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© 1993-2012 Frank Derville
I have heard of Art Nouveau buildings and art on all 6 continents but most of them are in Europe and in a smaller part in the United States. In Europe, some countries were literally covered by such architecture : in Belgium, every medium to large town has its Art Nouveau buildings and rather comprehensive architecture guides have been published. Germany seems to had as much Art Nouveau as Belgium but I have found less information or studies about it and it has been much more destroyed during WW2.table of content :
A first good approach to find Art Nouveau buildings is to browse a couple of books. There are different kinds of books in which you may find valuable information about Art Nouveau:
Dedicated Art books about the general subject of "Art Nouveau" are quite recent regarding to books dealing with modernist style : it was only from the mid 70ies that Art Nouveau get back a few of interest and switched from a place of the last style of the XIXth century to the first modern movement of XXth century. I would like to point out four of them ordered by chronological publication dates :
In this literature, some of the main centers or countries are often ignored (Strasbourg, Den Haag, Amsterdam, Antwerpen, Gent, Riga, St Petersburg, Moscow ....) and some aspects of Art Nouveau are completely occulted by this approach by centers : seaside or country architecture. Even if seaside or country architecture reveal outstanding Art Nouveau buildings, they are often left apart. And one can wonder why does Riga does never appear in these centers ? According to "UNESCO newsletter #19", it is the town with the most important Art Nouveau heritage.
As a general feature of touristic guides, the more recent guide you have, the more information about Art Nouveau you will get. As tourists begin to be more and more aware of and interested in Art Nouveau, guides include more and more data. Unlike generalist Art books, it is not seldom to find isolated buildings of interest but often the quality may be heterogeneous : some of the major buildings may be omited. Is it a lack of methodology or a lack of comprehensive and accessible study ?
We shall notice that Tourist Office make more and more efforts to give information about these buildings as the interest for this kind of architecture rises.
Heritage Institutions are also developing publication of comprehensive studies about this architecture. These publications are often of difficult access (not in Library or often out of stock).
You may find the best and also numerous mistakes. It is better to speak (well in fact read) many languages and have a good level in "Google searching" to collect first hand information. Plenty of free but time-greedy information. Sometimes some errors but not so much. See the related links page.
map is a digest of the main Art Nouveau centers in Europe that I have
compiled. By "main", I mean mors than 50 buildings of interest or a
decorative art school that counted in the Art Nouveau movement. Despite
all the efforts I made, there could still be omited centers, please let
But even visiting all these sites you may pass away outstantanding Art Nouveau buildings.
Why not go out of the beaten tracks now and discover numerous other marvels?
In order to understand the wide spread diffusion of Art Nouveau architecture, we have to recall the main factors of development for an architecture style at such a large scale : the primary factor is information and interest about this style (magazines like "Jugend", art studies and commercial trips, international exhibitions like world fairs). This has been combined to rural exodus and an important wealthiness (belle époque) that were at their climax in Europe. These explain the numerous constructions and their quality.
If we would like to gain chance our search of the unknown marvel, we must go back to basic principles of factors that develop construction.We should also take into account destruction factors : interest in this type of architecture, adaptation to nowadays life, wars...
- Sea side residences : Seaside was not a leisure destination before 1850. In France the real launch of these destinations was made by Imperatrice Eugenie (wife of Napoleon III) : Biarritz. We can find Art Nouveau in the seaside residences that grew at that time due to a change of fashion or government : Deauville has no Art Nouveau neither because in 1895 a muddy tide cover the sea strand with mud and its horrible smell. And it was only in 1905 that the mayor found a solution to avoid these problems installing the large wooden sea stride that made its reputation in the 20ies. But there are sea side stations that developed at that time like Hermanville, Mers les bains (a small French Cogels Osylei)
- Country villas : they are difficult to identify because they are often isolated in the countryside. Castels by Guimard can be set into this category : Morsan sur orge, Bièvres, Sèvres, .....
- Bath residences : Also developed after 1850 under impluse of Eugénie in France (Eugenie les Bains), it developed as well in the rest of Europe : Baden baden, Vichy...
