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Although they share aesthetic qualities, Art Nouveau and Art Deco were born in different eras and reflect society's changing desires and values. Both were international styles practised throughout Europe and North America, and they influenced the design of everything from skyscrapers to handcrafted jewellery. Identifying an object as Art Nouveau or Art Deco also suggests a time frame for its manufacture.
The History Behind the Movements
Art Nouveau came first, appearing around 1884 and lasting until World War I. Art historians see the movement as a reaction to the Industrial Revolution, and the art produced during this era reflects both society's wariness of mass production and its eager acceptance of new forms and materials.
Art Deco came after World War I and lasted until the 1930s. This was the era of "The Great Gatsby" and jazz music, and the design of buildings and art reflects the decadence and exuberance of the times.
Art Nouveau melded old and new. Sculptors wrought classical mythological figures -- ranging from faeries to Greek gods -- in new industrial materials such as cast iron. Artists intermingled natural forms such as trees and ivy with precise geometrical figures. This combination of flowery and mechanical motifs defined the international style of Art Nouveau. Along with it came a growing sense that good design harmonises with its surrounding. A hostess adhering to the Art Nouveau aesthetic would be mindful that her dress and jewellery matched the chaise longue she sat on which, in turn, fit the style of her home.
The era following "The War to End All Wars" was marked by both prosperity and optimism, and the art reflects this sense of progress. Grand and elegant buildings such as the Chrysler Tower appeared throughout Europe and North America, and their curving geometric lines epitomised the Art Deco aesthetic. Art Deco was remorselessly industrial, doing away with flowers and tress. Its exploration of industrial elements discovered beauty in repetition and the brilliant shine of polished metal.
Both Art Nouveau and Art Deco incorporated elements of industrialism, but Art Deco took these elements further. It is most easily distinguished from its forerunner by its bold and curving lines. Art Nouveau is identified by its mingling of industrial and natural motifs, while Deco rarely features plants and flowers at all. These styles can also be distinguished by their era. The Art Nouveau movement was active between 1884 and 1914, while Art Deco flourished in the boom between WW I and The Great Depression.
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