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The Sources of Art Nouveau
Clock Wishing to create a new style appropriate for the modern age, Art Nouveau artists, designers, and architects turned to a wide range of sources for inspiration. They adapted and transformed unfamiliar historical sources in order to achieve a modern look. These ranged from Celtic and Viking designs, admired for their intricate linear patterns, to the delicate, curvilinear rococo style of the eighteenth century. Designers often gravitated toward the indigenous art of their own country: in Norway Henrik Bull drew from early Norwegian Viking art, while in France artists were influenced by the French rococo style.

The art of non-European cultures, such as Japan, China, and the Islamic world, also held a strong appeal for Art Nouveau artists and designers. After Japan established commercial contact with Europe and America in the 1850s, Japanese goods flooded the market, becoming immensely popular and offering artists an alternative to established European styles. Japanese woodblock prints inspired the dynamic lines, flat color patterns, and stylized organic forms of Art Nouveau. The art of Islamic countries, admired for its technical brilliance and elegant patterns, was also influential, as is evident in the work of the Italian designer Carlo Bugatti.

Armchair Closer to home, the ideas of some immediate artistic forebears in Britain and France had a great impact on Art Nouveau practitioners. In Britain the Pre-Raphaelite brotherhood, the arts and crafts movement, and the aesthetic movement were all important precursors. In response to the uniformity and shoddiness of goods produced in the wake of the Industrial Revolution, designer William Morris emphasized the value of fine craftsmanship and individual creativity within the decorative arts, a view also embraced by Art Nouveau designers. In France and Belgium, symbolist artists were of seminal importance: reacting against the materialism of the modern age, they chose to explore the inner world of the psyche and spirit and to make myth, dreams, and religion their subject matter.


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