Art Deco vs Art Nouveau – What’s the Difference?

Art Deco and Art Nouveau are two highly-influential movements that occurred during the 20th century that had a lasting impact on the world of art that is visible to this day.

Both of these art styles emerged near the turn of the century in 1900 and were similar in many ways, but Art Deco and Art Nouveau are drastically different from a visual standpoint.

Both of these art movements largely defined the many different forms of visual expression in the 20th century. Today, we can see evidence of the influence from both Art Deco and Art Nouveau in areas such as architecture, graphic design and especially visual art.

As we examine how both of these art movements impact different parts of our modern world, we want to compare how Art Deco and Art Nouveau reflected the societal changes of the turn of the 20th century.

AspectArt NouveauArt Deco
Time PeriodLate 19th to early 20th century (1890s-1910s)1920s-1930s (Interwar period, Roaring Twenties)
Inspiration/ThemesNatural forms, flowing lines, organic shapesModernity, technology, machine age, luxury
Line and FormOrganic, flowing lines, asymmetryGeometric shapes, symmetry, sharp angles
Materials/TechniquesStained glass, ceramics, wrought ironChrome, glass, polished metals, innovative forms
Color PaletteSoft, muted colors, pastel shadesBold, contrasting colors, vivid hues
InfluenceArchitecture, decorative arts, individual craftArchitecture, interior design, fashion, visual arts

Art Deco vs Art Nouveau – The Differences

The most striking differences between Art Deco and Art Nouveau are their origins and what each one is based on. Art Nouveau was created as a type of expression that was clearly in contrast to the growing theme of industrialization while Art Deco seemed to embrace this changing and shifting form of design that was in favor of the industrial world view.

The differences in each type of movement can be seen in virtually every form of design elements and anything that involves artistic expression dating back to the turn of the 20th century.

While Art Deco still held on to some of the main concepts of the Art Nouveau movement, there was a clear departure from the influence of the natural world and a movement toward embracing the accomplishments and progress brought on by the innovations and technologies of the industrial sphere.

Introduction to Art Nouveau

Art Nouveau emerged late in the 19th century as one of the most dominant forms of expression. The term Art Nouveau is derived from a term used to describe the work of a group of 20 Belgian painters and sculptors who sought to inspire reform through their artwork.

F Champenois Imprimeur Editeur

The group and their work became popular in 1880 and Art Nouveau became more popular when a new art gallery called Maison de l’Art Nouveau, or House of New Art, opened in Paris in 1895.

There were a number of other names used to refer to this type of art, but Art Nouveau was the most commonly-used expression. During this time, the artistic style of Art Nouveau was defined by an affinity for more naturalist elements such as smooth curves and sloping lines instead of rigid structure and geometric shapes.

According to art historians and scholars, many of the artists who worked in this Art Nouveau style were said to have sought to unify the different types of art and artists that included fine art and decorative art.

Unlike art movements of the past, Art Nouveau was a clear departure from the traditional restrictions that existed in the world of artistic expression.

During the industrialization of Europe, Art Nouveau grew significantly in regions like France, Italy and other locations that had long been centers of artistic expression.

It was at this time period that many Art Nouveau artists celebrated the new techniques and philosophies that emphasized craftsmanship and transformed the production styles of many artists.

Introduction to Art Deco

Years after Art Nouveau had been established in Europe, Art Deco first appeared in France around 1901. The rise of Art Deco is believed to have come about, in many ways, due to the prevalence of Art Nouveau and the acceptance of decorative artists into the mainstream world of art.

Scholars and art historians tell us that the French term arts décoratifs originated around 1875 and was used to describe people who designed furniture, textiles, and other types of products that required an artistic aptitude, but who had not previously been accepted as true “artists” in the same sense that painters and sculptors were.

Autoportrait Tamara in a Green Bugatti

There was a rise in acceptance of decorative artists during this time and many of them collaborated with painters and sculptors to produce new and exciting styles of artwork that took hold in France and spread throughout other parts of Europe and into the United States.

Also Read: Famous Art Deco Artists

In 1901, the Société des artistes décorateurs (Society of Decorative Artists) was formed in order to ensure that decorative artists were provided the same rights as painters and sculptors in relation to their artwork.

It was at this time that the style of Art Deco was truly born, although the term “Art Deco” wasn’t used to describe this movement until much later during the 1960’s.

The Art Deco style can be traced back to its origins, which historians and scholars point to as the Exposition Internationale des Arts Décoratifs et Industriels Modernes held in Paris in 1925.

Also Read: Art Deco Buildings

The Art Deco style was one of geometric shapes and symmetrical designs that were created as a clear departure from the more natural style of Art Nouveau.

Art Nouveau Characteristics

Much of the artwork and other aesthetic expression that came about during the Art Nouveau movement can be described as having a more flowing, curved edges instead of rigid, sharp angles of the Art Deco style.

Art Nouveau has its roots in nature and can accurately be described as a more organic form of expression that often seems to resemble some of the characteristics of certain things found in nature.

The gently-flowing curvature of various types of furniture, painting, sculpture, design and architecture from this art movement is all meant to be associated with naturally-occuring shapes and forms like trees, plants, flowers, and various types of animals, insects and other creatures.

There are many pieces of furniture, buildings, glassware, and other items that were made during the first few decades of the Art Nouveau movement that are very clearly crafted in a way that is flowing and floral.

The Kiss

In addition to the shapes and outlines of various items created during the Art Nouveau era, the tones and colors of these objects and works bear another striking difference to those from the Art Deco movement.

The many different pieces of furniture, architecture, sculptures, paintings and other items from the Art Nouveau movement were created using what is often described as Earth-tones in modern times.

Designers and artists often liked to use deep brown, green, yellows and many other gentle and naturally-occurring colors that we often find in nature.

By using such tones that are part of a neutral color palette, the works themselves held a greater emphasis on the various patterns and composition of their design instead of the Art Deco style that involved a heavy emphasis on linear forms and geometric patterns with bold edges.

Art Deco Characteristics

While the Art Nouveau genre is rooted in natural elements and designs, Art Deco is vastly different in that it involves decorative, streamlined patterns that have a great emphasis on vertical lines instead of objects that are horizontally-oriented.

Many items that were designed and created by artists and individuals who are said to have been part of the Art Deco movement often involve rectangular, square, triangular or other geometric shapes in their overall appearance.


This close adherence to shapes and symmetry is deeply-rooted in the industrialization that had a very heavy influence on this time period in Europe and the United States. Many of the works that can be traced back to the Art Deco movement involve metals like stainless steel, aluminum, or even glass or plastic.

The Art Deco style is very closely-aligned with machinery and the industrialized appearance of various items from the early-to-mid 20th century.

Whether it’s architecture, furniture, or even painting and sculpture, Art Deco works often contain bold linear shapes and more vibrant or bright colors that stand out from the natural world around them. This style of artistic expression would go on to spark others like cubism, fauvism, and others.


Various forms of Art Deco design can still be recognized in certain architectural designs, as well as things like painting, sculpture and even modern graphic design. Virtually every part of the world or artistic expression was influenced in some way by either Art Nouveau or Art Deco in some capacity.

The main influences behind these two forms of artistic expression are still important today as the driving force behind many new forms of artistic design.