10 Art Nouveau Artists Who Defined the Movement

The Art Nouveau movement began in 1890 with the goal of modernizing design and abandoning the classical, historical styles that had previously been popular. Art Nouveau artists drew inspiration from natural elements, such as flowers or insects. Curves, asymmetrical forms, and intense colors were other common motifs of the movement. The Art Nouveau aesthetic also appeared in various media, including decorative art, paintings, architecture, and even advertisements.

Art Nouveau’s origins can be traced back to the Arts and Crafts movement, a reaction to the academic art styles of the 19th century. An influx of Japanese woodblock prints that contained floral motifs and strong curves also influenced the style. Art Nouveau remained popular until 1905 but today is considered an important predecessor to Modernism.

The Art Nouveau movement produced many gifted artists specializing in decorative art, architecture, and glass work, including slag glass. Today, much of their work is sought after by collectors and Art Nouveau followers alike. Read on to learn about the notable artists and their impact on Art Nouveau.

Aubrey Beardsley

Lifetime: 1872–1898

Nationality: British

Medium: Illustration art

Famous workThe Dancer’s Reward (Salome)

Aubrey Beardsley’s career, though cut short by the onset of tuberculosis, was notable because of its impressive impact on illustration art. In the seven years he was able to illustrate, Beardsley made a name for himself as one of the most talked-about artists of his time.

His illustration for Oscar Wilde’s play Salome is considered one of the most controversial of the Art Nouveau movement. In his poster, the character Salome holds the head of John the Baptist on a table. This grotesque representation was characteristic of his black ink drawings of the time and solidified his dubious reputation in Art Nouveau.

Aubrey Beardsley, “The Dancer’s Reward (Salome),” 1894.

Gustav Klimt

Lifetime: 1862–1918

Nationality: Austrian

Medium: Painting

Notable work: The Kiss

Before the Art Nouveau movement, Gustav Klimt was recognized for his decorative paintings of historical scenes and figures. These paintings were commissioned to be created on public buildings and would later lead to his “Golden Phase” which lasted from 1903-1909.

In 1897, Klimt co-founded the Vienna Secession, a group of Austrian artists whose mission was to bring the modern European art style to Austria, along with fellow members Koloman Moser, Josef Hoffmann, and Joseph Maria Olbrich. He was elected as the first president of the Vienna Secession because he challenged authority, and his international fame as an Art Nouveau artist led to the Secession’s early success.

Klimt’s primary subject in his Art Nouveau paintings was the female figure. His popular work, The Kiss, is one of the most instantly recognizable examples of his work, and one the few paintings of his that features a man. This piece is a notable work from his “Golden Phase,” which is considered a leading example of the Art Nouveau movement.

Gustav Klimt, “The Kiss,” 1908. Oil painting.

Alphonse Mucha

Lifetime: 1860–1939

Nationality: Czech

Medium: Painting

Famous work: Gismonda

Alphonse Mucha was primarily known for his work on commercial posters and advertisements, though he also dabbled in other mediums such as furniture, theatrical sets, and jewelry. Women were his primary subject, specifically the “new woman,” which celebrated femininity and the socially empowered and engaged woman. Though Mucha rejected the Art Nouveau label, his style was a major influence on the movement.

His lithograph, Gismonda, had a large impact on Art Nouveau. This piece was created for the eponymous Renaissance play by Victorien Sardou. The woman in the poster, Sarah Bernhardt, wears a costume from the fourth and final act of the play. She was the single most influential figure in Mucha’s work.

Alphonse Mucha, “Gismonda,” 1894.

Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec

Lifetime: 1864–1901

Nationality: French

Medium: Painting, drawing

Notable work: At the Moulin Rouge

Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec was the first artist to elevate advertising to the level of fine art, creating a shift in history that acknowledged that an important work of art could be an everyday poster in a nightclub. Unlike other artists of his time, Toulouse-Lautrec did not struggle to make a living. Instead of selling to high-end galleries, he sold to Parisian business owners who profited from his unique vision.

His famous piece, At the Moulin Rouge, depicts the Moulin Rouge cabaret that opened in 1889. This painting marked his early contributions to Art Nouveau and coincided with his influential Moulin Rouge posters. His script writing and exaggerated outlines in these posters and paintings became an emblem of the Art Nouveau movement.

Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec, “At the Moulin Rouge,” 1895. Oil painting.

Egon Schiele

Lifetime: 1890–1918

Nationality: Austrian

Medium: Painting, printmaking

Famous work: Reclining Woman with Green Stockings

Egon Schiele lived a short life, dying of influenza at the age of 28. Though his style was marked by elements of Expressionism, Schiele was heavily influenced by the work of Gustav Klimt. He served as both a friend and a mentor, leading to Schiele’s focus on the female figure.

