Art Nouveau – Concept, characteristics, architecture and works

We explain what Art Nouveau is, its characteristics, architecture and most representative works. Also, Art Nouveau in Mexico.

art nouveau klimt
Art Nouveau was not looking for a realistic representation.

What is Art Nouveau?

Art Nouveau (from the French “new art“) is the name that was given in France (and Belgium) at the end of the 19th century to what we now call Modernism. That is, it is one of the many names that this aesthetic trend, born in Europe and the United States, received during the period of the fin de siècle (“End of the century”) and belle epoque (“Beautiful time”), that is, between 1890 and 1910 approximately.

Other names for the same movement, assigned depending on each country, are Jugendstil (Germany), Nieuwe Kunst (Netherlands), Sezession (Austria), Modern Style (United Kingdom and United States) and Floreale (Italy).

In general, all these terms have in common the idea that a “new”, “young” art was made, adapted to the industrial age and the contemporary world, and far removed from the prevailing traditions until then: academicism (historicism or eclecticism ) or rupturism (realism or impressionism).

It was an artistic trend of renewal, highly influenced by the idea of ​​progress and freedom., that the future of humanity “had already begun.” He had an important presence both in painting and sculpture, as well as in architecture, graphic arts, decorative arts and urban furniture design.

We should not confuse, however, Modernism or Art Nouveau with modern art, which is a much broader category (within which Art Nouveau itself is contained); nor with literary Modernism, which was a movement with similar characteristics typical of Spanish American letters.

It is easy to make these mistakes, since in French and English it is called respectively modernism or modernism to the avant-garde or to modern art itself.

Nor should we confuse Art Nouveau with Art Deco, a later trend that inherited many of its characteristics.

Characteristics of Art Nouveau

Art Nouveau was characterized by the following:

  • Strong inspiration in nature for its forms, especially in the vegetal, combined with materials typical of the industrial era, such as steel and glass.
  • Preference for curved line and asymmetry, as well as by the aestheticization of the motifs, far from a realistic representation.
  • A certain fascination for exotic motifs, like oriental designs, as well as graceful and delicate female figures.
  • Tendency to sensuality and eroticism, and fill all the available space of the work (horror vacui).
  • Undertake own artistic techniques, such as mechanical reproduction, woodcut, poster, and so on.
  • The hierarchy between major arts and minor or decorative arts disappears. Thus a democratization of art and beauty.

Most representative works of Art Nouveau

art nouveau sculpture the goddess ayats
The goddess, by Josep Llimona i Bruguera, is located in Barcelona.

Some of the most representative works of Art Nouveau were:


  • The kiss (1908) by Gustav Klimt (1862-1918).
  • The dream of the pomegranate (1913) by Felice Casorati (1883-1963).
  • Cupid at the costume ball (1887) by Franz Stuck (1863-1928).


  • Maiden Fountain (1931) by Josep Llimona i Bruguera (1863-1934).
  • The goddess (1909) by Josep Clarà i Ayats (1878-1958).
  • Hex (1896) by Philippe Wolfers (1858-1929).

Art Nouveau architecture

art nouveau architecture casa batlo gaudi
Art Nouveau architecture incorporated new materials.

Art Nouveau in architecture represented a major break with European tradition: it abandoned the church and the palace and was dedicated to the plaza, museum, dwelling, theater or office building.

The basic idea was that architecture should face a restart, and should reflect the economic values ​​of capitalism and its productive forces. This implied the more profitable use of traditional materials (stone, brick, wood) and the incorporation of new materials such as cast iron, glass and cement.

Some of the most representative architectural works of Art Nouveau are:

  • The facade of Casa Batlló by Antonio Gaudí (1852-1926).
  • The building of the Central Train Station in Prague, by Josef Fanta (1856-1954).
  • The Otto Wulf building in Buenos Aires, by Morten F. Rönnow (1877-1972).

Art Nouveau in Mexico

art nouveau mexico city palace of fine arts
Art Nouveau was used to aesthetically modernize Mexico City.

Art Nouveau arrived in Mexico during the Porfiriato (1876-1911), as part of the attempts of the society of the time to modernize itself aesthetically and connect with its European industrial investors.

Its impact was notorious in the architecture of Mexico City, where it had to coexist with the traditional neoclassical of most of the facades, then decorated with motifs and fittings that imitate the shape of the plants, and that hide the Art Nouveau interior of many buildings.

Some of the most famous Art Nouveau buildings in Mexico are:

  • The Grand Hotel of Mexico City (1896-1897), by Jacques Gruber (1870-1936).
  • The building of the Palacio de Hierro in Mexico City (1918-1921), by Paul Dubois (1874-1953).
  • The Palace of Fine Arts in Mexico City (1934), by Adamo Boari (1863-1928) and Federico Mariscal (1829-1905).