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Art Nouveau vs Art Deco - What's the Difference?

As defining artistic movements, Art Deco and Art Nouveau are two distinct articulations of visual culture. However, due to their collective impact on the 20th century, the two are sometimes confused.

Art Nouveau

art nouveau examples klimt egon schiele mucha comfort tiffany
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Art Nouveau means New Art, a title reflected in the genre's trailblazing modernity. Emerging towards the latter half of the 19th century, Art Nouveau led the way for avant-garde artistic movements and was born from a desire to eliminate the boundaries between decorative and fine art. Artists of Art Nouveau looked to the present and beyond for inspiration, abandoning restrictive artistic traditions.

Art Nouveau was birthed at a time when Europe's identity was defined by industrialism. Here, artists of the Art Nouveau movement embraced the skills of artists whilst blending artistic creation with the automation of industrialized processes. Much of Art Nouveau's style is defined by organic shapes and forms. In this way, a key aspect of Art Nouveau's aesthetic is smooth, sweeping curvatures with an emphasis on bold line.

Perhaps the most famous artists of the Art Nouveau movement include Gustav Klimt, who painted The Kiss (top left) and Alphonse Mucha, known for his work on commercial posters and advertisements (right). However, other artists like Louis Comfort Tiffany, who constructed luxurious stained glass panels (bottom left), and Émile Gallé, a glassmaker inspired by nature and literature were also highly regarded for their work. In addition, while Egon Schiele's work is usually defined by expressionism, he drew heavily from the work of Gustav Klimt (mid).

Art Deco

Artists in the Art Deco Movement include Reginald Marsh (top left) Zinaida Serebriakova (bottom mid) and designer  John Wagner (bottom right)
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In 1920, after the height of the Art Nouveau movement, Art Deco emerged. Sleek and streamlined, artists of Art Deco capitalized on modern, vertical lines, bold shadows and dynamic motion in the hopes of matching the fast-paced, inorganic and emboldened spirit of the early 20th century.

However, despite the race to reflect the modernity of the time, Art Deco still borrowed some aspects of its predecessor. For example, modern craftsmanship was still upheld and valued, and Art Deco artists combined traditional technical adroitness with modernized technological processes.

Art Deco was in full swing during the same period as the avant-garde art scene. Cubism was particularly influential, and both Cubist and Futurist influences are visible in Art Deco. Yet Art Deco artists maintained a particular and versatile artistic flair. This is exemplified in famous architecture like the Empire State Building and the Chrysler Building, both in the USA, which continue to embody the legacy of Art Deco Today.


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Megan Kennedy is a writer and multidisciplinary artist based in Canberra, Australia. More of her work can be viewed on her website or Instagram.


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