His work, Reclining Woman With Green Stockings, emphasizes the female form in a traditional yet controversial way due the sexual pose. These unconventional depictions of young women often got Schiele in trouble, landing him in prison in 1912. The woman featured in Reclining Woman is a classic example of Schiele’s style, embracing figural distortion and defying conventional notions of beauty.

Egon Schiele, “Reclining Woman With Green Stockings,” 1917. Oil painting.

Antoni Gaudí i Cornet

Lifetime: 1852–1926

Nationality: Catalan

Medium: Architecture

Notable work: La Sagrada Familia

Antoni Gaudí was an innovative architect who worked predominantly in Barcelona where his Art Nouveau style filled the city. His work was inspired by nature and the Catholic faith, with curved lines and vibrant surfaces that differed from typical architectural styles. Benches in Parc Güell are designed to align with the human spine and the balconies of Casa Mila represent abstractions of leaves and blades of grass. It was this inspiration that separated Gaudí from other styles of the time and distinguished him as a member of Art Nouveau.

His most famous work, La Sagrada Familia, has been under construction since 1882 and is still being worked on to this day. When Gaudí was appointed to work on the church in 1883, he did so knowing he would not live to see the project completed, a representation of his devout faith. When Gaudí died in 1926, the cathedral was only 20% complete. Upon completion, the work will be the tallest basilica in the world.

Antoni Gaudí i Cornet, “La Sagrada Familia,” 1882–present.

Victor Horta

Lifetime: 1861–1947

Nationality: Belgian

Medium: Architecture

Famous work: Hôtel Tassel

Victor Horta was one of the founders of Art Nouveau and known for expanding the movement from visual and decorative arts into architecture. Horta’s work was marked by his understanding of industrial advances with both iron and glass. His buildings featured twisted and bent iron that extended seamlessly from the exterior to the decor.

The Hôtel Tassel, or “Tassel House,” was considered the first Art Nouveau building and one of Horta’s most notable works. This townhouse was built for one his colleagues at the Université Libre de Bruxelles. It combined themes of nature and industry seamlessly, and its iconic stair hall can be viewed from the exterior of the building.

Victor Horta, “Hôtel Tassel,” 1894.

Louis Comfort Tiffany

Lifetime: 1848–1933

Nationality: American

Medium: Painting, decorative art, glass making

Famous work: Education (Chittenden Memorial Window)

Louis Comfort Tiffany was the son of the famous jeweler Charles Lewis Tiffany. Though initially trained in painting, in 1875 he began experimenting with stained glass, and went on to establish his own glass making factory three years later. His work with glass became popular overseas, particularly for the Favrile glass he created.

His most notable work, Education, was a thirty foot wide stained glass window installed in Yale University’s library. It was built in memory of Mary Harwell Lusk, the daughter of one of Yale’s benefactors. The piece was removed in 1970 from the premise as a safety precaution for protests that occured on New Haven Green. As a result, it was later misidentified and then forgotten. This error likely saved the piece from theft years later when the piece that was mislabeled as Tiffany went missing instead.

Louis Comfort Tiffany, “Education,” 1890. Stained-glass window.

Émile Gallé

Lifetime: 1846–1904

Nationality: French

Medium: Glass maker

Famous work: Vases and lamps, “Celebration of Spring

Émile Gallé was a glass maker who founded the École de Nancy, a group dedicated to expanding the reach of Art Nouveau, along with Louis Majorelle. His work was inspired by nature and literature. He would collect and study plants and bugs in his free time for inspiration, pioneering experimental techniques in glass making that he later patented. Many of his work had floral motifs and poems sealed within, written for the owner.

Louis Majorelle

Lifetime: 1859–1926

Nationality: French

Medium: Furniture maker

Famous work: Armchairs, tables, cabinetry

Louis Majorelle co-founded the École de Nancy with Émile Gallé who was a mentor and guide of his work. Before meeting Gallé, Majorelle’s work copied old style furniture, often reviving old pieces. After meeting Gallé, he began to incorporate new shapes and included underlying natural themes into his furniture, which led him to be internationally acclaimed.

Pair of armchairs, Louis Majorelle. $5,000–$7,000 via Sotheby’s. (April 2018)

Art Nouveau’s influence penetrated the realm of art, design, architecture and advertising. With lamps by Tiffany and prints by Toulouse-Lautrec, there are countless ways to incorporate Art Nouveau artists into your collection.


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