Use of Nature in the Art Nouveau decoration

The use of nature in Art Nouveau decoration applies to every skill of Art Nouveau ranging from buildings to furniture and various objects including vases or jewels. Concerning buildings, the decoration often uses sculpture, ceramic tiles or sgraffitos. Sculptures are merely in wood, stone, metal or ceramic. Nature has also influenced the famous abstract curves patterns through stylization (cf the stairway hall in House Tassel by Horta in 1894, one of the first Art Nouveau building or the later use of curves by Guimard). Stylization has served the aesthetic aim of Art Nouveau. It is seldom to find realistic sculptures.

Both animals and plants patterns were used in the decoration of Art Nouveau buildings. Sea world is not often represented but you may sometime find shells, lobsters, fish or algae, overall on buildings on the sea side but also in Nancy Art Nouveau (See Gallé vases for instance).

Animal gallery :

Here is a wonderful dragonfly (Libellule in french) vase by Emile Gallé, the leading Art Nouveau artist of the "Ecole de Nancy" in France.
Exotic animals are rather seldom : I have seen elephants in Russia (a fantastic house in Samara), monkeys in Amsterdam, ... and lezards in Paris (2 door handles by Lavirotte) or in Barcelona (Park Guell).

If dragons are not so common (used as a door in the Finca Güell by Gaudi : if you want to enter just shake its hand!), one of the mythic Art Nouveau animal : the dragonfly was not very used in architecture : but noone can forget the jewels by Lalique where a woman and a dragonfly merge in a typical Art Nouveau fantasy.

Butterfly :

Bernasconi's villa in Cernobbio is remarkable in all ways that you may visit "out of the beaten tracks". Bernasconi was at the head of a silk factory : that is why butterflies were used for its decoration. Silk is made with boiled cocoons. Butterflies are the next natural step after the cocoon step. I must admit that butterflies are much more decorative than cocoons!


Peacock is the most spread Art Nouveau pattern. The shop, rue Raugraff in Nancy (partly destroyed today but the remaining parts restored) only show the feathers.


Owls were particularly used in northern Europe Art Nouveau (called National Romanticism) because of the large place of owls in northern mythologies and legends. Unfortunately, I do not have any Art Nouveau pictures of this area. Contributions are welcome!


This animal is very rare in Art Nouveau decoration. And here it is treated with a realistic manner.

Miscellaneous animals

Plant gallery :

Favorite patterns are the sunflower, pine cones, horse-chestnut leaves, roses (on trees or only the flower like the stylized rose by CR Mackintosh), Umbellatus (ombellifères in French) (same family as the Cigüe or Aneth), Honesty ("Monnaie du Pape" in French), Waterlilies,  ...

Flowers are very largely stylized and then hard to recognize (as far as my knowledge is in botanics). The most recognizable flowers are : Sunflowers, Iris, Arums, Thistles. For villas, the decoration is often used to illustrate its name.

Tree :

This column is really a tree! Viollet le duc wanted architecture to imitate vegetals : he has been listened.
I have also met this type of facade in Praha.


These sunflowers, very stylised, decorate one of the subway station of Vienna designed by Otto Wagner, one of the most important Art Nouveau architect of Aurtia-Hungaria.

Miscellaneous :

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