Can you tell the difference?
Do you ever wander around an antique fair or take a look on line and see antiques described as Art Nouveau and Art Deco? I do and it often makes me smile as the dealers selling these items often have the wrong one of these two styles written down. I admit that when I first started learning about antiques I found it a bit confusing too.
Fashions and Styles are constantly changing and evolving. Sometimes they flow into each and other times there is an abrupt change . Sometimes they pass by into oblivion and with others they are so distinct that they can be named and identified. Lovers of old stuff will find that these two styles from the later 1800s and early 1900s which are quite important to us. Its important to know the difference so that we can tell how old the thing we are looking at is and so help us to value it.
To go into depth about both styles would fill books never mind a blog post but there are 3 simple guideline which will help us to tell the difference:
1. Curves vs Angles
Art Nouveau is about curves and Art Deco about straight lines and angles. If there are lots of curves in the design such as in the lady brooch to the left you are talking Art Nouveau. If the design in very square or triangular then its Art Deco such as in the picture to the left . The brooch above is Art Nouveau as you can see from the curves.
The Art Nouveau era came first , we see pieces in this style from circa 1880s to 1910’s. During the 1910’s the style became a little more angular and is sometimes known as transitional .
The Art Deco style ran from circa 1920 to circa 1940s with some 1950s pieces still showing the influence.
Note: Both of these sets of dates are approximate. Style does not start on a specific date and end on another. It takes time to get fashionable , time to spread round the country and time to fade out again. Communications make this process much faster today than it was in the past. Also these dates are for the first time the style was popular . There have been revivals since such as 1970s art nouveau and 1980s art deco influenced design. So a piece with art nouveau design could be much later than the true art nouveau era and the same applies to art deco.
3. Colour pallet and materials
This one is a bit more subtle but the two style had different colour ways and some of the materials used were not available during the nouveau era . Bakelite is a good example of this.
Art nouveau stones were pearls, turquoise and moonstones. Also peacock colours of blue and green shaded into each other. These colours are quite romantic. Art Deco stones are much bolder with more primary colours :Black, white, emerald green, bright red, orange and yellow
Dates: Circa 1890 to 1914 (These dates are approximate ) It was starting to fade by circa 1910 but the outbreak of world war 1 finished it off completely.
Inspirations/ Features: Naturalistic forms, nature. It was an art form which could be applied to all objects from the smallest brooch to architectural doorways and arches.
Whiplash curves, flowing locks on beautiful ladies, Sinuous flowers with leaves and tendrils, Seedpods and buds flowed into each other and covered pieces.
Largely paler colours and daintier lighter pieces than the Victorian era. Enamelling, pearls, turquoises, moonstones, opals, diamonds were popular in a move against large precious gems of the 1800s.
If you are looking at a piece and trying to decide if it is art nouveau then look for long flowing curves within the design. These can be symmetrical or asymmetrical , asymmetrical tends to date to 1900 and before with more symmetrical designs from 1900 onwards.
Dates: From about 1920 to about 1940 but the influence can be seen in 1940s too. World war 2 prevented any real innovation and so the angular shapes remain. The high art deco was 1920s and it tended to become more floral in the 30s.
Inspirations / Features: Geometric and angular shapes. Squares, triangles, pyramids, Oblongs anything with sharp angles. Steps and where there are curves they tend to be semicircular or circular. Bright primary colours Red, white, yellow, blue, green, black plus Orange. Nothing natural about this more machine age . Shiny surfaces of chrome and glass. Motifs of angular aeroplanes , trains and cars.
Deco evolved through the 1930s and became more homely and floral – at this time think Chintz.