“Primarily a movement in decoration and applied design at the end of the 19th century. Its influence spread through Europe and pervaded painting, architecture, and, ultimately, even music and literature before fading with the advent of World War I. Occurring in reaction to the eclecticism of the 19th century, art nouveau was hailed as totally original and unprecedented. Central to the aesthetic was organic fluidity, evoked by the plantlike or serpentine curves that are its hallmark. In Germany art nouveau was called Jugendstil (‘youth style’), after the journal Jugend (1896); other contemporary reviews reflecting the trend and its shaping influences were Pan (1895-1900), Beardsley’s Yellow Book (1894) and Ver Sacrum (1898), the organ of the Vienna Secession. In painting, the works of Klimt and the Belgian Henry van de Velde (1863-1957) are exemplary, but numerous other artists were caught up in the movement. The ornate Spanish buildings of Antonio Gaudi and the Paris Metro stations of Hector Guimard (1867-1942) are the most famous architectural manifestations. The posters of Theophile Steinlen (1852-1923), the stage designs of Leon Bakst (1866-1924), the illustrations of Aubrey Beardsley, and the glassware of Louis Tiffany are all outstanding decorative applications of art nouveau. Ultimately, the movement deteriorated to a trite and superficial fashion, but its influence continues to be seen in surviving artifacts and occasional revivals of art nouveau decoration.”
Excerpted from: Murphy, Bruce, ed. Benet’s Reader’s Encyclopedia, Fourth Edition. New York: Harper Collins, 1996.