The Art Nouveau style was applied not only to painting and sculpture but also to architecture, furniture, jewelry, fabrics, and all types of materials used for interior and exterior design. You can even find silverware done in the Art Nouveau style. One of the most famous Art Nouveau designs is the metro entrance created by Hector Guimard that can be seen all over Paris. The image shown below isn’t great but you can see that the post seem to grow like the stems of flowers and spread out into careful placed stalks. The design has even been copied and used elsewhere, including in places in Chicago.
The most distinguishing aspect is the overall look of an Art Nouveau object. Usually it consists of curvy lines with smooth surfaces. The object will look as if it has grown from nature. Often, the artist will use natural objects for inspiration such as seashells, flames, trees, flowers, and animals.
Furthermore, Art Nouveau was extremely closely linked to Symbolism, a movement in which artists tried to show truth using unrealistic or fantastical objects. This could include religious icons or mythical creatures.
The glass sculpture shown above is a hand which rises out of a sea and is covered with seashells and algae. In fact it’s called Hand, Surrounded by Algae and Shells by Emile Galle. As was often the case with Art Nouveau pieces, this sculpture has symbolic meaning. The hand represents mankind which is in harmony with nature. This is apparent by the way the waves and algae and shells and hand are all made of complimentary materials and all run together smoothly. The hand, however, is in danger of being overtaken by the sea, the power of nature, just as people as a whole are in endangered by the power of nature. While we are usually in control, there is always the possibility that a hurricane or tidal wave or storm will take away that control.