Art Nouveau, translated simply as the "New Art," originated in Belgium and then France in the 1880s as highly stylized and ornate, with floral shapes and patterns applied to buildings that feature curved walls and other organic forms. Recalling natural rather than man-made objects, Art Nouveau provided a contrast to the mass production characteristic of the increasingly industrialized urban society found at the turn of the century. Popular through the first two decades of the 20th century, Art Nouveau then became popular in Spain, where it was called modernisme and is seen in the work of Antoni Gaudí; then in Munich and Berlin, where it was called the Jugendstil; and also in Vienna, where it influenced the establishment of the Vienna Secession, or Sezessionsstil, which in turn shared traits with the Arts and Crafts style that had just been introduced in Britain.
   The first "true" Art Nouveau building is the Tassel House in Brussels, built by the Belgian architect Victor Horta in 1892 for science professor Emile Tassel. Here Horta creates a rich environment that blends curved wall surfaces, stained glass windows, mosaics, and even stairwells with uniquely organic iron railings sweeping upward. Both Horta and the Belgian artist Henry van de Velde can be seen as the founders of the Art Nouveau style. Van de Velde, also influenced by the English Arts and Crafts movement, was active in the German Werkbund, where he argued for individuality in design over standardization.
   In 1895 the French architect Hector Guimard went to Belgium and saw the Tassel House. He then returned to Paris to begin working in the Art Nouveau style. Guimard is best known for his Paris metro stations, built between 1899 and 1905. The Porte Dauphine, with a glazed canopy that covers the underground entrance like a bonnet, was built in 1899 and is today the only surviving Art Nouveau closed-roof metro station entrance. The entrances featured green-tinted cast iron railings, light figures, and sign posts that appear to grow out of the ground like bean stalks sprouting upward and twining around the stairwell. These "Metropolitain" entrances created a dramatic contrast to the prevailing classical style found in Paris at this time.
   In 1897 in Vienna, 19 artists who had become increasingly disillusioned by the historical conservatism of the Vienna Kunstlerhaus formed their own organization called the Vienna Secession and elected the painter Gustav Klimt as their first president. In the same year in Vienna, Joseph Maria Olbrich constructed the Secession Building to house the group's art exhibitions. The exterior is painted a shining white with a very modern, streamlined version of classical articulation to give the impression of a temple. The angular aspects of the building are diminished by an overlay of applied organic patterns done in thin black lines to give the impression of vines growing across the exterior. A golden dome rests on top of the building, with no drum, but styled like a ball of intricately intertwined flowers held together by a gilded iron sphere.
   Josef Hoffmann was also a member of the Vienna Secession, yet his more angular style relates less to the organic qualities of the Art Nouveau and more to the Arts and Crafts movement. His Palais Stoctlet, built in Brussels in 1905-1911 for a wealthy banker, reveals a smooth masonry exterior with strongly linear black and white out-lines that run vertically and horizontally across the surface of the building. The rectangular windows echo the geometric shapes used to create this modern version of classicism. As architects sought a more varied approach to modern construction, the application or denial of applied decoration and presence or lack of historical references became a recurring discourse through the 20th century.

Historical Dictionaries of Literature and the Arts. . 2008.

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