Art Nouveau is a relatively recent concept, originating in the late 19th century as a rebellion against classical and formal designs in art and architecture. Its proponents believed that beauty lay in nature and flowers, and plants feature prominently in its designs, which are also marked by asymmetrical shapes, curves and mosaics. Like many new art forms it had its origins in France, but the enthusiasm for Art Nouveau soon gripped much of the rest of Europe.
Everyone has their favourite buildings a the brief sample below is not intended to represent any kind of ‘best’ list. It just happens to contain some buildings we like…
Next to Prague’s Powder Tower stands the Municipal House. The contrast between the Gothic tower and the Art Nouveau building is stunning. The latter stands on the site of the former Royal Palace, the residence of the king between 1383 and 1485. The palace remained derelict for centuries and the Municipal House was built in the early years of the 20th century.
The building’s main function is that of Prague’s main concert venue, Smetana Hall. There are many other smaller halls and other rooms, plus a delightful café that is open to the public. Here, one can sit with a coffee and take in the superb decoration of the building’s interior. The outside is impressive, too. Above the main entrance is a vast, semi-circular mosaic entitled Homage to Prague.
Municipal House mosaic
If this is not enough to satisfy your thirst for Art Nouveau, take a trip to Prague’s main railway station, Hlavni Nadrazi. The large departures hall is a 1970s addition and none too aesthetically pleasing, but there is still plenty of the original left and the station’s façade and interior décor remain stunning.
Belgrade is not exactly teeming with Art Nouveau, but there is one building that it’s well worth seeking out. The Moskva Hotel is a glorious peppermint gateau of a building, another early 20th century creation that deserves its accolade as one of the city’s most famous structures. This is another place where you can stop off for a cup of coffee and take in the splendours of the artwork and imagine you’re sitting in the seat that Einstein, Hitchcock or any of the hotel’s other famous guests once occupied…
1897 was a big year for Austrian art. Gustav Klimt found the Secessionist Movement, a group of Austrian artists that wanted to move away from tradition. One of its main characteristics was the use of bright colours, so it is rather ironic that the movement’s flagship building is not especially colourful, its façade being simple white and gold.
The Secession Building was designed by Joseph Maria Olbrich in 1897, the exhibition hall opening in the following year. Some of the building’s features were works that were displayed at exhibitions, notably Klimt’s own Beethoven Frieze and the extraordinary Mark Antony statue, created by Arthur Strasser, that stands outside the building.
It is, however, the ornamentation that stands out and gives the building its Art Nouveau character. The whole structure is decorated with gilt laurel garlands and floral patterns, while the most striking feature is the dome, made up of 3,000 gilt laurel leaves. It is this that has led to the building’s (affectionate) nickname of The Golden Cabbage.
Riga is one of Europe’s most delightful capitals, with its many green spaces and beautifully preserved medieval centre. It also harbours a fine array of Art Nouveau buildings, with around one third of the buildings in the central area being built in this style.
Art Nouveau is everywhere, even in older buildings. The House of Blackheads was set up as a meeting and party venue and has its origins in the 14th century. Its reconstruction, after the Second World War, encompassed the Art Nouveau style and ensures that the building fits in perfectly with its neighbours.
House of the Blackheads
Most of the Art Nouveau buildings are in the New Town, many in the main shopping area. There is, though, no shortage of such buildings and they pop up almost everywhere. There are shops, offices and private houses in Art Nouveau style and there was even an Art Nouveau fire station, built in 1912. The building still exists and today operates as the Museum of Firefighting. There is also a Museum of Art Nouveau for those that cannot get enough.
Few European capitals can match Riga for charm, but Ljubljana is one of them. With three rivers to call its own, the city is full of bridges and waterfront buildings. There is no better place to see wonderful examples than Prešernov Trg, the city’s main square named after Slovenia’s most famous poet, France Prešeren. Art Nouveau buildings pop up all through the city, from offices, banks, private residences and municipal buildings.
Art Nouveau offices