Art Nouveau Architecture: Understanding Its Defining Features and Style

Art Nouveau architecture flourished as a decorative building style between the 1890s to the early 1910s. It was prominent in Europe and the United States. Art Nouveau architecture is a style that is recognizable for its use of natural themes, stained glass, and its broad use of arches and curves.

Art Nouveau architecture

This architectural style was part of a larger movement in all forms of art. It was short-lived, but it dominated the art scene while it lasted. It also made a lasting impression and influenced other art movements throughout later decades.

What is Art Nouveau?

Art Nouveau Architecture
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The Art Nouveau movement came on the heels of the industrial age. During the early 19th century, designers were used to conforming to strict patterns of style in both architecture and design. Artists and critics like John Ruskin in England criticized the imitative and traditional rules that had dominated art and architecture for many years.

According to the Victoria & Albert Museum in London, the artists of Art Nouveau were “filled with a passionate urge to revolutionize the tired historicism in architecture and design.” Thus, Art Nouveau design was a departure from the previous defined and historic style. The term Art Nouveau means “new art” and came from a Parisian art gallery owned by Siegfried Samuel Bing called Maison de L’Art Nouveau. This style was prominent in other areas of Europe but was known under other names.

Art Nouveau architects looked to nature for their inspiration. These architects used inspirations from nature to inform every aspect of the design from hand railings to the shape of the windows. The Art Nouveau style informed the exterior of the building, but interior Art Nouveau architecture was also considered important. There was Art Nouveau wallpaper, furniture, and tableware that was designed to heighten the overall experience of the design.

Related: What was the Arts and Crafts Movement?

Art Nouveau’s Legacy

Art Nouveau as an artistic and architectural movement was brief, lasting just under 25 years. One reason that it faded was the high cost of the building construction. Also, the start of World War I led to the need for more utility and ease of building. This later morphed into the Art Deco movement.

Yet, Art Nouveau has had a lasting impact on art styles of other decades. For example, Art Nouveau themes were later used in both Pop Art and Optical Art of the mid-20th century and in the psychedelic movement of the 1960s. It also became recognized as a Modern art movement with major exhibitions at the Museum of Modern Art in New York and at the Musee D’Art Moderne in Paris. These elevated what some saw as a passing phase to a true artistic movement that was unique for its time.

Art Nouveau Architecture Characteristics

Art Nouveau Architecture Characteristics

Art nouveau architecture, like the other art examples of this style, have distinct characteristics.

  • Use of natural and organic themes for decorations to create beauty and increase the dramatic style of the building. These included the use of plants, flowers, and the female form.
  • Asymmetrical elements throughout the design
  • Use of arches and curves; notice the use of whiplash curves that create an overall look of movement
  • Decorative stained glass
  • Inspired by Japonisme, or the influence of Japanese themed woodcuts
  • Use of jeweled tones and brilliant gold
  • Immersive design for the exterior and interior of the building

Art Nouveau Architecture Examples

Here are a few classic examples of Art Nouveau architecture found throughout Europe and the United States.

Paris Metro – Paris, Frances

Paris Metro - Paris, Frances

From 1900-1913, Hector Guimard designed this and other Paris metro entrances. He uses stylized wrought iron shaped into drooping flowers and intertwined vines. His use of the Art Nouveau style helped popularize it in Parisian culture. It also offered a welcome differentiation from the regular Haussmann architecture so standard throughout the city.

The Applied Arts Museum – Budapest, Hungary

The Applied Arts Museum - Budapest, Hungary
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The Applied Arts Museum in Budapest was designed by Hungarian architect Odon Lechner in 1896. It features an intricate green and yellow tiled roof with gorgeous domes and delicate spires.

The wall facades feature distinct colors of brick to create designs that feature arched and floral motifs.

The Gresham Palace – Budapest, Hungary

The Gresham Palace interior

The Gresham Palace Hotel was designed in 1906 by an architecture firm run by Zsigmund Quittner. It was designed for the Gresham Insurance Company of London to replace another structure and create a more imposing presence.

The building suffered a decline during the war years. It was bought by the Four Seasons in 2011 and turned into a luxury hotel.

Hotel Tassel – Brussels, Belgium

Hotel Tassel - Brussels, Belgium

Victor Orth designed the Tassel House beginning in 1892. While the exterior of the home was more conventional in style, the interior spaces show true Art Nouveau innovation.

The interior of this staircase shows the whiplash curves in the wrought iron balusters under the handrail. This detail is mirrored in the wall decorations that move up the stairway.

Stairway of the Riga Art Nouveau Museum – Riga, Latvia

Stairway of the Riga Art Nouveau Museum - Riga, Latvia

Riga, Latvia is one of the best cities to see examples of Art Nouveau architecture. The Riga Art Nouveau Museum used to be the Peksens House. Here, you can see a glorious example of elaborate Art Nouveau styling.

Guaranty Building – Buffalo, New York

Guaranty Building - Buffalo, New York

Louis Sullivan was one of the most famous American Art Nouveau architects. He designed and built this gorgeous Guaranty Building from 1984-1896.

The building has a facade of terracotta with intricate and elaborate detailing.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ)FAQ

What is the difference between the Art Nouveau and the Arts and Crafts movements?

The Arts and Crafts movement was a precursor to Art Nouveau. The Arts and Crafts movement used stylized natural motifs similar to Art Nouveau, but they were more regular and less sinuous and asymmetrical in design style.

What was the Art Nouveau movement called in different countries?

Art Nouveau design style was represented throughout many countries in Europe and in the United States. In France, Art Nouveau was also known as Style Jules Verne, Le Style Métro, Le Style moderne, and Le Style nouille. In Germany, it was called Jugendstil (Youth Style) and in Austria, Sezessionstil. In Spain, Art Nouveau was part of the Modernista movement.

What are the dominant color themes in Art Nouveau?

Artists of the Art Nouveau loved color. Many artists like Louis Comfort Tiffany and Klimt loved jewel tones and gold. Others like Alphonse Mucha loved warm tones that were soft and muted. Overall, warm tones and ivory take precedence over cool tones and stark white.


Art Nouveau architecture is unlike any other building style before or after it. It exemplifies an important period in art in the years before World War I.

It lasted a brief 25 years, but buildings in the Art Nouveau style are prized in Europe and the United States for their unique and elaborate style.