When we think of the Art Nouveau style, a visual image of a gay, somewhat decadent life in the bars and theaters of fin de siècle Montmartre comes to mind, with personalities such as Toulouse-Lautrec, Aubrey Beardsley, Oscar Wilde, and the chanteuse Yvette Guilbert nearby, the walls hung with the alluring posters of Alphonse Mucha and Jules Chéret describing the delights of the Moulin Rouge or the performances of Sarah Bernhardt, or the seductiveness of smoking Job cigarettes. It is a style that seems to have an uninhibited freedom and imagination, made up of saturated, shimmering colors that capture the excitement of the times.
In contrast, Art Deco seems comparatively sober, with its often architectonic solidity and clean, pure lines and its awareness of sleek industrial design, a style that could be easily incorporated into the home, both in the new gadgets available to make life easier and in the decorative arts, free of frills, reflecting the streamlined purity of the emerging Machine Age. Though the styles of Art Nouveau and Art Deco seem in complete contradiction to each other, they are a harmonious match, both evolving from the horror vacui of Victorian clutter of knickknacks into a respect for the artist-designed decorative piece, to be lived with and enjoyed for both its form and its function.
Nancy E. Green
The Gale and Ira Drukier Curator of Prints, Drawings, and Photographs