The Difference Between Art Nouveau and Art Deco

Art Deco and Art Nouveau are two major art movements of the 20th century.

Although ‘nouveau’ means ‘new’, Art Deco came afterwards. Both came out of the Industrial Revolution.

Art Nouveau lasted roughly from 1880-1914. Art Deco fell out of fashion during WW2, but made a comeback in the 1960s.

Like almost every movement everywhere, there was no clear cut off date. Rather, there was a gradual change from Nouveau to Deco. Some artists, like married Scottish-English couple Charles Rennie and Margaret Macdonald Macintosh, straddled both movements.

That said, the cut off between Nouveau and Deco is fairly clear as far as movements go. There are technological reasons for this.

The end of World War I marked the beginning of Art Deco. This distinction is important politically, because Art Nouveau was all about whimsical romance and escapism in a pre-war society. But after the war this vibe no longer suited the general mood.

Art Deco was a hard-edged style of Modernism to mark a new era.

This era was filled with jazz music, flappers and party fever. Tamara De Lempicka (1898 – 1980) created Art Deco paintings representative of this mood.

in Art Nouveau, many elements are not symmetrical. Asymmetry is often part of the design. Art Deco is often much more symmetrical.


A while ago this meme went viral:

Think of art nouveau as the elves in lord of the rings and Art Deco as the dwarves.


  1. stylized nature
  2. created by hand (remember machines couldn’t handle anything other than straight lines, so artists focused on what machines could not do, hence all the curved details)
  3. flowing, organic, circular, sinewy
  4. not straight lines
  5. romantic, dreamlike, wistful, innocent
  6. highly ornamental
  7. reminiscent of the past, and marks the end of hand craftsmanship
  8. art nouveau imagery: rounded, soft, nature-inspired shapes e.g. flowers and leaves, flowing fabric, animals people in relaxed and curvy poses
  9. art nouveau colour palette: mostly pale or medium-tone colours e.g. sage green, taupe, rose pink, lavender, robin’s egg blue


  1. stylized industry
  2. created by machines and cutters (hand carving, glass blowing etc.)
  3. geometric, linear
  4. straight lines
  5. the interwar period was serious, not dreamy
  6. minimalist (think short, sleek flapper hair styles)
  7. futuristic
  8. art deco imagery: sleek uncluttered line work
  9. art deco colour palette: strong primary colours; black, white, jade green, lipstick red, lapis lazuli blue


Eugene Grasset for a February 1896 art nouveau gardening calendar


Montreux Bernese Oberland. An art deco railway poster from 1922 depicting Lake Geneva out the window and the Dents du Midi mountains.