Art Nouveau: what it is and 10 unmissable buildings to discover

There are examples of Art Nouveau throughout Europe and beyond: here are the 10 most representative buildings.

Art Nouveau is an artistic movement that, between the end of the nineteenth and the start of the twentieth centuries, spread throughout Europe and overseas. To fully understand the characteristics of Art Nouveau – which influenced painting, literature, architecture and design – one must immerse oneself in that special era from which it emerged, that is, the so-called Belle Époque. These were years of complete and utmost faith in progress, handlebar moustaches, top hats and daring flights in hot-air balloons but that also witnessed an important artistic renaissance. During this period, invention followed invention, from electric lighting to the cinema through to the arrival of a vaccine for tuberculosis and the first flight of an aircraft. In this vibrant epoch, Art Nouveau took form and its most famous representative, at least in the field of painting, was Gustav Klimt. However, Art Nouveau was undoubtedly also very well known for its formidable results in the field of architecture, in which the artistic movement took on different characteristics and names at different times.

Art Nouveau and Liberty Style

Those who are not experts always encounter some difficulty in identifying the many architects and artists who formed part of Art Nouveau due to the various labels by which this movement was identified. Indeed, in France it was known as Art Nouveau and sometimes Style Guimard. In Italy, Art Nouveau was often identified as the Stile Liberty, and Stile Floreale, while Germans knew it as Jugendstil, or the young style. In Austria, the term Sezessionsstil was used to indicate an artistic breakaway movement whereas, in Spain, the label Modernismo was adopted.

Art Nouveau in architecture

What are the main characteristics of Art Nouveau in architecture? Firstly, there is the concept of design unity, where the interiors and exteriors of constructions are united by stylistic coherence, almost unheard of at that time, and with special attention focused on the design of the interior. Every authentic Art Nouveau building oscillates between the sublime and the extravagant, with frequent references to the world of nature: it is not by chance the movement was often referred to in Italy as the “Stile Floreale”. The leading figures in the English Arts & Crafts movement, starting with William Morris, were the forerunners of Art Nouveau in architecture.

10 unmissable Art Nouveau buildings

Art Nouveau profoundly influenced European architecture at the end of the nineteenth century. Indeed, Europe’s first skyscraper, built in Rotterdam in 1898, was inspired by this style.

Let’s discover the 10 most representative Art Nouveau buildings on the Old Continent and beyond.

Casa Batlló – Barcelona

This list of Art Nouveau buildings must begin with Casa Batlló, one of the most intriguing and best known projects of Antoni Gaudí, the famous Catalan architect whom Le Corbusier described as the “shaper of stone, brick and iron”. Although Gaudí devoted himself from 1914 onwards entirely to his masterpiece, the Sagrada Familia, in earlier years the architect had produced various projects, including the building commissioned by the industrialist Batlló. One of the most fervent examples of Art Nouveau architecture in Barcelona, Casa Batlló was built between 1904 and 1906. The building’s famous façade brings to mind fish scales, a skeleton and waves and clearly displays its inspiration from the world of nature.

Casa Fenoglio-Lafleur – Turin

One of the best known examples of Art Nouveau in Italy is the Casa Fenoglio-Lafleur, a historic building in Turin that is a pure expression of the Liberty Style. Erected in 1902, the building was designed by the engineer Pietro Fenoglio and was later sold to the French entrepreneur Lafleur. Fenoglio intended the building to be the manifesto of Italian Liberty style: the façade decorated with large floral friezes, the peculiar wrought iron work of the balconies and the famous multicoloured window therefore come as no surprise.

Hotel Central – Prague

The Czech capital is one of the cities most influenced by Art Nouveau. Not by chance: the Liberty posters of the Czech painter Alfons Mucha attained such notoriety that Parisians began to talk of a real “Mucha“ style. It is no surprise to find evident traces of this artistic and architectural movement in Prague in various hotels in the centre. One of the most famous is certainly the Hotel Central, designed by the architects Alois Dryák and Bedrich Bendelmayer, based on the teachings of Friedrich Ohmann. The decorations at the level of the portal and windows are confirmation of this, as are the windows that can be admired inside the hotel.

Museum of Applied Arts – Budapest

A building that is not easily forgotten: designed by Ödön Lechner and Gyula Pártos and completed in 1896, the Museum of Applied Arts in Budapest is the most famous example of Art Nouveau in Hungary. As well as the rich decorations of the elevations, the eyes are drawn to the green roof, made with Zsolnay porcelain tiles, with incredible plays of light when touched by the sun’s rays.

Maison Saint-Cyr – Brussels

Art Nouveau made great use of iron and glass. An example of artistic use of these materials to enrich the façades of buildings can be found in Brussels, especially the Maison Saint-Cyr, designed in 1900 by Gustave Strauven.

Casa de los Lirios – Buenos Aires

Art Nouveau, it should be emphasised, was not only to be found on the European continent. On the contrary, this style spread across the United States, Central and South America, with examples of absolutely explicit Modernism in Cuba, Peru and Argentina and elsewhere. Buenos Aires, one of the most important and richest cities in the early years of the twentieth century, has many examples in pure Liberty style, such as, for example, the Casa del los Lirios, designed by Eduardo Rodríguez Ortega in 1903.

Majolikahaus – Vienna

The artistic use of tiles also characterises this building. As the building’s name suggests, the tiles are pink majolica, decorated with strong colours. It was designed by Otto Wagner.

Secession Building – Vienna

As mentioned, the Austrian name for Art Nouveau can be translated literally as “secession”. The name of this building therefore comes as no surprise. It was a meeting point for Viennese artists for years. It is hard not to notice that this building is decorated with thousands of golden laurel leaves. Designed by Joseph Maria Olbrich, a pupil of Otto Wagner, the building was constructed between 1897 and 1898.

House with Chimaeras – Kiev

Our next example is Ukraine’s House with Chimaeras, designed in 1901 by Wladyslaw Horodecki. The number of statues in the upper part of the building makes it an absolute original. It has to be said that there is a touch of Italy here: the statues of animals were sculpted by Emilio Sala.

Albert Street – Riga

It is impossible to end this list of examples of Art Nouveau without mentioning the Latvian capital, which boasts a whole street of buildings in pure Liberty style, This street, where construction began in 1901, has many buildings designed by Mikhail Eisenstein.