursuit of beauty. There are also clear influences from the Rococo period, which focussed on the decorative arts, flowing lines, pastel colours and themes of frivolity. William Morris inspired artists from the Art Nouveau period to explore applied arts and techniques like Lithography and poster making. As a result, this blurred the line between the appreciation that people had for fine art and applied arts.

Gustav Klimt: Musik Lithograph

The movement began in Paris but quickly spread to other European cities such as Vienna, Brussels and Glasgow, where Charles Rennie Macintosh was a prominent figure.

The movement was at its peak between 1890 to 1910, and during this time, it had a huge influence in architecture and the applied arts.

Antoni Gaudí: Casa Batlló

Gaudí was a notable architect in this period, who created whimsical and dreamlike structures.

The Art Nouveau movement began as a reaction to Impressionism and Realism. Artists sought to create something new by combining traditional craftsmanship with modern techniques. They wanted art to be more expressive and decorative, often using materials like ink, stained glass, and wrought iron.

Important facts about Art Nouveau

1. Art Nouveau was created in opposition to traditional art styles, making it an avant-garde movement.

2. The term ‘art nouveau’ translates to new art in French.

3. Art Nouveau influenced the interior design of the time.

4. Posters were a key element of the Art Nouveau movement, with prominent artists such as Alphonse Mucha creating large scale posters for exhibitions and advertisements.

5. The style was used to decorate buildings and objects, as well a pieces of art that were sold commercially.

Characteristics and style

Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec: At the Moulin Rouge, La Goulue with Her Sister

Nature, such as plants and animals, were a huge influence on Art Nouveau, with its use of organic shapes. Artists like Alphonse Mucha used sinuous curves to create delicate compositions and repeated patterns. Other artists such as Gustav Klimt were inspired by Japanese art and applied its principles to their own works. The style also had an influence on architecture, with buildings decorated with intricate mosaics and stained glass windows.

Famous artists

Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec

Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec: Jane Avril Dancing

Initially a French Post-Impressionist artist, Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec is credited for helping to define the Art Nouveau style. He was known for his posters and lithographs which featured bright colours and bold shapes. His paintings of Parisian nightlife were particularly popular during the time.

Visual Hierarchy
Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec: At the Moulin Rouge, The Dance

He was inspired by Japanese woodblock prints and the art of French Impressionist Edgar Degas.

Toulouse-Lautrec was born into French aristocracy and produced 373 over the course of his lifetime. Half of his works fall into the Post-Impressionism style and the other half can be categorised as Art Nouveau.

Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec: Jane Avril

Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec’s works were inspired by the cabarets, dancers and entertainment around the neighbourhood of Montmartre, Paris. He painted many popular dancers and entertainers of the time, including Jane Avril and May Belfort.

It was from his posters and illustrations where Toulouse-Lautrec began to reject traditional mediums of oil on canvas and began to develop his own original style. His first poster Moulin Rouge—La Goulue remains to be one of his most famous works.

Alphonse Mucha

art nouveau
Alphonse Mucha: Zodiac

Mucha was a Czech painter, illustrator and graphic artist who produced some of the best-known Art Nouveau works. He is most known for his commercial posters such as Job Cigarettes, Moet & Chandon Champagne and Gismonda, which featured the famous actress Sarah Bernhardt.

Mucha used his art to create a sense of national pride in Bohemia during a period when the country was under Austro-Hungarian rule. Mucha often featured images of women with floral motifs and decorative borders.

Alphonse Mucha: Sarah Bernhardt

He gained recognition in Paris when he created the poster Sarah Bernhardt which featured the actress depicted her body draped in flowing fabric and her head framed by a halo of flowers. This poster became an instant success and Mucha’s fame quickly spread throughout Europe.

Gustav Klimt

Gustav Klimt: Portrait of Adele Bloch-Bauer I

Klimt was an Austrian Symbolist painter and a leading figure of the Art Nouveau movement. He is best known for his paintings The Kiss and Portrait of Adele Bloch-Bauer I which featured intricate patterns, gold leafing, and vivid colors. This remains to be one of the most famous portrait paintings in history. His paintings often featured motifs such as figures in landscapes, animals and plants. The Kiss remains as one of the most famous paintings in art history.

Similarities can be drawn between art from the Middle East, Byzantine mosaics and Japanese woodblock prints. This suggests that Klimt had a range of influences in his work. He drew inspiration from mythology and folk tales as well as his own imagination. His works often featured a dreamlike quality that was characteristic of the Art Nouveau movement.

He was also an important figure in the Vienna Secession movement which helped to promote modern art and architecture in Austria.

Aubrey Beardsley

Aubrey Beardsley: The Peacock Skirt

Beardsley was an English illustrator and art critic who is best known for his black-and-white illustrations which often featured grotesque figures and erotic themes. His works were highly influential during the Art Nouveau period, with many of his illustrations appearing in magazines such as The Savoy and The Yellow Book.

Beardsley was heavily influenced by Japanese woodblock prints and his illustrations often featured elongated figures, stylised flowers and curving lines. He often used black ink to create bold shapes and patterns, which made his works stand out from the rest of Art Nouveau pieces.

Louis Comfort Tiffany

Louis Comfort Tiffany: Magnolia and Irises

Best known for his stained glass windows, vases and lamps, Louis Comfort Tiffany was an American artist and designer. He worked with iridescent glass to create his signature works which often featured geometric patterns, floral motifs, and nature scenes.

He was also known for his innovative use of light and colour which helped to create a luminous effect in his works.


The Art Nouveau movement was a groundbreaking style that changed the way people viewed art and design. From painting to jewellery , the artistic styles of Mucha, Klimt, Beardsley, Tiffany and Lalique helped to create a new aesthetic that blended influences from nature with modern techniques. Through their works, these artists challenged traditional views of art and opened up a world of possibilities for future generations. Their creative legacy continues to inspire artists today.