Around the World with Art Nouveau

A truly international style, Art Nouveau architecture can be seen around the Context network, from Prague to Shanghai, Buenos Aires to Paris. Inspired by natural forms and structures, Art Nouveau reached its peak at the turn of the 20th century, working as a bridge between academic styles and the modernism that eventually replaced it in popularity. We surveyed our docents about their favorite Art Nouveau buildings to show how each nation brought their own flare to their architecture.

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Context walks: Gaudí in Context and Modernista Masterpieces in Detail In Barcelona one of the buildings that best exemplifies "Catalan Art Nouveau" or "Modernisme" is the Palau de la Música Catalana. What makes Catalan Art Nouveau distinctive is the wide use of Catalan national symbols and its mythology, for example the Catalan flag reproduced in some beautiful stained glass windows or mosaics, as well as images of Saint Jordi slaying the dragon. Another feature of Catalan Art Nouveau is "Trencadis," which uses broken ceramic tiles in mosaics of different colors. Gaudí was the creator of this technique, although Domènech i Muntaner was the real leader of this movement. - Bernat Carrau, Context Barcelona docent and architect Photo by Paulo Valdivieso via Flickr.
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Context Walk: Art Nouveau and Modernism With the creation of the independent Czechoslovak Republic at the end of the First World War, Czech artists and intellectuals searched for a new, national style which would represent both modern and traditional Czech (or Slavonic) elements in the architecture of administrative buildings of the new state. The Bank of Czechoslovak Legions built between the years 1921 and 1923 according to plans by architect Josef Gočár represents one of the earliest and best examples of this new rondocubist or national style in which the triangles, squares and broken lines of the pre-war cubist architecture were replaced by circles and cylinders with their sections derived from the colourful decorative details of folk architecture. The main section of the facade – the portico – is shaped in the form of a classical triumphal arch where four massive pillars with sculpted heads support a long narrative frieze by Otto Gutfreund depicting the return of Czechoslovak troops from their long adventures in Siberia, Russia, while the monumental pillars’ heads by Jan Štursa depict the main battles and events in which the Czechoslovak Legions took part during the Great War. When admiring the facade, be sure to spot the richly decorated interior with its main hall covered with a magnificent glass vault. - Marek Červený, Context Prague docent and art historian Photo by Jose Mesa [CC BY 2.0], via Wikimedia Commons
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My personal favourite place is a hidden gem; tobacco shop Hajenius. I like it when a building still has its original function, and all the deco elements are in use, and Hajenius is an excellent example. The building was built in 1914 in the style 'Um 1800', but the interior is absolute, original art deco, and is still in use as a tobacco shop. Beautiful display cases and humidors, and small deco details like an ever burning lighter make this place feel like a time warp. Even the service is like in the 1920's. - Sabry Amroussi, Context Amsterdam docent and art historian
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Context Walk: The Bund and Shanghai in the 20s The Shanghai Bund, lining the Huangpu River, once housed numerous banks and foreign trading houses and simple wharfs, as well as consulates. It still features fifty-two buildings of various architectural styles such as Romanesque, Gothic, Renaissance, Baroque, Neo-Classical, Beaux-Arts, and Art Deco. The architectural office Palmer & Turner designed thirteen buildings on the Bund, in various styles, including the iconic Art Deco structure located on the crossing of Nanjing Street and The Bund, called the Peace Hotel (1929) and commissioned by leading entrepreneur Sir Victor Sassoon. In the run-up for the 2010 Shanghai World Exhibition the Peace Hotel underwent a drastic renovation and return to its original style, interior and atmosphere. - Bert de Muynck, Context Shanghai docent, architect, writer, and researcher
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Context Walk: Architecture of New York Art Deco in New York is seen all over, from 42nd street to downtown on Wall Street. But there are two buildings that I think you have to mention when speaking on the subject in this city. If you take a look at the Chanin Building on 42nd Street you get to see the transition between Art Nouveau and Art Deco. This was a popular thing to do because it was difficult for the public to completely adapt to a new architectural style right away. One would think that this would make for a chaotic exterior as well as an interior but all the details flow so nicely between each other, they actually begin to highlight the strengths of both styles. You can’t mention Art Deco in the United States without thinking of the Chrysler Building on 42nd Street. From the black banding and chevron patterns on the outside brick, to the car fender light fixtures on the interior and the wood inlay African art motif on the elevator cabs. This building of this skyscraper was under great protest by the city of New York, but it quickly became a beloved gem. - Michelle Cianfaglione, Context New York docent and architect Photo by Cogito Ergo Imago via Flickr.
