Meet the Arts: Art Deco and Art Nouveau

I view the Art Deco and Art Nouveau styles like fine old relatives…

I love to see them, I value them for their character, and they’re absolutely welcome in my home.

Funny thing is, only recently have I come to learn the differences between ‘em.

And maybe it’s just me-- but initially I found it VERY CONFUSING when these two particular style terms were bandied about.

(I used to get Grandpa and Great-Uncle Irvin confused all the time, too.)

But I realized lately I’ve been doing more than my share of, um, bandying here on this site. Which seems kind of unfair.

So today, for anyone else out there who’s as confused as I was about the difference between Grandpa and Great-Uncle Irvin—


--The difference between Art Deco and Art Nouveau, today I hope to make that just a little bit clearer.

And for you folks who know this stuff already and are yawning politely into your hands, I hope you’ll stick around today, anyway-- for the spiffy photos, the camaraderie, and the tuna ball.

There’s no question, for anyone who likes to decorate, it’s infinitely useful to be able to identify particular types of design. Certain design movements automatically compliment each other, and having a little insight into style and time period of an item can often explain just why that is.

This makes it easier to make better choices in picking out accessories. It means there’s less trial-and-error in your purchasing. And you have a better chance of snapping up some great vintage finds cheap! (Which is totally what I’m about.)

So when it comes to decorating, as a wiseman once said, “Knowledge is half the battle.”

Well, that was the “GI Joe” cartoon. But still. Wise words.

Ahem, moving on...

What IS Art Deco and Art Nouveau? Merriam Webster has this to say:

“Art Deco: a popular design style of the 1920s and 1930s characterized especially by bold outlines, geometric and zigzag forms, and the use of new materials (as plastic).”

And this:

“Art Nouveau: a design style of late 19th century origin characterized especially by sinuous lines and foliate forms”

But, really, sometimes a picture’s worth... well, two dictionary definitions.

And I think by far the most popular recent use of Art Nouveau I’ve seen has been within the “Lord of the Rings” films in the elfin village, Rivendell. (Credit for these photos goes to the original photographers... I just think this is a really good modern example... Mind the Hobbits.)

You can see, art nouveau is organic, with sinewy vine-like lines. It’s an interesting usage because historically, women depicted within the style ARE a bit elfin or otherwise mythic, with flowing tendrils of hair, a lot like the vines themselves. Art nouveau can be very ornate.

In contrast, I’d say one of the most wonderful examples of art deco architecture is the Chrysler Building in New York City...

Though you’ll probably see a more down-to-earth deco in the architecture of almost any unrenovated 50s diner. (Again, copyright lies with the original photographers. I am only using this for educational purposes. I make no profit from this.)

Art Deco may use mythic subject matter the way Art Nouveau does, but it’s more geometric, using shapes like rows of straight lines, Greek keys, pyramids and lozenges. The women in deco are often more streamlined, and less detailed than nouveau ladies, taking on the modern flapper qualities and less of the Victorian heroine or goddess look.

So how does this apply to your home? On to accessorizing! (This is the fun part.)

Here we have some nice examples of art nouveau and art deco in jewelry. You probably recognize one of them-- at left is a pin based on one the characters wore in “Lord of the Rings.” (And yes, I am a big nerd, why do you ask?) But to be honest, I own this because it really couldn’t be more Art Nouveau. It’s a leaf, but more stylized, with silverwork that winds in unexpected ways, almost like Celtic knots.

With it is a rhinestone pin from around the 30s made by a company called Coro. I got this at the U.F.O in Greensburg, PA. The pin is made up of various geometric shapes, almost like a labyrinth. Very deco.

When you’re talking Art Deco in pottery, Fiestaware-- like the little yellow vase below which I got at the Goodwill recently-- has it in spades. Tidy and streamlined, the form is equally at home in an arts-and-crafts home as it is a modern one. (Notice the tiered geometric pattern at the bottom of the yellow vase. You’ll see that in the Chrysler Building as well. That kind of linear tiering is typical of Deco.) While the little Art Nouveau jobby next to it elaborately uses a Christmas cactus motif as the basis for its design.

(Admittedly THIS style can be more of an acquired taste. When I got this vase from my great-aunt as a teenager, I affectionately referred to it as, “The Ugly Vase.”)

Well-- hopefully you all are not snoring face down right now, and maybe even feel armed with a bit of extra info to support your thrifting, antiquing, and just mainstream decorating.

And for you folks who were already Deco- and Nouveau-savvy, and you still managed to stalwartly make it through today, I am a gal of my word. Here is a recipe for Tuna Ball.

(Weren’t expecting that, were ya? Ha! :-) )

Tuna Ball

--1 can tuna (water packed)
--1 large cream cheese
--few drops of lemon juice
--Salt and pepper
--Garlic salt

Make sure cream cheese is at room temperature. Add drained tuna to cream cheese, salt, pepper, garlic salt and lemon juice. Form into ball and serve.

Extra points go to anyone who can mold it into the shape of the Chrysler Building.

Next week? See what treasures were uncovered at the Regent Square neighborhood garage sale. FOUR HOURS of walking, wheeling, dealing, photo-snapping and dog-petting. See you then!


Anonymous said...

Most informative AND entertaining. Who knew my old Fiestaware was not only charming and colorful but Art Deco as well! I shall now go forth aware, full of newly acquired knowledge, and able to bandy with the best of them! Thank you!

ThriftShopRomantic said...

Now that makes me terribly happy! I'm so glad you found it helpful-- that was what I was aiming for. Thanks for the comment!

Anonymous said...

I am sooooo grateful for your explanation! Now I can finally explain to my mom what do I actually like =) Thank you!
BTW...great recipe,too!

Jenn Thorson said...

Anonymous- Glad to help-- that's wonderful!

Anonymous said...

Fiestaware is notably radioactive, so I wouldn't suggest using it as a part of your decor for health reasons...just fyi

Jenn Thorson said...

Anonymous- Actually, it was vintage Fiesta of the 1930s with the radioactivity issue-- and primarily the red color. This was because it used uranium oxide in the glaze.

It's a low level of radiation, so a lot of collectors of the old stuff aren't really too concerned about it.

The radioactive red was discontinued in 1944.

You can still get Fiesta made today, without the radiation and former lead concerns. So there are no health concerns beyond normal dishware.

Anonymous said...

I just happend to stumble onto this website looking for something off the subject, but my hubby and I were discussing this the other night and neither of use could remember from out art 101 in College. Thanks for the refresher course!