What’s the difference?

The period between about 1860 and 1930 can be very confusing when it comes to style. That 70 year period covers three iconic different stylistic & design types – Arts & Crafts, Art Nouveau and Art Deco. But how do you tell the difference? What is the difference?

The Arts & Crafts movement sprang up as a reaction to the Industrial Revolution, with its bland, soulless churning out of mass produced, lower quality products. Many of the proponents of the Arts & Crafts movement wanted to see a return to quality craftsmanship, with beauty and aesthetic appeal at the heart of production rather than profit & production costs.  It celebrated the beauty of natural materialssimple forms, and harmonious designs, often inspired by medieval, Gothic, or Celtic motifs. The secretaire/drop leaf bureau shown below is typical of the Arts & Crafts movement. Its simple form and unfussy construction are offset by the leaded glass door to the small display space.

Art Nouveau is characterized by its use of a long, sinuous, organic line and was employed most often in architecture, interior design, furniture, jewellery & glass design, and illustrations & posters. Often asymmetrical in appearance, this style really found its feet on the European continent before spreading to the USA. The term Art Nouveau is generally attributed to the Belgian magazine L’Arte Moderne and was influenced by the Belgian architect & designer Gustave Serrurier-Bovy who visited London in 1884, returning to Belgium having been attracted to the Arts & Crafts style that was booming at the time. British designers such as Charles Rennie Mackintosh & Charles Francis Annesley Voysey were influential in the spread of Art Nouveau in the UK. Voysey felt that “simplicity in decoration is one of the essential qualities without which no true richness is possible.” The sideboard shown below is in the style of Voysey, with the wood having no paint or stain, something he advocated to let the natural beauty of the wood shine.

And finally, we move into the 1920’s and the reaction to The Great War – Art Deco.  Art Deco design represented modernism turned into fashion. Its products included both individually crafted luxury items and mass-produced wares, but, in either case, the intention was to create a sleek and anti-traditional elegance that symbolized wealth and sophistication.  The distinguishing features of the style are simple, clean shapes, often with a “streamlined” look; ornament that is geometric or stylized from representational forms; and unusually varied, often expensive materials, which frequently include man-made substances (plastics, especially Bakelite; vita-glass; and ferroconcrete) in addition to natural ones (jade, silver, bone or ivory, obsidian glass, chrome, and crystal). Classic examples of this style were found on the great Trans-Atlantic ocean liners of the 1930’s – Queen Mary, Le Normandie, Mauritania and SS Bremen where exotic woods, superb craftsmanship and modern materials exuded style and class, in an unapologetic display of wealth. The unit show below is a “cross-over”, having the symmetry and angular decoration of Art Deco but with elements of the style shown by Serrurier-Bovy in the Art Nouveau style.

And there you have it, a whistlestop tour of 70 years of design style. Hopefully we have given you an insight into the similarities and differences between the three “Art” styles but if not then feel free to pop in where we have a library of reference books that you can dig through until you know everything about the styles.

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