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Context Walk: Belle Epoque Budapest Hungarian Art Nouveau is based on supposed national architectural characteristics. Ödön Lechner is really the father of Art Nouveau and was inspired initially by Indian and Syrian architecture, and later by traditional Hungarian decorative designs. Though he didn‘t like the Secession movement, he liked the freedom it gave him and believed strongly that for a revival of Hungarian architecture studying old Hungarian and Eastern elements was fundamental, as well as looking for folk art for inspiration. The Post Savings Bank is a wonderful example of his work. The building was a low budget project for Lechner, as functioned as a space for the working class to place their savings. Under the windows decorative trims and mosaics draw a variety of ornamentation and stylized floral motifs. On a ledge we can see decorate of nation of Alföld: the brightly colored Hungarian ornaments. - Kata Vincze, Context Budapest docent and professor Photo by Kevin Anderson via Flickr
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In Rome, Florentine born architect Luigi “Gino” Coppedè designed an entire residential neighborhood in his own personal interpretation of “liberty” style, throwing in Gothic, Moorish and Baroque twists as well. Known today as “Quartiere Coppedè”, it's a heterogeneous composition of 18 apartment buildings and 27 townhouses and villas, centering around the “Fountain of the Frogs” at Piazza Mincio in the Trieste quarter of northern Rome. Decoration everywhere is abundant, exuberant, colorful, whimsical, fantastical; a feast for the eyes, never boring; almost overboard. - Liz Brewster, Context Rome docent and architect
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Context Walk: Belle Epoque Buenos Aires I would say Buenos Aires is a big Art Nouveau capital in the Americas due to massive European immigration. Generally Art Nouveau is related to immigrants who were successful in their business and wanted to show it through this extravagant style. This doesn't happen with the 19th century oligarchy, who is convinced this is just bad taste, and continue choosing French and Italian Academic architecture. A wonderful example is the Edificio de los Pavos Reales (literally translated as the "Peacock’s Building"). As immigration was mainly Italian, we were especially influenced by the Italian stream of Art Nouveau, usually called Liberty style or Floreale style. This building was designed circa 1915 by Virginio Colombo, an architect from Milan, and it belonged to Rossi family. - Juan Pablo Pekarek, Context Buenos Aires docent and architect
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When it comes to Art Nouveau in Paris, everyone knows Hector Guimard: Castel Béranger, the cluster of refined hôtels in the lower 16th arrondissement, the reproduction metro entrances that have replaced the majority of those torn down across the twentieth century. A less iconic instance of Belle Epoque architectural experimentation is the very strange -- some might say downright hideous -- architecture of Jules Lavirotte. His building at 29 avenue Rapp is either Art Nouveau gone wild or gone to seed. While Lavirotte attracted attention in his time -- regularly winning the city's Competition of Facades -- it wasn't like he didn't raise eyebrows even then. His buildings push all limits and adhere to no overarching theory but his own particular mix of the architectural influences that were in the air circa 1900. Lavirotte was a pioneer in the use of architectural ceramics as a means of revivifying a Haussmannized cityscape that by the 1890s was critiqued as gray and featureless. Indeed, his Ceramic Hotel at 35 avenue Wagram is sheathed in cast ceramic ornament that mimics masonry blocks. His collaborator, ceramicist Alexandre Bigot, lived at 29 avenue Rapp and played an important role in many other important buildings of the same moment that have eclipsed Lavirotte in architectural history. You can check out Bigot's work in Guimard's Castel Beranger, Perret's rue Franklin apartment house, Baudot's Saint Jean de Montmartre, and -- my personal favorite -- the marine-themed ceramic cladding of Francois-Adolphe Bocage's industrial building at 6 rue Hanovre. - Bernard Zirnheld, Context Paris docent and architectural historian « Paris - 6 rue de Hanovre - détail » par Remi Mathis — Travail personnel. Sous licence CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons.
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Context walk: Vienna Secession In Vienna I chose the Secession building as a good example for Austrian Art Nouveau. In German we call this style Jugendstil, but in Vienna we specifically call it Secessionist style exactly because of this building. The architecture of the building itself and its symbolical ornaments, such as laurel leaves and owls, intentionally express the agreement with a new style and disagreement with the established and accepted style of historicism in architecture and arts in general. The building was conceived for the purpose of offering exhibitions by artists who agreed with this new style and for an open minded public. Almost all artists out of that period of time, such as Klimt, who are well regarded today were members of the Secession and contributed to the development of this style in Vienna. A good example for this is the still existing „Beethoven Frieze” of Klimt which we can admire today within the building. It is also a good place to speak about almost everyone else who is still famous today for other well known works elsewhere in Vienna, where the influences of the Secession remain clearly visible. - Piroska Mayer-Sebesteyen, Context Vienna docent with a diploma in architecture