Ask the Old Guy – April/May/June 2021

Dear Old Guy;

I need your help.  Please tell me what the difference is between Art Nouveau and Art Deco. I recently watched a decorating show on television featuring both styles that was very interesting but it left me more confused than ever. So, what’s the difference?

Marion Murton

Scarborough, Ontario

Dear Marion;

The easiest way to learn about these two styles is to visit an antique store that specializes in them.  This will enable you to pick up, hold and examine different pieces.

Dealers are more than willing to share their knowledge with interested collectors, but before you do this I will give you a bit of background information.

The Art Nouveau period predates Art Deco by approximately 25 years. It was started in France about 1895 and was considered by many to be an artistic rebellion of sorts against the staid, uptight and more formal styling of the Victorian period.  This “new art” style (new for 1895) featured flowing lines, floral designs and the beauty of the feminine form. It was evident in ceramics, pottery, jewelry, art glass, lighting and even furniture and some architecture during this period.  Artists referred to this as a curvilinear style, but if you think of a flowery Tiffany vase with flowing, gracious curves, you’ll get the picture.

The Art Deco period also originated in France, showcasing at the Paris International Exhibition in 1925.  Its popularity quickly spread across Europe and into North America.

Art Deco style really was a reflection of the times.  Nicknamed the “Roaring Twenties” it was a time of liberation, aerodynamic shapes, chrome,  jazz, cocktail shakers, and towering skyscrapers.  With the discovery of King Tut’s tomb in 1923 came a fascination with Egyptian artifacts. These were also reflected in the art deco style.

Zigzag lines and sharply angled abstract forms appeared in Bakelite bracelets, jewelry, glass forms, sculptures and bronzes.

Sleek, elongated chrome hood ornaments became popular on cars of the time and even some train stations were built in the Art Deco style.

Of the two styles, my personal taste leans towards Art Deco because of its clean and simple lines, but both styles are very popular with collectors.  Visit an antique shop or show, and enjoy your search.  Above all, ask questions.  Knowledgeable dealers don’t mind.

The Old Guy**This Old Guy is re-printed from 2006

An example of an Art Nouveau-style frame
An example of an Art Deco-style frame

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