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Art Nouveau, Mucha, and Gaudí


As a response to the Industrial Age, artists went organic with willowy maidens, melting ice cream eaves, and an embrace of nature. It was Art Nouveau: Mucha in Czech Republic, Jugendstil in Germany, and Modernisme in Barcelona.

Complete Video Script

[74] The year before Van Gogh died, in 1889, Paris erected its Eiffel Tower. The centerpiece of a world's fair, it was a symbol of Europe's progress…celebrating how technology could merge with art to be both functional and beautiful.

[75] The mighty tower proclaimed the can-do spirit of the Industrial Age. Its no-nonsense iron beams were not plastered over with older styles, like Neo-gothic or Neoclassical, but proudly displayed. With its graceful curves and unabashed embrace of technology, the Tower helped inspire a new style of art: Art Nouveau.

[76, Art Nouveau, 1890–1910; Republic House, Prague; various Gaudí works in Barcelona; Paris Métro station] This "New Art" turned modern technology — iron, glass, ceramic tiles — into beauty. Inspired by the curves of plants, artists made columns and ribs feel like a forest. They decorated humdrum Metro entrances with artistic ironwork…employed a playful blend of organic swoops and vertical lines… façades are colorful…and interiors glow with stained glass.

[77, Republic House, Prague] Art Nouveau was an ethic of beauty. It celebrated creativity, and the notion that art, design, fine living — it all flowed together.

[78, jewelry by Rene Lalique] In their homes, the wealthy decorated with leafy designs. They added curves and beautiful inlays to furniture and even added a graceful touch to the latest home technology turning even the most practical everyday objects into works of art. The sumptuous beauty of Art Nouveau was wearable as well.

[79, Alphonse Mucha, 1860–1939] In Paris, a struggling Czech immigrant named Alphonse Mucha created a theatrical poster, with a uniquely sinuous touch. It was an overnight sensation, and Mucha had set a template for Art Nouveau: willowy maidens…with elegant gowns…and flowing hair…immersed in a background of flowery pastel designs…visions of the good life and pure beauty.

[80, Galleries Lafayette Department Store, Paris; Secession Building, Vienna] The flowery style blossomed all over Europe. While in France, it was called Art Nouveau, in Germany and Austria, it was Jugendstil — "young style."

[81, Park Güell, Gaudí, Barcelona] And, in Barcelona it was Modernisme. Upscale neighborhoods shimmered with colorful, leafy, and organic shapes.

[82, Block of Discord, Barcelona, various architects] On this street, several mansions jostled to outdo each other in creativity: galloping gables…molded concrete…colorful ceramic tiles and shards of glass.

[83 Casa Milà, 1905, Gaudí, Barcelona] Perhaps the most innovative mansion of all — with its roller-coaster curves and melting ice cream eves — was by hometown boy Antoni Gaudí.

[84, Sagrada Familia, Gaudí, Barcelona] Gaudí's grandest work is his Church of the Sagrada Família, or Holy Family. He worked on this mega-structure for over 40 years and left it to later architects to finish. With its soaring honeycomb towers, it radiates like a spiritual lighthouse.

[85] The stone ripples and the surface crawls with life: animals, birds, trees, and people. Gaudí combined Christian symbolism, images from nature, and the playful flair of Modernisme. Like a concrete forest, the church seems to grow organically, reaching to Heaven.

[86] The soaring nave features columns that blossom with life. Gaudí said, "Nothing is invented; for it's first written in nature." Light filters in, as if through the canopy of a rain forest, creating space for an intimate connection with God. Gaudí's futuristic vision captured the spirit of Art Nouveau on an epic scale.