a new style | world's fair | sources | nature | the city
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
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.
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.