- Special types of building needs :
Ljubljana and Aalesund. Ljubliana (today Slovenian capital) was completely destroyed by an earthquake in 1905. Its reconstruction was directed by Art Nouveau architects. Aalesund (Norway) was destroyed by a fire in 1904 and was reconstructed by Art Nouveau architects. Those two places are nowadays with an important homogenous heritage of late Art Nouveau buildings.
in Greece and other continents except North America and Europe, Art Nouveau buildings are often built later than in its original centers. It is not rare to find typical Art Nouveau buildings built in 1920 in these regions also these types of buildings were no more built in the original centers. Style diffusion is due to the art magazines like "Jugend" that give its name to the Jugendstil or "L'architecture au XXeme siècle" that was published in three languages : German, French and English!! Its aim is clearly a spread of new ways of building in every country. It is also due to World Fairs (1900 : Paris, 1904 : St Louis, ...) and Decorative Arts Exhibitions (1902 : Turin, ...). Industrial and commercial relationships are also a factor in the diffusion of Art Nouveau : Stoclet Palace in Bruxelles. Hotels are a window of the local Art of building, art of life.... But there were very few of real international careers except for H. Van de Velde, A. Mucha and in a fewer way Olbrich, Gallé-Majorelle (interior design) or CR Mackintosh.
Architectural Heritage policies began to include Art Nouveau in their programs at the end of the 60ies in Europe : 1964 for the first buildings of Guimard in Paris, 1969 for the first buildings by Gaudi but 1974-76 for the other major Art Nouveau architects in Barcelona, 1972 for the first buildings of Wagner in Vienna, 1975 for the first buildings by Horta in Bruxelles, for Strasbourg and Nancy). Salvador Dali and surrealists like P Eluard recognize the strength of this architecture before the critics did. This architecture has been recognized of heritage interest lately regarding to 20ies-40ies modern architecture which was often protected earlier (Adolph Loos, Le Corbusier, ...). Even though important buildings are still being threatened like a Hamesse building (120 avenue Tervueren in Bruxelles) despite of a petition in 2001. Books about Art Nouveau for a large public were published in the mid 70ies ("L'Art Nouveau" by Roger Henri Guerrand). The lack of interest in Art Nouveau style was very early, these houses were major AN buildings and were destroyed with human will :
The lack of knowledge and acknowledgment of this architecture also conduct to a deficient reconstruction or restoration of buildings. Even after a better knowledge, the price factor, is still a brake to a good restoration of even outstanding buildings. Here is an example of a group of three building in Scheveningen (Den Haag, The Netherlands) : these buildings were similar only small details of the roof and railings differed from one to the other and constituted a fine ensemble. Nowadays (photos in 2002), we can see that the 3 buildings have been transformed but at different levels : successive transformations often occur due to a disinterest or lack of money. The owner of the house on the right is trying to restore his house (bought in 2000) in the Art Nouveau style and especially the balcony.It had been a nice group of three twin houses with slight variations.
On the left building, the pinnacle have disapeared. The balcony and the veranda wood work have been preserved except the lower part which is now replaced by flat white panels.
All three entries have been preserved. but on the central and right building, the balconies and veranda have been modified.
Shops : in many towns, most of the shop windows were designed in Art Nouveau style, the change of fashion, made these windows very often destroyed. There are not many Art Nouveau shop windows left.
In Europe, world war II has the most important impact especially in Germany where some towns have been nearly completely destroyed by bombings (Dresden, Berlin, ...) and some have miraculously be spared (like Paris). The example of Dresden is interesting : the town was destroyed at a 80% rate (firing bombs that killed and destroyed everything) and there are still nowdays more than 100 Art Nouveau buildings of great quality! Some residential Art Nouveau areas were not in the economic centers and were spared but often the railway station quater has or had many Art Nouveau buildings like in Tourcoing (north of France) and these stations were targets for the RAF.
World War 1 had also an important role in northern France : in Lille in 1911 there were a total of 34000 houses, after WW 1, 30% were destroyed and another 30% was severely damaged. Reconstruction plans often don't take into interest Art Nouveau buildings that were of a poor interest after 1914 and some towns took this opportunity to modify their urbanism plan and destroy partly what was still up to remodel streets and avenues (in France, a law even obliged towns to do so). Lille also suffered from WW II, 6000 houses were destroyed mainly close to the railway stations (the RAF tried to use the first "surgery" bombings that still killed more than a 1000 people despite of the shelters). The more recent Crotian war more recently may have also destroyed Art Nouveau buildings.
Adaptation is not easy as for the Department Stores which security rules have change in a large scale forbidding the large hall in the middle, hosting the stairway, that where used to let the light come on all floors and the security that require separated floors to avoid fire extension (the closure for 6 years of the parisian store "La Samaritaine" is an other example). The way of building housing buildings has also dramatically changed in its plan : before the use of elevators (invention in the late 1870ies), the first floor was the master floor (see for instance the casa Batllo) and now the last floor is the most important (more light, more sun). The kitchen is also a place that evolved much with the invention of electrical devices.
In order to preserve Art Nouveau buildings it has been a need of finding a new function to the buildings : often museums like the Horta Museum, Music Instruments Museum in Brussels, ...
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