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A New Style for a New Age
Art Nouveau, 1890-1914, explores a new style in the visual arts and architecture that developed in Europe and North America at the end of the nineteenth century. The exhibition is divided into three sections: the first focuses on the 1900 World's Fair in Paris, where Art Nouveau was established as the first new decorative style of the twentieth century; the second examines the sources that influenced the style; and the third looks at its development and fruition in major cities in Europe and North America.

At its height exactly one hundred years ago, Art Nouveau was a concerted attempt to create an international style based on decoration. It was developed by a brilliant and energetic generation of artists and designers, who sought to fashion an art form appropriate to the modern age. During this extraordinary time, urban life as we now understand it was established. Old customs, habits, and artistic styles sat alongside new, combining a wide range of contradictory images and ideas. Many artists, designers, and architects were excited by new technologies and lifestyles, while others retreated into the past, embracing the spirit world, fantasy, and myth.

Art Nouveau was in many ways a response to the Industrial Revolution. Some artists welcomed technological progress and embraced the aesthetic possibilities of new materials such as cast iron. Others deplored the shoddiness of mass-produced machine-made goods and aimed to elevate the decorative arts to the level of fine art by applying the highest standards of craftsmanship and design to everyday objects. Art Nouveau designers also believed that all the arts should work in harmony to create a "total work of art," or Gesamtkunstwerk: buildings, furniture, textiles, clothes, and jewelry all conformed to the principles of Art Nouveau.


Text for the Introduction to Art Nouveau written by Paul Greenhalgh, Head of Research, Victoria and Albert Museum, London, and Mari Griffith, department of exhibition programs, National Gallery of Art.
Text ©2000 Victoria and Albert Museum, London.


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